WASHINGTON – The leader of one of the oldest and most infamous Internet software piracy groups was sentenced today to 51 months in prison on one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg for the Eastern District of Virginia announced today.
In one of the first ever extraditions for an intellectual property offense, Hew Raymond Griffiths, 44, a British national living in Bateau Bay, Australia, was brought to the United States in February 2007 to face criminal charges in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. He pleaded guilty on April 20, 2007, before U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton. Prior to his arrival in the United States, he had spent nearly three years incarcerated at a detention center in Australia while fighting his extradition in Australian court.
“From his home in Australia, Griffiths became one of the most notorious leaders of the underground Internet piracy community by orchestrating the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyrighted material,” said Assistant Attorney General Fisher. “The Justice Department is committed to protecting intellectual property rights, and will pursue those who commit such crimes beyond the borders of the United States where necessary.”
“Whether committed with a gun or a keyboard – theft is theft,” said U.S. Attorney Rosenberg. “And, for those inclined to steal Intellectual Property here, or from half-way around the world, they are on notice that we can and will reach them.”
Griffiths was a leader of an organized criminal group known as DrinkOrDie, which had a reputation as one of the oldest and most security-conscious piracy groups on the Internet. DrinkOrDie was founded in Russia in 1993 and expanded internationally throughout the 1990s. The group was dismantled by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of Operation Buccaneer in December 2001, with more than 70 raids conducted in the U.S. and five foreign countries, including the United Kingdom, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Australia. To date, Operation Buccaneer has resulted in more than 30 felony convictions in the United States and 11 convictions of foreign nationals overseas. Prior to its dismantling, DrinkOrDie was estimated to have caused the illegal reproduction and distribution of more than $50 million worth of pirated software, movies, games and music.
Griffiths, known by the screen nickname “Bandido,” was a longtime leader of DrinkOrDie and an elder in the highest echelons of the underground Internet piracy community, also known as the warez scene. In an interview published in December 1999 by an online news source, Griffiths boasted that even though he ran all of DrinkOrDie’s day-to-day operations and controlled access to more than 20 of the top warez servers worldwide, he would never be caught.
DrinkOrDie specialized in cracking software codes and distributing the cracked versions over the Internet. Their victims included not only well-known companies such as Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, Symantec and Novell, but also smaller companies whose livelihood depended on the sales revenue generated by one or two products. Once cracked, these software versions could be copied, used and distributed without limitation. Members stockpiled the illegal software on huge Internet computer storage sites that were filled with tens of thousands of individual software, game, movie and music titles worth millions of dollars. The group used encryption and an array of other sophisticated technological security measures to hide their activities from law enforcement.
This case was investigated by the Washington field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in conjunction with the Customs Cybercenter in Fairfax, Va.
This case was prosecuted by Deputy Chief Michael DuBose and Senior Counsel Jay Prabhu of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Wiechering of the Eastern District of Virginia.