WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced Thursday an 11-nation crackdown on large-scale Internet pirates who illegally distribute first-run movies, video games and other copyrighted materials.
FBI agents and investigators in the other nations conducted 90 searches starting Wednesday, arresting four people and shutting down at least eight major online distribution servers for pirated works, a Justice official said. Authorities also seized hundreds of computers in raids in the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales planned a news conference Thursday afternoon to announce the arrests and other measures that law enforcement officials are taking as part of Operation Site Down.
Among those arrested was Chirayu Patel of Fremont, Calif., on charges of violating federal copyright protection laws, said a law enforcement official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt the official announcement.
Patel is alleged to be a member of a "warez" group, a kind of underground Internet co-op that is set up to trade in copyrighted materials. Warez (pronounced "wares") groups 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 has said.
Warez groups differ from popular file-swapping networks, where millions of files are shared without such precautions.
Last month, authorities shut down a popular Web site that facilitated the downloading of movies and other materials. Investigators said many of the copyright movies were available through the Elite Torrents site even before their commercial release. No arrests were announced at the time.
President Bush signed a new law last month setting tough penalties of up to 10 years in prison for anyone caught distributing a movie or song prior to its commercial release.