The alleged former leader of a music file-uploading group called the Apocalypse Crew has reportedly submitted a guilty plea to the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to prosecutors, 21 year-old Mark Shumaker helped upload albums online for file traders before they went on sale. He also helped run the Apocalypse Crew's Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, which likely made it easier for prosecutors to identify and catch him.
Shumaker now faces a maximum prison sentence of five years and a maximum fine of US$250,000. He will be sentenced in US federal court on Nov. 7.
"This plea shows that those who steal copyrighted music from artists and believe they are doing so anonymously on the Internet are sadly mistaken,"Justice Department attorney Paul McNulty said in a statement. "We can find you, we will find you, and we will prosecute you."
Entering a guilty plea was probably a decent defensive strategy for Shumaker who likely had few financial resources to fight in court. He was targeted as part of Operation Buccaneer, a US federal anti-piracy initiative which prosecutors say has resulted in more than 22 convictions for felony copyright infringement.
Shumaker's case is reportedly the first to involve criminal penalties. The U.S. government is also attempting to extradite another supposed big fish file trader, Australian Raymond Griffiths, who is alleged to be the leader of another group called Drink or Die. Griffiths is reportedly facing a 10-year prison term.
While these prosecutions will discourage some groups from mass uploading of new music, it will only drive other file traders deeper underground and into places outside the reach of U.S. extradition treaties. Sharman Network, developers of Kazaa, recently sent a letter, which can be viewed in the Web, to the Google search engine asking it to remove links to 15 sites that are running unauthorized copies of the Kazaa P2P software. The sites were alleged to be in breach of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Google continues to list the demand letter from Sharman, which includes the full URLs of the sites it removed.