The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced arrests in a massive, international undercover operation called “Operation Site Down,” which targeted underground piracy networks called “warez groups.”
In a news conference Thursday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the FBI and authorities in Canada, France, Israel, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany carried out more than 90 searches and dismantled more than eight major online distribution servers for pirated works.
The network is believed to be responsible for distributing pirated materials worth more than $50 million, the majority being illegally copied material available online, according to a Justice Department statement.
Twenty-five U.S. Attorneys Offices and 32 FBI field offices took part in more than 40 searches in the United States.
“By penetrating this illegal world of high-technology and intellectual-property theft, we have shown that law enforcement can find and prosecute those who try to use the Internet to create piracy networks beyond the reach of law enforcement,” Gonzalez said in a statement.
In one part of the operation, authorities in California announced four arrests resulting from a large anti-piracy operation Friday called “Operation Copycat,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Northern District of California.
Four individuals were arrested by FBI agents Thursday in Operation Copycat: William Venya and Chirayu Patel of California, Nate Lovell of Colorado, and David Fish of Connecticut. The four men are alleged to be high-level members of underground warez groups. Venya, Patel and Fish all are alleged to be “SiteOps,” or “Site operators” who controlled access to servers hosting pirated works.
Lovell is alleged to have provided equipment to the warez group and also to have downloaded pirated works, the statement said.
Similar actions took place in San Jose, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Chicago, the U.S. Attorneys Office said.
As part of Operation Copycat, the FBI provided two undercover computer servers that were used to store pirated work, and harvested information on the individuals from those systems, including directory lists of pirated software and media files, and information on individuals who accessed the servers.
According to the U.S. Attorneys Office, more than 750 copyrighted films were uploaded to the site, including copies of “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” “Batman Begins” and “Bewitched.”
Also uploaded to the site were cracked versions of more than 1,250 copyrighted software titles, including games and more than 180 software applications by companies such as Adobe Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Symantec Corp., the statement said.
The four individuals who were arrested were released on bond and are scheduled to appear in court July 14. They face sentences of two to five years in prison and fines of $250,000, the U.S. Attorneys Office said.