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Pirates walk plank at Fox

Employee used studio's servers to distrib illegal pix

Fox Entertainment Group, the parent company of Twentieth Century Fox, is dealing with some 21st-century security problems: Fox Entertainment Group information technology worker Lisa Yamamoto has found herself at the center of both internal studio and federal anti-piracy probes.

These investigations have revealed that Fox’s own computer servers were used to store and transmit Fox movies “X2” and “Daredevil” as well as pics from other studios for Internet and DVD pirates.

In a prepared statement, Fox Entertainment Group spokeswoman Teri Everett said the company “has zero tolerance for piracy” and that “we are outraged that individuals within our own company not only engaged in this behavior, but also used our technology to do so.”

Everett added that the “employees involved have already been terminated and the company intends to see that “anyone implicated in this matter is prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law.”

While Yamamoto has not been charged with a crime, the Secret Service asked for a search warrant on Feb. 9 to sift through Yamamoto’s home computers and hard drives, according to documents posted Wednesday on Web site Thesmokinggun.com.

The Secret Service’s Los Angeles office confirmed the agency’s electronic crimes task force searched Yamamoto’s home Feb. 10 after internal investigations by Fox showed she appeared to be a member of a “Warez” group — an underground Internet community that competes for high-quality pirated computer software, DVDs and movies.

According to James Todak, deputy special agent in charge at the Secret Service’s Los Angeles office, materials were seized, including Yamamoto’s home computers and hard drives. He categorized the investigation as “in the preliminary stages” and added that the matter had been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Los Angeles-based assistant U.S. attorney Christopher Johnson, who is prosecuting the case, called the movie business “a target-rich environment right now.”

Johnson stopped short of saying exactly when he’d impanel a grand jury to seek indictments, but noted, “You can reasonably assume that Dept. of Justice is taking this very seriously. Global piracy is happening at lightning speed. Movies like ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Last Samurai’ are getting ripped here and showing up in Istanbul and Madrid just days later, so there’s a bigger appreciation for what’s going on at the studios.”

Lucky break

Were it not for an apparently unrelated earlier breach of the studio’s Internet security in November, Yamamoto might never have surfaced as a suspect, nor would Fox have necessarily discovered its servers and bandwidth were being used for movie piracy: Some 1,800 Fox employees were surprised to receive an anonymous email — one that contained the names, Social Security numbers and salaries of hundreds of their co-workers at the FX and Fox Sports cable networks (Daily Variety, Nov. 6).

As a result of that embarrassing leak, Fox Entertainment Group director of corporate security James Chaffee began an investigation. It led to the discovery that a server maintained by Fox information technology employees was being used as a “Warez” server.

It addition to pirated software and computer games, it also contained 14 copyrighted films from virtually every MPAA member studio, and two independents. Those servers have since been shut down.

The search warrant was executed on Yamamoto because emails monitored by Fox security and IT personnel revealed that Yamamoto asked Fox contract employee Kevin Sarna to allow her access from her home address to the same Fox servers being used for piracy.

Downloading spree

According to the search warrant affidavit, computer records provided to the Secret Service by Fox IT showed that Yamamoto had previously downloaded “large volumes of data” from the Fox server to her home computer. So much material was flowing between her work and home that in January, Fox security began documenting her Internet activities.

By February, Fox corporate security chief Chaffee had learned that Yamamoto’s home computer contained illegally reproduced programs like Nero, which permits duplication of movie files onto optical CDs and DVDs, and Perfect Logger, a program that “allows covert surveillance of another computer.”

Yamamoto was unreachable for comment Wednesday, as was Sarna. Amusingly enough, Yamamoto’s clearly a sci-fi film buff: Her home answering machine greets callers with actual dialogue from MGM’s 1956 sci-fi classic, “Forbidden Planet” — the outgoing message is delivered by Robby the Robot, who croaks ominously: “My beams are focused on your blasters, gentlemen.”

(Bill Higgins and Addie Morfoot contributed to this report.)

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