Warez Leader Faces 10 Years in Jail

After spending nearly 3 years in a detention center fighting his extradition from Australia, a leader of notorious warez group 'DrinkorDie' was yesterday arraigned before a U.S. District Court to face charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of actual criminal copyright infringement. If found guilty he faces 10 years in jail & a $500,000 fine.

Founded in Moscow in 1993, DrinkorDie (DoD) was a major underground warez network who, amongst many other achievements (including the release of their own DVD ripper) embarrassed Microsoft by pre-releasing Windows95 2 weeks before its official launch. DoD consisted mainly of university undergraduates and was heavily supported by employees of software houses, whose role would be to leak copies of software to the group.

dod warez nfoConsidered by many to have reached their peak before the dawn of 1997, DoD remained firmly on the FBI’s radar. In 2000, U.S. Immigration and Customs began their investigation into DOD and other warez networks such as RiSC, RAZOR1911, RiSCISO, Request To Send (RTS), ShadowRealm (SRM), WomenLoveWarez (WLW), and POPZ. In 2001 DoD was busted during US Customs co-ordinated raids as part of Operation Buccaneer.

More than seventy search warrants were carried out globally across 12 countries, including raids in the US, Australia, Great Britain, Finland, Norway and Sweden with the subsequent arrest of 65 people.

The investigation claimed to have revealed two leaders of DoD. The first, 28 year old US citizen John Sankus Jr from Philadelphia aka ‘eriFlleH’ was convicted and sentenced in 2002, receiving 46 months in a federal prison (along with co-conspirator, Barry Erickson, who was sentenced to 33 months). At the time, US Attorney Paul McNulty said “John Sankus and his techno-gang operated in the faceless world of the internet and thought they would never be caught. They were wrong. These sentences, and those to follow, should send a message to others entertaining similar beliefs of invincibility.”

The second leader is claimed to be 44 year old Hew Raymond Griffiths, a British national and previous resident of Bateau Bay, Australia. After fighting extradition to the US from an Australian detention center for the last 3 years, Griffiths finally lost his battle in the Australian courts and yesterday was brought before Magistrate Judge Barry R. Poretz sitting in U.S. District Court, Alexandria, Va.

According to the indictment, it is claimed that Griffiths, aka “Bandido,” was an established leader of DrinkOrDie and a major player in the ‘warez’ scene. It is claimed that he also held important positions in other warez groups including Razor1911 and RiSC.

“Griffiths claimed to be beyond the reach of U.S. law, and today, we have proven otherwise,” said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher. “This extradition represents the Department of Justice’s commitment to protect intellectual property rights from those who violate our laws from the other side of the globe.”

“Our agents and prosecutors are working tirelessly to nab intellectual property thieves, even where their crimes transcend international borders,” said U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg.

The Court claims that prior to its dismantling, DrinkOrDie was estimated to have enabled the illegal reproduction and distribution of more than $50 million worth of pirated media including software, movies, games and music.

However, its is worth noting that it has never been proven that any member of DoD profited financially from their activities. Indeed, at the trial of other DoD members in the UK in May 2005, Bruce Houlder QC, prosecuting, said he acknowledged that the defendants were not involved in the software piracy scene to make money but rather they saw themselves as latter-day Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

For many in the warez scene and beyond, this is how DoD will be remembered.

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