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Copyright Cases - U.S. v. Thornton (D.D.C.) (NET Act Case)

Press Release
For Immediate Release
December 22, 1999
U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Contact:  Channing Phillips 
(202)514-6933  (USAO)
Chris Watney
(202)514-2007  (DOJ)
Judiciary Center
555 Fourth St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Charges Filed Under the "No  Electronic Theft" (NET) Act for Unlawful Distribution

 of Software on the Internet


Washington, D.C. - The United States Department of Justice, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Wilma A. Lewis, and Assistant Director in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Washington Field Office Jimmy C. Carter announced the guilty plea of Eric John Thornton, 24, of 1326 Riverfront Court, Virginia Beach, VA, to a charge of criminal  infringement of a copyright, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2319(c)(3) and 17 U.S.C. § 506(a)(2).  Mr. Thornton pleaded guilty today in the United Stated District Court for the District of Columbia to this violation of the No Electronic Theft ("NET") Act, which was enacted in 1997 to punish Internet copyright  piracy.

        The United States charged that Mr. Thornton willfully infringed a copyright by the reproduction or distribution over the Internet of copyrighted software with a retail value of more than $1,000.00.  Mr. Thornton pleaded guilty before United States Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola. Upon sentence Mr. Thornton faces up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.00.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 3, 2000.

        As a part of the plea agreement in this case, Mr. Thornton has agreed to maintain for 18 months his website through which the software was pirated.  This website is entitled "Nopatience.com."  The website will carry a message which says that Mr. Thornton ran the website, that he was confronted by FBI agents, that he has been convicted of  federal criminal copyright infringement, and that his computer has been seized.

        United States Attorney Wilma A. Lewis stated that this prosecution "represents the latest step in a major initiative of federal and state law enforcement representatives working together to prosecute electronic crimes."  Ms. Lewis  stated that federal law enforcement will continue to pursue persons who infringe upon copyrights by  reproducing or distributing such material on the Internet.  She applauded the efforts of the FBI during the investigative phase of this case.

        During today's court hearing, Mr. Thornton admitted that he maintained a website located  at www.nopatience.com called "No Patience," at which he made available for download illegal copies of copyrighted software.  Mr. Thornton further admitted that between February 5 and March 26, 1999, a confidential source downloaded onto a hard drive 20 copyrighted software applications found at www.nopatience.com which had a retail value of $9,638.
        Mr. Thornton's plea is part of the "Intellectual Property Rights Initiative" announced by Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in San Jose, California on July 23, 1999.  The initiative is led by the Justice Department, the  FBI, and the Customs Service to focus increased investigative and prosecutive resources on copyright and trademark violations. James K. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, said, "Mr. Thornton's  case should serve as a notice that the Justice Department has made prosecution of Internet piracy one of its priorities.  Those who engage in this activity, whether or not for profit, should take heed that we will bring federal resources to bear to prosecute these cases.  This is theft, pure and simple," Robinson said.

          The NET Act was signed into law by President Clinton in December 1997, making it illegal to reproduce or distribute copyrighted works, such as software programs and musical recordings, even if the defendant acts without a commercial purpose or for private financial gain.  If the defendant reproduces or distributes 10 or  more copyrighted works that have a total value of more than $2,500, he or she can be charged with a felony, and faces a sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.  A defendant who reproduces or distributes one or more copies of copyrighted works with a value of more than $1,000 can be charged with a  misdemeanor, and face up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

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