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Head of DrinkorDie cops to copyright charges

After more than five years, Feds get their 'Bandido'

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The kingpin for one the world's oldest and best-known piracy groups has pleaded guilty to software piracy charges, bringing a close to an international cat-and-mouse game that took more than five years to play out.

Hew Raymond Griffiths - better known in warez circles as Bandido - faces up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines at sentencing, which is currently scheduled for June 22 in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. The 44-year-old British national pleaded guilty to one count each of criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. He was extradited to the US in February after spending three years fending off extradition attempts from a detention center in Australia.

According to US prosecutors, Griffiths rose through the ranks to assume the top spot at DrinkOrDie, which came to prominence after releasing a pirated copy of Windows 95 days before the OS was officially available. It was formed in 1993 and was among the first "security-conscious" warez groups, meaning it used passwords, encryption and other sophisticated measures to thwart law enforcement efforts.

DrinkOrDie specialized in cracking anti-piracy measures in popular software, movies and other digital content, so it could be copied and used over and over. The group then distributed the warez using online storage sites filled with tens of thousands of titles, prosecutors allege. DrinkOrDie is estimated to have caused the piracy of more than $50 million worth of digital material.

The group was dismantled after the US Justice Department and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out more than 70 raids on targets in the US and five other countries in late 2001. To date, "Operation Buccaneer," as the campaign came to be called, has netted more than 40 convictions.

Griffiths is accused of heading several other warez groups, including Razor1911 and RiSC. Prosecutors also say he boasted in a published report that he ran all of DrinkOrDie’s day-to-day operations and controlled access to more than 20 of the top warez servers worldwide. Federal prosecutors returned an indictment against him in 2003.

Griffiths isn't accused of profiting financially from his deeds. His case marks one of the first time a defendant has been extradited on charges related to intellectual property. ®

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