It took four years, but U.S. prosecutors have scored a major coup in extraditing one of the first suspects involved with some of the most notorious international Web pirate groups.
Hew Raymond Griffiths, 44, a Brit formerly living in Bateau Bay, Australia, appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., outside D.C., charged with one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of criminal copyright infringement. Maximum sentence for conviction on both counts would be 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
According to the Justice Dept., Griffiths was leader of an organized criminal group known as DrinkOrDie, founded in Russia in 1993 and eventually becoming a global operation. With the help of foreign authorities, U.S. officials executed more than 70 raids in five countries in late 2001, effectively dismantling DrinkOrDie. But Griffiths remained at large.
“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,” the Justice Dept. said in a statement.
Griffiths was also “an elder in the highest echelons of the underground Internet piracy community, also known as the warez scene,” statement continued. “He held leadership roles in several other well-known warez groups, including Razor1911 and RiSC. In an interview published in December 1999 by an online news source, he boasted that he ran all of DrinkOrDie’s day-to-day operations and controlled access to more than 20 of the top warez servers worldwide. In fact, Griffiths claimed to reporters that he would never be caught.”
Griffiths was indicted in the U.S. in 2003. He fought extradition from Australia.
The indictment charges Griffiths with overseeing all illegal operations of DrinkOrDie, which specialized in cracking security codes on protected software and distributing it on the Internet. “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 Justice Dept. said.