INTERNET LAW - First Ever Australian Extradition to U.S. for Intellectual Property Piracy

IBLS Editorial Staff
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In a massive boost for defenders of global intellectual property rights, for the first time ever, an international intellectual property thief was extradited from Australia to face charges in the U.S. Infamous software pirate Hew Raymond Griffiths, who went by the online nickname "Bandido” has plead guilty to piracy, ending a decade-long hunt for the leader of “warez” piracy group DrinkorDie.

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In a massive boost for defenders of global intellectual property rights, for the first time ever, an international intellectual property thief was extradited from Australia to face charges in the U.S. Infamous software pirate Hew Raymond Griffiths, who went by the online nickname "Bandido" has plead guilty to piracy, ending a decade-long hunt for the leader of "warez" piracy group DrinkorDie. 

 
In a massive boost for defenders of global intellectual property rights, for the first time ever, an international intellectual property thief was extradited from Australia to face charges in the U.S. Infamous software pirate Hew Raymond Griffiths, who went by the online nickname "Bandido" has plead guilty to piracy, ending a decade-long hunt for the leader of "warez" piracy group DrinkorDie. This group was said responsible for $70+ million in costs for broken codes. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, said this, in a news release about the case, ""Griffiths claimed to be beyond the reach of U.S. law, and today, we have proven otherwise. This extradition represents the Department of Justice's commitment to protect intellectual property rights from those who violate our laws from the other side of the globe." Added U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg, "Our agents and prosecutors are working tirelessly to nab intellectual property thieves, even where their crimes transcend international borders."

Who is Hew Raymond Griffiths?
Hew Raymond Griffiths 44, who was also known by his screen nickname "Bandido," is an Australian resident and leader of the infamous Internet Piracy group "DrinkorDie." According to the USDOJ, Griffiths was "an elder in the highest echelons of the underground Internet piracy community, also known as the warez scene." He also was a leader in other well-known "warez" groups, such as "Razor1911" and "RiSC," and is a British national that expatriated to Australia, was currently unemployed and lived with his father in Bateau Bay. Griffiths was held in Australia for three years while he fended off attempts to be extradited to the U.S., a country he had never visited. The USDOJ was denied extradition, appealed the ruling and were awarded a reversal in the case in 2003. In an interview published in late 1999 by an online journalist, Griffiths boasted he ran all DrinkOrDie day-to-day activities and also ran more than 20 top warez servers worldwide, and also claimed he would never be apprehended. Before being arrested in 2003, he was described by neighbors in his hometown of Berkeley Vale as wearing hair down to his shoulders, going barefoot, and wearing shorts and T-shirts. Yet, Griffiths was no ordinary jobless computer nerd, but after moving Down Under at the age of 7, became one of the top two ringleaders of a trained cadre of hackers whose stated aim was to establish the fastest and best quality bootlegged software.

What Crimes was Griffiths Charged With?
DrinkorDie hackers stockpiled illegal software at enormous Internet computer storage units commonly called "FTP" sites. The pirates commandeered "tens of thousands of individual software, game, movie and music titles worth millions of dollars," using encryption and a panoply of other state-of-the-art electronic security measures to shield activities from the Feds and law enforcement.
Griffiths was charged with "one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of criminal copyright infringement." If he had been convicted on both counts, would have received a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Since pleading guilty, Griffiths will now face a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Since he had spent three years incarcerated in a detention center in Australia while fighting his extradition in Australian court, he may receive time off, although this is up to the U.S. prison authorities. Judge Hilton has June 22, 2007 at 9:00 a.m. set as a sentencing date and time.

Griffiths received a plea agreement on April 19, so U.S. authorities dropped a related charge of "criminal infringement of copyright," and Griffiths also agreed to become an informant on other pirates. While Griffiths did not sell the pirated software, he still received ''personal financial gain'' and was also held personally liable for uploading pirated games worth $5 million. For cooperating, prosecutors are recommending he be credited with time served in Australia, about three years worth.

