Net music pirate faces years in prison

The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday that it accepted a guilty plea in a criminal copyright case involving the former leader of a Net music piracy group called the Apocalypse Crew.

The defendant in the case, 21-year-old Mark Shumaker, faces a maximum prison sentence of five years and a maximum fine of $250,000. Shumaker helped coordinate the supply and release of albums online before they hit retail stores and ran the Apocalypse Crew’s Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, federal investigators charged.

“This plea shows that those who steal copyrighted music from artists and believe they are doing so anonymously on the Internet are sadly mistaken,” U.S. attorney Paul McNulty said in a statement. “We can find you, we will find you, and we will prosecute you.”

Shumaker’s case, part of the long-running Operation Buccaneer federal antipiracy investigations, is believed to be the first involving criminal penalties specifically for online music trading, a Department of Justice spokeswoman said. Buccaneer has targeted many other individuals, however, and has resulted in more than 22 convictions of felony copyright infringement involving software piracy groups such as Drink or Die, prosecutors said.

Raymond Griffiths, an Australian computer user alleged to be a leader of Drink or Die, is the subject of extradition requests from the U.S. government. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on all the charges against him.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which is in the process of issuing subpoenas for the identities of individual file swappers as a prelude to filing civil copyright infringement suits, welcomed news of the guilty plea.

“The theft of music on the Internet is a serious crime, and this action shows that the Justice Department means business,” RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement. “Those who egregiously distribute music on the Internet should take note–federal prosecution and jail time are real possibilities.”

Shumaker will be sentenced in federal court on Nov. 7.

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