Convictions Piling Up Against Internet Piracy Ring

Matt O'Conner
HARTFORD, Conn. — Four men accused of stealing and illegally redistributing millions of dollars worth of copyrighted computer games, movies and software pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District courts, the Associated Press reported.

Seth Kleinberg, 26, Jeffrey Lerman, 20, Albert Bryndza, 32, and Joshua Abell, 24, all took part in a global computer piracy ring that used a coded system of websites and chat rooms to sell stolen content to users in the U.S. and a dozen foreign countries, according to prosecutors.

According to prosecutors, Kleinberg, Lerman and Bryndza were part of several illegal file-sharing networks, the largest being “Fairlight.” Other groups targeted include Kalisto, Echelon, Class and Project X.

“It’s a competition of different groups racing to release pirated software over the Internet,” said Kleinberg.

Each man faces different penalties based on the nature of his involvement. Kleinman is looking at five to six years in prison, Lerman faces four to five years in prison and Bryndza, a married father, faces up to three years in prison, while Abell could be locked up for as long as 10 years. Because all are facing their first charges, a judge could issue more lenient sentences. All were released without bail.

Representatives from the U.S. Justice Department said the convictions are just the latest in an ongoing, year-long FBI investigation called Operation Fastlink. Based out of the FBI’s new, advanced computer crime lab in New Haven, Conn., the investigation uncovered the methods used by members of the “warez scene,” underground networks of file-sharers, to skirt the industry’s most rigorous copyright protection technology and engage in large-scale distribution of copyrighted works.

The networks are extraordinarily difficult to infiltrate because users talk only in encrypted chat rooms, their computer servers require passwords and many are located overseas, the FBI said.

Operation Fastlink is reputed to be the largest international effort ever undertaken against online intellectual piracy. In April of 2004, Justice announced that more than 120 searches had been simultaneously executed in 27 U.S. states as well as Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The sting resulted in the arrests of more than 100 individuals worldwide. More than 200 computers were seized, including 30 servers that functioned as storage and distribution hubs.

U.S Attorney Johnny Sutton of the Western District of Texas, where Abell was prosecuted, said the convictions send “a clear message that you cannot get away with theft and piracy through anonymity on the Internet.”