U.S. Department of Justice - CyberCrime.gov Archived

Copyright Cases - U.S. v. Rothberg et al. (N.D. Ill.) (NET Act Case; "Pirates with Attitude")

May 15, 2002

U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Northern District of Illinois
Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Dirksen Federal Building
219 South Dearborn Street,
Fifth Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60604
(312) 353-5300
Press Contacts:Ê AUSA Lisa Griffin
(312) 886-7641
AUSA/PIO Randall Samborn
(312) 353-5318
AUSA Jame Conway
(312) 353-4085

  Leader Of Software Piracy Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison     CHICAGO . A Massachusetts man was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for leading an international computer software piracy ring whose members and associates conspired to infringe the copyrights on thousands of software programs worth over $1 million, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced today. Robin Rothberg, 34, of Newburyport, Mass., was sentenced yesterday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Rothberg was one of 17 defendants indicted in May 2000 for conspiring to pirate copyrighted software through an international organization known as .Pirates with Attitudes,. an underground group that disseminated stolen copies of software, including programs that were not yet commercially available. Those programs were available to the defendants through a hidden Internet site that was located at a university in Quebec, Canada. Twelve of the defendants, including an Aurora, Ill., man, were members or leaders of Pirates with Attitudes. The remaining five defendants were employees of Intel Corp., who supplied computer hardware to the piracy organization in exchange for obtaining access for themselves and other Intel employees to the group’s pirated software.

Fourteen defendants, including Rothberg, pleaded guilty in the case, and he became the 12th of those to be sentenced. A 15th defendant, Christian Morley, of Salem, Mass., was convicted of conspiracy after a jury trial last year and he was sentenced last month to two years in prison. The two remaining defendants, Mark Veerboken and Kaj Bjorlin, are fugitives believed to be living in Belgium and Sweden, respectively.

.This is one of the most significant investigations of copyright infringement on the Internet ever conducted by the FBI, and one of the first to be prosecuted under the .No Electronic Theft,. or .NET. Act, which penalizes copyright infringement, even in the absence of a profit motive,. Mr. Fitzgerald said. He announced the sentencing with Thomas J. Kneir, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In sentencing Rothberg, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said that he had .engaged in organized theft. and played a supervisory role in the conspiracy. On April 19, Judge Kennelly sentenced 11 other defendants, many of whom cooperated with the government and received sentences ranging between three and six months of either community or home confinement, combined with up to five years of probation, fines of up to $5,000, and 200 hours of community service. Thomas Oliver, of Aurora, was sentenced to six months of community confinement with electronic monitoring, three years of probation, and a $5,000 fine. In addition to Morley’s two-year prison term, another defendant, Jason Slater, of Sunnyvale, Calif., was sentenced to eight months in prison, followed by six months of community confinement. At the April 19 sentencings, Judge Kennelly described the conspiracy as .an elaborately organized and longstanding theft scheme..

Two remaining defendants who pleaded guilty and are cooperating, Steven Ahnen, of Sarasota, Fla., and Justin Robbins, of Lake Station, Ind., are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 28. The Pirates with Attitudes, or .PWA,. were an underground group of individuals who met and communicated with each other over the Internet, and whose sole purpose was the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted software. PWA members set up private Internet sites around the world to which members uploaded stolen software and from which, in return, they were permitted to download software programs. PWA members and leaders communicated with each other in real time on private Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels known as .#tude. and .#pwa.. In those channels, leading members met to vote on inviting new members to join, as well as promoting existing members to more senior positions. PWA members also communicated using group e-mail addresses provided by Rothberg.

PWA’s members were assigned specific roles, including, for example, .crackers,. who stripped away the copy protection that often is embedded in commercially-released software (such as valid serial number requirements, built-in time limitations, and hardware-based copy protections that limit the computers on which particular programs will run); .couriers,. who transferred software to PWA, .packagers,. who tested and prepared programs for release by couriers, and .suppliers. who funneled programs from major software companies to the group.

PWA maintained numerous File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites for the transfer of software files and stored libraries of pirated software on each of these sites. These sites, also known as .warez. sites, were configured so that they were accessible only to authorized users entering through known Internet Protocol addresses. Members of the public did not have access. During the conspiracy, which extended approximately from 1996 to 2000, PWA was operating 13 different FTP sites. One of those, Sentinel, which was the focus of the indictment, was PWA’s longest-running site and one of its most reliable. It first came on line in late 1995 and was in operation until the FBI took it down in January 2000.

Through a confidential informant, the FBI was able to gain access to Sentinel and viewed an index of thousands of pirated software titles, all of which were copyright protected. Investigators then traced the server that was being used to support the site to the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, where individuals were using the server without the university’s knowledge or authorization. Once confronted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI, these individuals cooperated and provided information about Sentinel. Rothberg controlled access to Sentinel, and over the course of its operation, he allowed more than 100 users to download the pirated software available there. Users were required, in return, to either upload software or otherwise contribute to PWA’s activities in order to maintain their access.

A significant portion of the software available on Sentinel consisted of high-priced utilities, but there were also thousands of examples of every kind of software on the market: operating systems, applications like word processing programs, data analysis programs, communications programs, graphics, and games including, for example, programs published by Microsoft, Adobe, Norton, Oracle, IBM, Lotus, Macromedia, and Novell. Over the course of Sentinel’s operation, in excess of 30,000 different software programs were pirated and uploaded to the site.

Also as part of the conspiracy, former Intel Corp. employees Brian Riley, Tyrone Augustine, Brian Boyanovsky and John Geissberger, arranged in December 1998 to supply hardware for the operation of Sentinel. At that time, Sentinel’s storage capacity was insufficient for the number of software programs being uploaded by PWA members, and Rothberg met the Intel employees on the Internet and learned from them that they could provide hardware for a piracy site. Rothberg, Boyanovsky, Riley and Augustine agreed that Intel employees would be given access to the software available on Sentinel in exchange for sending Intel hardware to the site operators in Canada to expand Sentinel’s storage capacity. Another ex-Intel employee, Gene Tacy, configured servers within Intel to make the software available to other employees. All of the illegal activity by the five Intel workers was done without Intel’s knowledge or consent.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa Griffin and James Conway. # # #

>> Return to the DOJ CyberCrime Cases Index Page

>> Return to the DOJ CyberCrime Index Page