Monday, January 10, 2005

Criminal Copyright Sentencing

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut announced the sentencing on Jan. 6 of Manpreet Singh after his guilty plea to a criminal copyright violation.  According to the press release issued by the USAO:

SINGH was a participant in the “warez scene” - an underground online community that consists of individuals and organized groups who use the Internet to engage in the large-scale, illegal distribution of copyrighted software. In the warez scene, certain participants (known as “suppliers”) are able to obtain access to copyrighted software, video games, DVD movies, and MP3 music files, often before those titles are available to the general public. Other participants (known as “crackers”) then use their technical skills to circumvent or “crack” the digital copyright protections. Others (known as “couriers”) distribute the pirated software to various file servers on the Internet for others to access, reproduce, and further distribute.  In pleading guilty, SINGH admitted that he was a member of at least two leading warez groups - “We Love Warez” (“WLW”) and “Phase.” SINGH also admitted that he acted as a distributor or “courier” of pirated software and that he uploaded and downloaded numerous illegal copies to and from warez sites on the Internet.

The sentence was three years probation, 300 hours of community service, and a $6,000 fine.  If software piracy is theft, as claimed by both prosecutors and (self-interestedly) the music, film, and television industries, then why is the penalty so light?  Or is it that downloading software, songs, and videos is so commonplace that it is difficult to consider it a "real" crime, especially when one is only a "courier" as Singh was? Singh is likely a first offender, and so the sentence may be comparable to what a first-time thief from a corner liquor store would receive, but the cost of electronic piracy is significant, at least according to those affected by it, and the sentence may be on the light side if the goal is to deter future piracy. (ph)

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