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UK DrinkorDie members convicted of software piracy

Questions raised over costs of hi-profile trial

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Two UK software counterfeiters who styled themselves as "latter-day Robin Hoods" were convicted of software piracy offences this week.

Steven Dowd, 39, of Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, and City bank worker Alex Bell, 29, of Chafford Hundred, Essex, were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud between 1997 and 2001. The jury verdict came at the end of a five month software piracy trial. The Old Bailey heard that the duo were part of a international piracy group called DrinkorDie which brought us Windows 95 days before it was released. Dowd and Bell, however, were tried over conspiracy to supply business software packages for functions such as financial planning or Computer Aided Design. Investigators found hundreds of CDs containing pirated software when they raided the duo's homes.

Bruce Houlder QC, prosecuting, said that although pair did not get involved in the software piracy scene to make money it did not excuse their offence. "They may see themselves as latter-day Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but in reality it is a cover for fraud," he said, adding that the case was Britain's biggest software piracy case to date.

Sources close to the defence team question why the pair were tried for conspiracy offences rather than offences against the Copyright Act which would have resulted in a far less complex and expensive prosecution.

Judge Paul Focke remanded the two men on bail until 5 May when they are due to be sentenced along with two other men, Andrew Eardley, 36, an IT manager at a Staffordshire school, and London IT worker Mark Vent, 30, who pleaded guilty to related software piracy offences last year. ®

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