Digital Gridlock to catch the pirates

U.S. agents busted an online network suspected of allowing the illegal trading of hundreds of movies, songs, video games and software programs over the Internet, the first such federal action taken against so-called peer-to-peer networks, the Justice Department said yesterday.

Agents seized computers, software and other equipment in raids in Johnson City and Fulton - both upstate - and in Texas and Wisconsin. Although no arrests were made, investigators concentrated efforts on five of the most active U.S.-based members of the Underground Network, a group of about 7,000 users who, via peer-to-peer file-sharing software that allowed them to connect to other users or servers, traded such copyrighted works as the movie "Kill Bill: Vol. 1," music by Van Halen and the video game Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, the government said, says Newsday.

According to the Straits Times, unlike file-sharing networks popular with millions of Internet users worldwide, the smaller network targeted by the Justice Department was managed by centralised '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. Mr Ashcroft estimated that the total cost to creative artists, management firms, distribution companies, theatres and all the employees connected with them to be US$19 billion (S$32.7 billion).

The record industry's anti-piracy czar has given a thumbs-up to the Department of Justice's Operation Digital Gridlock. The program is the federal government's attempt to snare individuals who illegally distribute copyrighted material on peer-to-peer networks.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the initiative Aug. 25. Congress passed the "Pirate" law earlier this year to allow the filing of criminal charges in piracy cases.

The announcement follows FBI raids and seizures of computers, software and equipment in Texas, New York and Wisconsin as part of an investigation into the piracy of copyrighted movies, music and games through P2P networks.

Dallas-based Internet service provider Daily Planet was the subject of a search, but it was not targeted for prosecution, informs Reuters.

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