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Multiple Enforcement Actions Worldwide Snare Top "Warez" Leadership

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General John Ashcroft announced today that in three separate federal law enforcement actions federal agents executed approximately 100 search warrants worldwide against virtually every level of criminal organizations engaged in illegal software piracy over the Internet. The three Operations, codenamed "Buccaneer," "Bandwidth" and "Digital Piratez," struck at all aspects of the illegal software, game and movie trade, often referred to as "warez scene."

"Today U.S. law enforcement initiated the most aggressive enforcement action to date against illegal software piracy," Attorney General Ashcroft said. "Many of these individuals and groups believed the digital age and the Internet allowed them to operate without fear of detection or criminal sanction. Today, law enforcement in the U.S. and around the world proved them wrong. These actions mark a significant milestone in the efforts of U.S. law enforcement to work internationally to combat what is truly a global problem,"said Ashcroft.

"The execution of these search warrants mark the completion of the most extensive software piracy undercover investigation that the FBI has participated in to date, and should send the message that trafficking in stolen goods – whether the property is in physical or electronic form – is a serious crime, and will be prosecuted," said Robert S. Mueller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The targets of these Operations included both individuals and organizations, known as "WAREZ" groups, that operate within the United States and in various nations around the world and specialize in the illegal distribution over the Internet of copyrighted software programs, computer games and movies. The investigations will continue to identify and pursue additional targets in the months ahead.

Operation Buccaneer:

Operation Buccaneer was the culmination of an investigation that has been ongoing for over a year under the direction of the U.S. Customs Service and the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, working in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Buccaneer marks the most significant law enforcement penetration ever of international organizations engaged in the illegal distribution of copyrighted software, games and movies over the Internet. The enforcement action involved the simultaneous execution of 58 search warrants against high-level warez leadership and members within the United States and abroad. It is also the first enforcement action to reach across international borders and strike at the most highly placed and skilled members of these international criminal enterprises.

Although one of the primary criminal enterprises targeted by Operation Buccaneer was the warez group known as "DrinkOrDie," which consists of approximately 40 members worldwide, the investigation has led to infiltration and development of cases against individuals from other top groups as well.

The organizations targeted by Buccaneer are highly structured and security-conscious criminal groups that specialize in obtaining the latest computer software, games, and movies; stripping ("cracking") copyright protections; and releasing the final product to hundreds of Internet sites worldwide. Because the "suppliers" to these groups are often company insiders, pirated products frequently are in circulation before, or within hours, of the release of the legitimate product to consumers. The groups are structured specifically to avoid detection. It is expected that hundreds of thousands of copies of software programs, computer games and movies will be recovered by this effort, with a retail value that is expected to be in the millions of dollars.

Buccaneer also marks an unprecedented degree of cooperation and coordination with international law enforcement in the fight against Intellectual Property violations committed via the Internet. Through a variety of authorized means, the United States has shared evidence with counterparts in the United Kingdom, Australia, Norway, and Finland to help further identify and investigate numerous significant foreign targets engaged in this criminal conspiracy.

Operation Bandwidth:

On December 11, 2001, the longest-running of the undercover operations culminated with the execution of over 30 search warrants across the United States and Canada. This undercover operation, code-named ‘Bandwidth,' was a two-year covert investigation established as a joint investigative effort to gather evidence to support identification and prosecution of entities and individuals involved with illegal access to computer systems and the piracy of proprietary software utilizing ‘warez' storage sites on the Internet.

Bandwidth, through the joint efforts of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General (EPA-OIG), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), supervised by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Nevada, created a ‘warez' site, controlled and monitored by the undercover operation, as a means of attracting predicated targets involved with the distribution of pirated software. The undercover ‘warez' site has been accessed to transfer over 100,000 files, including over 12,000 separate software programs, movies and games.

Over 200 different individuals participated in the software pirating efforts. Those individuals were able to attain first-run movies, the latest computer games, and versions of notable software products even before they were publicly introduced. As a result of Operation Bandwidth, thousands of copies of pirated software are expected to be removed from circulation, as well as the seizure and forfeiture of the computer hardware and servers used to facilitate the crimes.

Operation Digital Piratez:

Operation Digital Piratez is a year-long undercover operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Boston Field Office, which has been supervised by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of New Hampshire. On December 11, 2001, the FBI executed nine search warrant, and obtained consent for an additional three searches, on computers located across the country. During this investigation, undercover Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation successfully infiltrated several Warez distribution organizations. This investigation targeted not only the Warez sites and those who operated them, it also targeted the "cracking groups" specifically created for the purpose of pirating software so that it may be distributed over the Internet in violation old U.S. copyright laws.

Each of the ongoing investigations has benefitted from the important assistance provided by various intellectual property trade associations, including the Interactive Digital Software Association, the Business Software Alliance, the Motion Picture Association and individual companies, including Microsoft and Sega Corporation.