P2P hub's gear seized
WASHINGTON — The FBI seized computers, software and
equipment as part of an investigation into illegal sharing of
copyrighted movies, music and games over an Internet
“peer-to-peer” network, Attorney General John Ashcroft
Search warrants were executed at residences and an Internet
service provider in Texas, New York and Wisconsin as part of the
first federal criminal copyright action taken against a P2P
network, in which users can access files directly from computers of
others in the network.
The warrants sought evidence about the operators of five
“hubs” of the “Underground Network,” an
organization of about 7,000 users who, prosecutors charge,
repeatedly violate federal copyright laws by swapping feature
films, music, software and computer games.
“The message is simply this: P2P or peer-to-peer does not
stand for ‘permission to pilfer,’” Ashcroft told
reporters at a Justice Department news conference.
Unlike file-sharing networks popular with tens of millions of
Internet users worldwide, the smaller network targeted by the
Justice Department was managed by centralized “hub”
computers that restricted participation. Technical experts said it
operated similarly to the former Napster service, which the
entertainment industry shut down in July 2000.
Industry groups say Internet piracy of intellectual property is
a huge and growing problem. Ashcroft estimated $19 billion is the
total cost to creative artists, management firms, distribution
companies, theaters, and all the employees connected with them.
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of
America, said the Justice Department initiative, dubbed
“Operation Digital Gridlock,” should “puncture
the myth that illegal activity on the Internet is safe because it
is not traceable.”
Charges and arrests are likely to follow after the evidence is
examined, investigators said. The maximum penalty for criminal
copyright infringement is a fine of $250,000 and five years in
The search warrants were executed at homes in San Antonio and
Belleaire, Texas; Johnson City and Fulton, N.Y.; and Waukesha, Wis.
Another search was conducted at the office of The Planet, a
Dallas-based Internet service provider. Authorities said The Planet
is not a target of the probe.
The individuals involved in the search warrants operate some of
the Underground Network’s hubs, which act as a central point
for people granted membership to exchange copyrighted files.
Ashcroft said the hubs can store digital data each day equivalent
to 60,000 full-length movies or 10 million songs.
The five hubs are called Movieroom, Project X/The Asylum,
Achenon’s Alley, Digital Underground and Silent Echoes,
according to an FBI affidavit filed in support of one search
Agents used covert computers to infiltrate the network and
obtain for free huge amounts of copyrighted material, including
such movies as “Kill Bill Vol. I,” “The Last
Samurai” and “Bruce Almighty.” The agents
downloaded music by artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Barry
White as well as popular games and software.
In a related development, the Recording Industry Association of
America continued its legal campaign to halt illegal downloading of
music by filing another 744 copyright infringement lawsuits
Wednesday against individuals using such P2P networks as eDonkey,
Kazaa, Limewire and Grokster.
“There will always be a degree of piracy, both on the
street and online,” said RIAA President Cary Sherman.
“But without a strong measure of deterrence, piracy will
overwhelm and choke the creation and distribution of
The Justice Department also is preparing to announce the results
of a nationwide campaign against the purveyors of e-mail
“spam” that involves more than 100 arrests, search
warrants, subpoenas and other law enforcement actions, said
industry and law enforcement officials.
Many cases in “Operation Slam Spam” involve
“phishing,” which are e-mails that appear to be from
financial institutions and other legitimate businesses but are
actually fraudulent. They are used to induce people to provide
credit card numbers and other personal information.
Other cases in the crackdown involve pornography and use of
spam, or unsolicited e-mails, to infect computers with viruses that
can obtain personal data or be used by a hacker to further spread
Congress last year passed a law making fraudulent and deceptive
e-mail practices a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
Industry groups say spam e-mail accounts for almost three-quarters
of the e-mail in the United States and costs consumers and
businesses as much as $10 billion a year.
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