FBI cracks down on 'warez' piracy sites

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with help from investigators from 10 other countries, has arrested four people and dismantled at least four Web sites used to illegally distribute movies, music and software, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Thursday.

The crackdown on so-called warez distribution sites, with 70 searches conducted in the U.S. and another 20 searches in other countries on Wednesday, also resulted in law enforcement authorities identifying more than 120 members of what the DOJ called the “organized online piracy underground,” DOJ officials said during a press conference. In the warez community, highly organized groups work together to distribute copyrighted materials, often competing with each other to be the fastest to post a free version of a movie or video game.

The DOJ didn’t have immediate information on the four people arrested. The DOJ could take action against other suspects, officials said.

Searches happened in 10 countries in addition to the U.S.: Canada, Israel, France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, U.K., Germany, Portugal and Australia.

The crackdown, called Operation Site Down, resulted in the confiscation of several computers and servers, causing at least eight warez sites to be shut down, said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. During Wednesday’s action, more than $50 million worth of pirated works were seized by law enforcement, he said.

The DOJ will continue its “aggressive efforts to dismantle international criminal organizations that use sophisticated methods to steal staggering amounts of intellectual property,” Gonzales said.

The operation targeted 22 warez groups, including Myth, TDA, HellBound, Corrupt, Gamerz, NOX and Goodfellaz, the DOJ said. The DOJ accused these groups of pirating software such as Autodesk Inc.’s Autocad 2006 and Adobe Systems Inc.’s Photoshop and movies such as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”

In some cases, the pirated works end up traded through peer-to-peer software, and in other cases, the pirated copies are sold to groups that burn CDs and DVDs and sell them on the street, said Michael DuBose, deputy chief of the DOJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

“The theft of this property strikes at the heart of America’s economy,” said Louis Reigel, assistant director of the FBI Cyber Division. “This theft deprives many Americans and other workers around the globe of their right to be paid for their labor and enjoy the value of their hard work.”

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