March 12, 2003 5:55 PM PST

Suspected piracy ringleader indicted

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The suspected leader of one of the Internet's oldest piracy groups has been indicted, and his extradition from Australia is being sought, a top U.S. attorney said Wednesday.

A federal grand jury in Connecticut charged Hew Raymond Griffiths of Bateau Bay, Australia, with one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of copyright infringement related to his alleged role in leading the software piracy group called DrinkorDie.

DrinkorDie illegally copied and distributed more than $50 million worth of pirated software, movies, games and music, according to a press release issued by the office of U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty.

"Griffiths thought he was beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement," McNulty, whose office covers the eastern district of Virginia, said in a statement. "He will be proved wrong. We will seek formal extradition from Australia in the coming weeks, but for now, the message should be clear: No matter who you are or where you live, if you steal the intellectual property rights of individuals and businesses, we will not stop at our borders to find you and bring you to justice."

Griffiths, who McNulty said went by the screen nickname "Bandido," faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted on both counts. According to the indictment, he oversaw the illegal operations of DrinkorDie, which was founded in Russia in 1993, and largely dismantled by federal authorities in 2001. The group specialized in "cracking" software by circumventing embedded copyright protections and distributing it via the Internet. The group used encryption and other sophisticated security measure to cover their tracks, according to the Justice Department.

Griffiths' indictment was a result on an ongoing investigation of online piracy lead by the Justice Department and U.S. Customs called "Operation Buccaneer". The operation has lead to 20 convictions on charges of felony copyright infringement, according to the Justice Department.


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