What is DrinkorDie, Who is Warez?
DrinkOrDie was stated by a Russian in 1993 in Moscow, whose handle was "deviator" and a partner code named "CyberAngel," and by 1995, the group had become global. An early success was the internet release of Windows 95 two weeks before Microsoft offered the official version. The people in DrinkorDie would often taunt authorities, and they used hackers from around the world who were specialized in cracking software secrecy codes, and whose cracked versions were then copied and downloaded for free on the Internet by persons referred to as "leeches."
The U.S. Department of Customs has this Description of DrinorDie & Swarez:

"What is the DrinkOrDie Group?
DrinkOrDie is one of the oldest and most sophisticated software pirate groups within the "Warez" community, which is a loose, global network of Internet pirate gangs. According to DrinkOrDie's public website, the group was founded in Moscow in 1993 by a Russian individual known as "Deviator." Membership quickly expanded from a group of Russian nationals to worldwide membership by 1995. In one of its earliest pirating feats, DrinkOrDie claims credit for having released MS Windows 95 over the Internet two weeks before Microsoft released it to the American public. Today, DrinkOrDie has become one of the most accomplished and sophisticated Internet piracy groups in the world.

What is the Warez community?
Beginning in the early 1990s, groups of computer hackers began organizing into competitive gangs that stole software, "cracked" or removed its protections, then posted it on the Internet for distribution by others. These Internet pirate gangs collectively became known as the Warez community. There are between 8 and 10 major groups and several, smaller groups in the Warez community. DrinkOrDie is one of the major groups.

Who are the members of DrinkOrDie?
DrinkOrDie members are technical experts in programming, Internet communications and Internet security. They come from all walks of life. Many are successful white-collar business people by day, and DrinkOrDie members by night. The U.S. Customs has identified members who are corporate executives, computer network administrators at major U.S. universities, employees of large hi-tech companies, students, and even government workers. Some members of DrinkOrDie and other Warez groups are software company employees who steal their firm's software prior to its public release and provide it to other Warez members.

What is the motivation of these groups? Do they do it for money?
DrinkOrDie and other Warez groups steal software for the mere challenge and fun of it. Reputation is everything to them. Earning an online reputation as the fastest to steal, "crack," and release high-quality, pirated software over the Internet is most important to them. Groups compete against each other in these efforts. Some even have web sites celebrating their greatest pirating feats. They also view themselves as Robin Hood figures -- pirating new software so it can be distributed freely over the Internet. They seek an Internet devoid of rules or law. Profit does not appear to be a prime motive, although members operate websites that allow users and other members to download pirated software for a monthly subscription fee."

What Difference does this Case Make?
Keith Kupferschmid, Senior VP of intellectual property policy and enforcement, at the Software & Information Industry Association, insists prosecuting Griffiths was crucial to the health and future of the software industry and was only made possible by his extradition, given piracy is a borderless crime. This conviction proves the U.S. is improving at battling the pirates, especially those overseas. Kupferschmid rejects the idea copyright piracy is a victimless crime saying, ''What Mr Griffiths was doing as well as other people obviously costs the respective industries billions of dollars and who that hurts is your average consumer.'' Kupferschmid believes the Griffiths conviction sends a strong message that the largest economy and law enforcement squad in the world has taken a zero tolerance approach to piracy.

When he was indicted in 2003, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said, "Griffiths thought he was beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. He will be proved wrong. We will seek formal extradition from Australia in the coming weeks, but for now, the message should be clear: no matter who you are or where you live, if you steal the intellectual property rights of individuals and businesses, we will not stop at our borders to find you and bring you to justice." Michael Chertoff, Assistant US Attorney General for the Criminal Division, added "The internet makes this type of law enforcement cooperation across international borders essential."

Some Australians professed alarm at the ruling to extradite Grffiths: In a recent article in the Australian Law Journal, NSW Chief Judge in Equity, Peter Young, wrote: "International copyright violations are a great problem. However, there is also the consideration that a country must protect its nationals from being removed from their homeland to a foreign country merely because the commercial interests of that foreign country are claimed to have been affected by the person"s behaviour in Australia and the foreign country can exercise influence over Australia."
In December 1999, Hew Griffiths granted an interview to an online newspaper, admitting he ran Drink or Die's day-to-day operations and controlled access to more than 20 warez FTP sites worldwide, but he added this prophetic warning about others engaged in cyber lawlessness.

 

IBLS Editorial Staff

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