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Bulgarian police bust major European web pirates

Bulgarian police charged two men on Saturday for illegally distributing music and films in what officials called one of Europe's largest Internet pirate groups.

They arrested an administrator and systems operator for putting download links to 20 million songs—or roughly 3 million albums—and hundreds of films on the website, one of Bulgaria's most popular pages.

Users could download as many of the songs and films as they liked after paying a four lev ($2.50) monthly fee. Authorities estimate the damage to the entertainment industry at around $30 million.

"These people are among the biggest Internet pirates in Europe," said Liliana Yosifova, spokeswoman for the Sofia Investigators' Office. "We are talking about big losses here."

Police also found three satellite receivers and 200 CDs with pirated movies at the suspects' homes, part of what the Interior Ministry said was a high-speed network used to download new movies and songs from foreign pirate sites.

The site was no longer functioning on Saturday afternoon. The men, who were released on 10,000 levs bail, were not immediately available for comment.

Software, music and movie piracy is widespread in the poor Black Sea country of 7.7 million. Analysts say it is linked to rampant organized crime, the biggest stumbling block to Bulgaria's efforts to join the European Union next year.

Brussels has warned Sofia to fix its intellectual property legislation and crack down on piracy, other types of organized crime and high-level corruption, or see its entry into the bloc delayed until at least 2008.

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