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Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 12 News List

US goes after peer-to-peer network in data searches


The FBI seized computers, software and equipment as part of an investigation into illegal sharing of copyrighted movies, music and games over an Internet peer-to-peer (P2P) network, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced on Wednesday.

Search warrants were executed at residences and an Internet service provider in Texas, New York and Wisconsin as part of the first federal criminal copyright action taken against a P2P network, in which users can access files directly from computers of others in the network.

The warrants sought evidence about the operators of five hubs of the Underground Network, an organization of about 7,000 users who, prosecutors charge, violate federal copyright laws by swapping films, music, software and computer games.

"The message is simply this: P2P or peer-to-peer does not stand for permission to pilfer," Ashcroft told said at a Justice Department news conference.

Unlike file-sharing networks popular with tens of millions of Internet users worldwide, the smaller network targeted by the Justice Department was managed by centralized ``hub'' computers that restricted participation.

Technical experts said it operated similarly to the former Napster service, which the entertainment industry shut down in July 2000.

Industry groups say Internet piracy of intellectual property is a huge and growing problem. Ashcroft estimated it costs creative artists, management firms, distribution companies, theaters, and all the employees connected with them a total of US$19 billion.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the Justice Department initiative, dubbed Operation Digital Gridlock, should "puncture the myth that illegal activity on the Internet is safe because it is not traceable."

Charges and arrests are likely to follow after the evidence is examined, investigators said. The maximum penalty for criminal copyright infringement is a fine of $250,000 and five years in prison.

Adrian Santangelo, an assistant administrator for the Underground Network who goes by the screen name GuidoZ, rejected any charges of copyright infringement by the hub owners or administrators. "The hub owners themselves do not share or transmit any material, copyrighted or not," Santangelo said. "They are there to simply provide a meeting place for people to come in, chat and share what the users decide they want to share."

The individuals involved in the search warrants operate some of the Underground Network's hubs, which act as a central point for people granted membership to exchange copyrighted files. Ashcroft said the hubs can store digital data each day equivalent to 60,000 full-length movies or 10 million songs.

The five hubs are called Movieroom, Project X/The Asylum, Achenon's Alley, Digital Underground and Silent Echoes, according to an FBI affidavit filed in support of one search warrant.

Agents used covert computers to infiltrate the network and obtain copyrighted material.

The agents downloaded recent movies and music by artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Barry White as well as popular games and software.

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