12:51 PM

'Bandido' Software Pirate Arraigned In U.S. On 2 Charges

The purported leader of an organized criminal group known as DrinkOrDie faces 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine related to charges of copyright infringement.

A man, U.S. authorities describe as the leader of one of the oldest and most renowned Internet software piracy groups, was arraigned in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

Hew Raymond Griffiths, 44, a British national living in Bateau Bay, Australia, is being charged with one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of criminal copyright infringement. If convicted on both counts, Griffiths faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Griffiths, known by the screen nickname "Bandido," was extradited from Australia in what the Department of Justice says is one of the first ever extraditions for an intellectual property offense. He had been held in Australia for three years while he fought the extradition.

"Griffiths claimed to be beyond the reach of U.S. law, and today, we have proven otherwise," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, in a written statement. "This extradition represents the Department of Justice's commitment to protect intellectual property rights from those who violate our laws from the other side of the globe."

The indictment, which was returned in March 2003, charges Griffiths with violating U.S. criminal copyright laws as the leader of an organized criminal group known as DrinkOrDie. The group was known as one of the oldest security-conscious piracy groups on the Internet. DrinkOrDie was founded in Russia in 1993, according to the DOJ, and expanded internationally throughout the '90s.

The group was dismantled by the team effort of the DOJ and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of Operation Buccaneer in December 2001. More than 70 raids reportedly were conducted in the U.S., as well as in the United Kingdom, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Australia. Operation Buccaneer so far has resulted in 30 felony convictions and 10 convictions of foreign nationals overseas, according to the DOJ.

Prior to its dismantling, DrinkOrDie was estimated to have caused the illegal reproduction and distribution of more than $50 million worth of pirated software, movies, games, and music, reports the DOJ in a written release.

"Counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property are global parasites estimated to rob the legitimate world economy of more than $400 billion annually," said Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, in a written statement.

The government contends that Griffiths was a leader in the underground Internet piracy community, also known as the warez scene. He held leadership roles in several other well-known warez groups, including Razor1911 and RiSC.

Griffiths allegedly oversaw all the illegal operations of DrinkOrDie, which specialized in cracking software and distributing the cracked versions over the Internet, according to the DOJ's statement. Once cracked, these software versions could be copied and used without limitation. The group allegedly used encryption and an array of other sophisticated technological security measures to hide their activities from law enforcement.

Software piracy has become a huge expense for many U.S. businesses. Copyright protection actually has become a boom business. The International Intellectual Property Alliance reported in January that industries that depend on copyright protection laws for their economic survival accounted for $819 billion of the 2006 U.S. economy.

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