US online piracy crackdown nets three guilty pleas

Three members of an online music piracy operation pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday in response to a government crackdown, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Members of the group Apocalypse Crew pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the department said, and each faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Derek Borchardt, 21, of Charlotte, North Carolina; Matthew Howard, 24, of Longmont, Colorado; and Aaron Jones, 31, of Hillsboro, Oregon, each obtained digital "pre-release" copies of songs and albums before their U.S. commercial release, the government said. The music was then distributed globally through file-sharing networks.

The supply of pre-release music was often provided by music industry insiders, employees of music magazine publishers, or workers at compact disc manufacturing plants and retailers, the Justice Department said.

The material was sent to secure computer servers and then distributed globally, "filtering down to peer-to-peer and other public file sharing networks accessible to anyone with Internet access and potentially appearing for sale around the world," it added.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) applauded the Justice Department for cracking down on pre-release music piracy operations.

"The illegal pre-release distribution of albums or individual tracks takes an especially heavy toll on the music community," RIAA Executive Vice President Brad Buckles said in a statement.

"After months or even years working on an album, pre-release theft undercuts the ability of artists to sell their music before it even hits the market," Buckles said.

Steven McCool, a lawyer representing Howard, said his client had not gained financially from his misconduct.

"At the time of the offence, Mr. Howard did not recognise the seriousness of his actions. He now understands that he committed a crime, and he has accepted full responsibility for his misconduct," McCool said.

A fourth defendant, George Hayes, 31, of Danville, Virginia, previously pleaded guilty to one count of criminal copyright infringement for his involvement in another pre-release music group called Chromance.

All four defendants will be sentenced on May 19.

Attorneys representing the other three defendants either declined comment or were not immediately available.

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