Software piracy probe slowed by evidence glut

Prosecutors are reviewing 50T of data, plus leads from pirates who are cooperating with them, in a global 'warez' crackdown

Federal prosecutors investigating the global 'warez' community of software pirates are digging through massive amounts of data seized in raids conducted in the United States and abroad last month.

The unprecedented amount of information obtained during the raids has slowed the investigation, sources told GCN, even though the Justice Department is receiving help from warez members who are cooperating with authorities.

Last month, in its largest antipiracy crackdown, Justice worked with the Customs Service, the FBI, the Defense Department's Criminal Investigative Service and international law enforcement agencies to seize more than 130 computers from various locations and interview dozens of warez members.

[IMGCAP(1)] The crackdown, which involved police in Australia, England, Finland and Norway, was divided into three parts: Operation Bandwidth, Operation Buccaneer and Digital Piratez.

Federal investigators are sifting through as much as 50 terabytes of data, sources said. 'One warez site can consist of four computers and 20 hard drives consisting of anywhere from 1T to 3T of data, largely copyrighted software'movies and games,' a federal official said.

'A 1T site can hold approximately 20,000 movie and game titles and applications, like Microsoft Windows XP,' the official said.

Felony charges

The suspects identified in the raids face charges of conspiracy to violate copyright laws, sources said. Each felony count can bring a five-year prison sentence, and many of the suspects face multiple counts.

Some warez community members are cooperating with the federal prosecutors by leading them to additional pirate sites and using their own seized computers to find evidence that can be used against other offenders.

A Justice Department official said the investigations 'targeted the top-tier warez organizations: international criminal groups that specialize in being the first to release new pirated software to the warez scene.'

The top-tier organizations frequently use insiders at software and game companies to provide prerelease versions of the products. Then, expert 'crackers' and 'rippers' remove the copyright protections manufacturers include with the software.

'In the case of some of these groups, we've completely dismantled the leadership,' the official said. Justice is not using contractors to decode the logs of the seized warez sites but is doing the work itself, with the help of cooperating suspects.

'If there is a disposition of a case by plea [instead of by trial, because a suspect cooperated and pled guilty to a lesser crime], that saves an awful lot of time,' the official said.

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