Software pirate gets 30-month sentence

A 40-year-old American was sentenced yesterday to 30 months in prison for conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement.

The man, Eli El, pleaded guilty on May 4, 2007, to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement for his role in distributing about 20,000 copyrighted software programs via the internet's so-called warez market. In addition to the 30-month prison term, a senior judge in the US sentenced El to three years of supervision.

John Wolfe, director of internet enforcement for the Business Software Alliance, said the jail term should send a serious message to software pirates. "The US Department of Justice thinks [software piracy] is serious, the rights' holders think it's serious, and they'll spend the resources to stop piracy."

He noted that "two and a half years in jail is a significant sentence, and it's a felony conviction that will follow [El] the rest of his life." Wolfe added "this is just one example of the problem" of losses the industry has suffered from software piracy. "We do an annual study, and the most recent showed more than £3.4 billion in software piracy losses in the US alone."

The warez underground online community uses the internet to illegally distribute copyrighted software. The three-tiered warez scene relies on suppliers who acquire copyrighted material – software, video games, DVD movies, and MP3 music files – before they're commercially available, technicians to "crack" the copyright protections, and distributors who place the pirated works on FTP sites on the internet.

El uploaded pirated software to a wide range warez servers. In exchange, he was allowed to download a variety of other pirated software, including music and games, that other community members had posted.

In one site, called "The Ether Net," El and those he worked with used the internet to distribute about 20,000 individual works of copyrighted material.

El is the twelfth person to be convicted as a result of Operation Safehaven in the states. That operation, a 15-month investigation led by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the ICE Cybercrime Center, ended in April 2003 when ICE executed more than 20 search warrants and seized of thousands of pirated CDs and DVDs and dozens of computers and servers.

"Another thing about this defendant," said Wolfe. "He's 40, and that's another example that the people involved in piracy operations are not a bunch of kids in high school – he's a grown man and causing significant damages."

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