River Ridge Man and His Harahan-Based Company Sentenced for Manufacturing and Selling Pirated Mercedes-Benz Software
U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite announced that RAINER WITTICH, age 66, of River Ridge, and his Harahan, Louisiana-based aftermarket auto parts distributor, THE BRINSON COMPANY (“TBC”), were each sentenced today after previously pleading guilty to criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and to violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, respectively .
United States District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown sentenced WITTICH and TBC to five years of probation. In addition, TBC was ordered to forfeit $150,000 and assist the victim, Daimler AG (parent company of Mercedes-Benz), in compiling a list of all customers to whom it provided the infringing devices or software, and WITTICH was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine.
According to court documents, WITTICH owned TBC, which sold replacement parts and diagnostic equipment for Mercedes-Benz vehicles. According to TBC’s plea agreement, beginning in about 2001, in conjunction with two other companies, TBC began developing, manufacturing and selling non-authentic versions of the Mercedes-Benz Star Diagnostic System (SDS), a portable tablet-type computer that contains proprietary software created by Mercedes-Benz to diagnose and repair its automobiles and that requires a code or “license key” to access. TBC admitted that, without authorization, it obtained Mercedes-Benz SDS software and updates, modified and duplicated the software, and installed the software on laptop computers (which served as the SDS units).
TBC further admitted that, not later than June 2010, it began purchasing software for the non-authentic SDS units as well as updates and “patches” for the software from an individual in the United Kingdom. TBC admitted that, after Mercedes-Benz notified the United Kingdom-based individual that his conduct was in violation of the law, representatives of TBC and the co-conspirator companies discussed plans to have him “go underground and off the radar” and continue to provide assistance and support in the production of non-authentic SDS units.
A genuine SDS unit sold for up to $22,000, and purchasers of the SDS paid Mercedes-Benz several thousands of dollars per year to receive regular software updates. According to TBC’s plea agreement, a non-authentic SDS unit sold for up to $11,000. TBC admitted that, in total, it sold approximately 725 non-authentic SDS devices, and that one of its co-conspirators sold at least 95 devices.
The case was investigated by the Cyber Task Force of the FBI’s New Orleans Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jordan Ginsberg and Myles Ranier and Senior Counsel Evan Williams of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section.