Elite Computer Pirates Plead Guilty in Bootlegging Crackdown

By Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press Writer | March 8, 2005

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Three top members of a global computer piracy network admitted Thursday that they shuttled millions of dollars in computer games, movies and software around the world through a coded system of Web sites and chat rooms.

The men pleaded guilty in U.S. District court to federal copyright charges, becoming the first Americans convicted in what the Justice Department said was the largest-ever investigation of software piracy.

All said they made no money off the conspiracy and U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said they considered themselves "the Robin Hoods of cyberspace."

But investigators said the bootlegged software ended up on the streets of foreign countries, selling for pennies on the dollar.

The investigation -- dubbed "Operation Higher Education" because many pirates use computers at universities -- spanned across the United States and about a dozen foreign countries. FBI agents in New Haven said the case broke open when they infiltrated the clandestine "warez" community on the Internet.

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