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DOJ steps up pirate hunt

Justice goes global in piracy fight

WASHINGTON — The cyberseas are getting rougher for Internet pirates as the Justice Dept. has announced an international crackdown.

Operation Site Down involves FBI agents as well as law enforcement officers from 10 other nations, Justice officials said Thursday.

Authorities launched the operation Wednesday morning, conducting more than 90 searches “designed to disrupt and dismantle many of the leading criminal organizations that illegally distribute and trade in copyrighted software, movies, music and games on the Internet,” according to a DOJ statement.

Authorities managed to penetrate an online “warez” group, an underground outfit that uses encrypted chatrooms and secure, overseas servers. Warez groups have proved elusive and difficult to crack.

“By dismantling these networks, the department is striking at the top of the copyright piracy supply chain — a distribution chain that provides the vast majority of the illegal digital content now available online,” U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement.

“And by penetrating this illegal world of high-technology and intellectual property theft, we have shown that law enforcement can and will find — and we will prosecute — those who try to use the Internet to create piracy networks beyond the reach of law enforcement,” his statement continued.

Seventy of the 90 searches were conducted in the U.S., the remainder in Canada, Israel, France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.K., Germany, Portugal and Australia, per officials. FBI agents arrested four people; foreign authorities arrested an undisclosed number. According to the DOJ, at least eight major online distribution sites were shut down.

Announcement comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision allowing peer-to-peer distribution networks to be sued if they allow or encourage illegal file-swapping, and comes after another round of recording industry lawsuits against individual downloaders.

The DOJ claimed Operation Site Down, the culmination of three separate FBI undercover investigations, has identified more than 120 leading members of organized online piracy. “Additional targets will be identified and pursued,” it said.

“Early indications are that the impact of this ongoing investigation will be deeply felt as even the most sophisticated online pirates come to realize that they are not anonymous when they engage in these harmful and highly illegal activities,” John G. Malcolm, senior VP of worldwide antipiracy efforts for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said in a statement.

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