Prosecutions continued on Wednesday in a year-old US government sting of Internet software piracy group Drink Or Die, as US Attorney Paul McNulty announced the indictment of Hew Raymond Griffiths on charges of criminal copyright infringement.
Griffiths, who lives in Bateau Bay, Australia, is alleged to be one of the leaders of Drink Or Die, using the screen nickname "Bandido", according to a statement issued by the US Attorney's Office.
The US will seek Griffiths' formal extradition from Australia, according to the US Attorney's Office.
Drink Or Die was the subject of "Operation Buccaneer", a joint investigation by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Customs Service, as well as agencies in other countries.
The government cracked down on the group in December, 2001, executing more than 65 searches in the US and five foreign countries, including Australia. Twenty individuals have been convicted of felony criminal copyright offences and 10 sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from 33 to 46 months as a result of those raids, according to the DOJ.
In the three years prior to being broken up, Drink Or Die is estimated to have pirated and distributed more than US$50 million worth of movies, software and music, according to the US Attorney's Office.
According to the indictment, Griffiths was a senior member of Drink Or Die, controlling access to a server on which computer software was uploaded prior to being "cracked" (having its copyright protections compromised) and a network of FTP (File Transfer Protocol) servers through which the pirated software was distributed.
Griffiths also informed Drink Or Die's membership about the availability of newly pirated software programs, according to the indictment.
In court, Griffiths may find himself facing many of his former Drink Or Die companions. Many of those who have already been convicted of piracy charges have agreed to cooperate with the US government in its prosecution of Griffiths, according to Bob Wiechering, assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Griffiths is the first foreign national to be indicted in Operation Buccaneer, though charges relating to the case may soon be filed against more individuals outside the US, including in the UK, according to Wiechering.
Griffiths' extradition from Australia may draw out the process of bringing him to trial, according to Wiechering.
"We intend to seek extradition. How long it will take varies in every case and is dependent on many things, such as whether he contests his extradition," Wiechering said.
If convicted of both the charges against him, Griffiths could face a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison and a US$500,000 fine.