Australian software pirate to serve 4 years in US jail, court rules

Warez leader Hew Griffiths, extradited to the US from Australia, is sentenced to 51 months in prison on a copyright infringement charge.

The leader of one of the oldest and most widely recognized Internet software piracy groups was sentenced Friday to 51 months in prison on one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

Hew Raymond Griffiths, 44, was extradited to the U.S. from Australia in February, and in April, he pleaded guilty to two copyright-related charges in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria. Griffiths, a British national, was the long-time leader of the DrinkOrDie software piracy network and an elder in the underground Internet piracy community, known as the warez scene, the DOJ said.

He faced a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a US$500,000 fine for the charges.

Griffiths "became one of the most notorious leaders of the underground Internet piracy community by orchestrating the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyrighted material," Alice Fisher, assistant attorney general at the DOJ, said in a statement.

Griffiths had fought extradition for almost three years, and he was held in an Australian detention center during that time. His extradition was one of the first for a copyright offense, the DOJ said in a press release.

"Whether committed with a gun or a keyboard -- theft is theft," U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. "And, for those inclined to steal Intellectual Property here, or from half-way around the world, they are on notice that we can and will reach them."

DrinkOrDie was founded in Russia in 1993 and expanded internationally throughout the 1990s. The group was dismantled by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in December 2001, with more than 70 raids conducted in the U.S. and five other countries, the U.K., Finland, Norway, Sweden and Australia.

The operation targeting DrinkOrDie has resulted in more than 30 felony convictions in the U.S. and 11 convictions elsewhere, the DOJ said.

The DOJ estimated that DrinkOrDie was responsible for the reproduction and distribution of more than $50 million worth of pirated software, movies, games and music.

In a 1999 interview, Griffiths said he ran DrinkOrDie's day-to-day operations and controlled access to more than 20 top warez servers worldwide. He said then he would never be caught.

DrinkOrDie specialized in cracking software codes and distributing the cracked versions over the Internet. The group distributed software from large companies such as Microsoft, Adobe Systems and Symantec, as well as smaller software vendors, the DOJ said. The group used encryption and other security measures to hide their activities from police.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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