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Three people were arrested in the UK yesterday as part of an international crackdown on software piracy.

The global operation resulted in 120 searches in 10 foreign countries. Searches were conducted in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, The Netherlands, Singapore, and Sweden, as well as in the UK.

The operation is described as the largest multi-national law enforcement effort ever directed against online piracy. Due to differing international police procedures not all suspects were arrested. Figures for the total number of arrests are currently unavailable.

The UK arrests took place on the afternoon of 21 April, when officers from the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) together with local forces executed search warrants at three addresses in Belfast, Manchester and Sheffield. Three men, a 30 year-old from Belfast, a 34 year-old from Manchester, and a 22 year-old from Sheffield were arrested. Police suspect the trio are part of a international underground software piracy organisation, known as 'Fairlight'.

"Cracked software on all types of media" were seized during the UK raids. UK police also recovered seven computers, more than 100 CD copiers, offensive weapons and counterfeit driving licences and credit cards.

Detective Superintendent Mick Deats, Deputy Head of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, said: "In addition to attacking piracy globally, this operation struck at all facets of the illegal software, game, movie, and music trade online."

The investigation focused on individuals and organisations implicated as the original source for most of the pirated works traded or distributed online including utility and application software, movies, music and games. Among the groups targeted are well-known organisations such as Fairlight, Kalisto, Echelon (!), Class and Project X, all of which specialised in pirating computer games, and music release groups such as APC.

More than 200 computers were seized worldwide, including 30 computer servers that functioned as storage and distribution hubs. One of the storage and distribution servers seized in the US contained an estimated 65,000 pirated titles. Investigators estimate the value of the pirated works seized during worldwide raids "easily exceeded $50m".

The operation is a joint venture between FBI's Cyber Division and the DoJ's Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section assisted by local laws enforcement agencies, like the NHTCU. Organisations including the Business Software Alliance, the Entertainment Software Association, the Motion Picture Association. of America and the Recording Industry Association. of America are credited with assisting with investigations that led up to the raids. ®

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