U.S. Department of Justice - CyberCrime.gov Archived - Major Criminal IP Operations - Operation Fastlink - Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Major Criminal IP Operations - Operation Fastlink - Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

For Immediate Release
April 22, 2004

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Operation Fastlink Announcement

Intellectual property industries - from music to games, to summer blockbuster movies and software that families can use to track their finances or to help their children learn to read - play significant roles in the American economy.

These businesses - from large multinational corporations to family-owned software firms operated out of a home office - contribute billions of dollars to the gross domestic product. These businesses provide jobs to millions of hard-working Americans, and represent the fastest growing sector of the global economy.

But this economic growth is threatened by online thieves who can, with a single keystroke, distribute illegally millions of copies of stolen programs and products.

Well-organized criminal enterprises are increasing the scale, scope, and sophistication of international, online theft. But the Department of Justice is committed to the strong enforcement of this nation’s criminal intellectual property laws.

In the past 3 years, the Department has expanded the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) Units in United States Attorneys Offices from 1 to 13. It has expanded the Criminal Division's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

Intellectual property enforcement is a priority for the Department of Justice. That is why last month I established the Intellectual Property Task Force. This task force is looking at how the Department can strengthen and improve our efforts to combat theft of intellectual property. Built on the model established by our successful Corporate Fraud Task Force, the Intellectual Property Task Force will draw on all of the resources of the Department of Justice to send an unmistakable message - theft of intellectual property will not be tolerated.

Intellectual property theft is a global threat. It requires a global response that protects vigorously intellectual property rights and enforces consistently copyright laws.

Today, I am announcing the largest, most far-reaching and most aggressive enforcement action ever undertaken against the criminal core of digital theft; including theft of movies, music, games, business and educational software on the Internet: OPERATION FASTLINK.

Yesterday morning, law enforcement agencies in the United States and ten other countries - Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, France, Israel, The Netherlands, Sweden and Singapore - struck at all facets of online intellectual property theft, including the individuals and organizations known as "warez" [WARES] release groups.

Operation Fastlink dealt a serious blow to some of the most well-known and prolific online theft organizations. Over the past few months, the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and the FBI and its Cyber Division worked closely with our foreign counterparts to achieve unprecedented levels of international coordination in this worldwide enforcement effort. Investigators and prosecutors across the globe worked for months to develop the evidence leading to yesterday's enforcement action.

Over a 24-hour period, spanning multiple time zones, law enforcement executed simultaneously well over 100 searches worldwide, including 80 here in the United States. The coordination was tremendous and critical to the success of the operation.

These groups are sophisticated and able to communicate instantly via the Internet, and have the ability, with the stroke of a button, to destroy evidence located across the globe. The synchronized efforts of law enforcement worldwide prevented the thieves from destroying the evidence or disappearing into cyberspace without detection.

Operation Fastlink has identified nearly 100 individuals worldwide. Many of them are leaders or high-level members of some of the most prolific international "warez" [WARES] release groups with names like Fairlight, Kalisto, Echelon, Class and Project X. As these investigations continue, additional targets will be identified and pursued.

Release groups are the first-providers - the distributors for most of the pirated work distributed online. Warez exist solely to engage in theft and distribution of stolen materials. Highly sophisticated technology is employed by the groups to shield their illegal activity from victims and law enforcement.

The top release groups are highly structured, with leadership positions that direct day-to-day operations, recruit members, and manage various computer archive sites.

Let me be clear. The individuals and organizations we are discussing use the Internet to steal and make available to a select group of individuals at little or no cost movies, games, music and computer software. In some cases, as with popular films or music, these online thieves, illicitly procure and release movies online before the general public is able to see them in theaters or buy the CDs in the stores.

Operation Fastlink also resulted in the seizure of more than 200 computers, including more than 30 computer servers that function as storage and distribution hubs. These servers collectively contain hundreds of thousands of copies stolen works. One of the storage and distribution servers seized in the United States reportedly contained approximately 65,000 separate pirated titles.

Other servers seized, so-called "elite" sites, contain highly coveted and valuable "new releases," many of which were distributed to the warez scene before they are commercially available to the general public.

Conservative estimates of the value of the pirated works seized, easily exceeds $50 million. Conservative projections of the losses to our economy attributable to these distribution hubs are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Once a product is stolen and made available on a "warez" group's secure server, it is only a matter of hours before the stolen works are distributed throughout the world, ending up, for example, on public peer-to-peer file-sharing networks accessible to anyone with Internet access.

Operation Fastlink and the prosecutions to follow are expected to dismantle many of these international syndicates and significantly impact the illicit operations of others.

The amount of international coordination and cooperation in this effort is unprecedented. Our efforts send a clear and unmistakable message to those individuals and organizations dedicated to online theft: Real world geography and virtual world cloaking can no longer protect those who steal copyrighted material.

The United States is the world leader in intellectual property. The films, the music, the computer games and the educational and business software our nation’s film producers, musicians and computer programmers and entrepreneurs produce provide jobs for millions of our citizens.

When a movie is stolen and illegally distributed, it affects everyone from the carpenter who builds movie sets to the producer to the concession stand clerk at the movie theater. When the educational software is illegally distributed, it affects the computer programmer, as well as the distributor and the computer software salesman.

I thank the scores of Assistant United States Attorneys from 42 different offices and the FBI agents who worked tirelessly to dismantle these groups. I give special thanks to the many attorneys from the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the Criminal Division, led by Marty Stansell-Gamm, Michael O’Leary and Michael DuBose, who coordinated and directed this massive operation, alongside the FBI’s Cyber Division, under the direction of Assistant Director Jana Monroe. Finally, I thank Christopher Wray, the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, and Monique Roth in the Criminal Division for their leadership roles.

These investigations benefit from the important assistance provided by various intellectual property trade associations, including the Business Software Alliance, the Entertainment Software Association, the Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America. We thank them for their cooperation.


<<< Return to Major Criminal IP Ops Index