A long-running undercover operation in the Charlotte, N.C., FBI office played a key role in an international crackdown on Internet pirates responsible for stealing copies of the latest “Star Wars” film and other movies, games and software programs, reports the Associated Press. FBI agents and investigators in 11 other nations conducted 90 searches this week, arresting four people, seizing hundreds of computers and shutting down at least eight major online distribution servers for pirated works. The umbrella FBI operation, which included probes run out of San Francisco and Chicago, was called Operation Site Down. The Justice Department got help from authorities in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.
One California man arrested is alleged to be a member of a “warez” [short for software] group, a kind of underground Internet co-op that is set up to trade in copyrighted materials. The Charlotte Observer quotes the FBI as explaining how it works: Someone inside the film or computer industry sends an early copy to a drop box; code breakers race to crack the security protections encrypted into the data; “packers” divvy up the movie or software into manageable pieces of data that can be easily transferred; couriers take the bootleg data from a storage site and distribute them; other distributors make copies and hawk discs of “War of the Worlds” at flea markets.