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Feds turn up heat on Net movie piracy

In what the Motion Picture Association of America sees as a watershed case, the FBI nabs a Washington state woman suspected of selling pirated movies on the Web.

    Federal investigators have nabbed a Washington state woman suspected of selling pirated movies and games on the Web.

    Jillann Reeves, 34, of Aberdeen, Wash., could face five years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted. FBI officials say Reeves offered pirated movies, including Star Wars: Episode 1 and Toy Story 2, and PlayStation, Nintendo and Gameboy video games through her Web site, Koolrcds.com, between March 18, 1999, and March 19, 2001. Reeves has been charged with criminal copyright violations in connection with selling and distributing pirated software.

    The arrest comes as the movie industry is fighting a widening battle against online movie piracy, fueled by file-swapping networks modeled on Napster, fast Internet connections, and digital video compression technology that makes it feasible to download feature-length films over the Web.

    As the Internet makes it easier for law enforcement to track and catch criminals, it also provides an arena for pirates and other lawbreakers to conduct business on scales that were not possible before the Web.

    In the pre-Internet days, pirates would hawk their wares at swap meets, through some video stores, and via street vendors. Now pirates can put up a Web site without ever leaving home.

    "It's a cyber-flea market out there," said Emily Kutner, a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which helped the FBI investigate Reeves.

    In this case, Reeves is accused of offering more than 140 pirated movies and 2,000 pirated video games on her site. Some of the movies had not yet been released on VHS when they appeared on the site, MPAA officials said.

    The industry group said it first learned of the case in March of last year, when the Seattle Bureau of the FBI contacted it and asked for help. The MPAA assisted in the investigation, including conducting an undercover operation that placed orders through the site. Other companies and organizations that pitched in included the Interactive Digital Software Association and Electronic Arts.

    The Koolrcds.com site has a notice that says it has been shut down, although links to special offers and order pages are working. However, people must click on an agreement saying they are using the site as a "backup service" for products they already own. Reeves did not immediately return requests for comment.

    Because the Internet has made it easier to sell pirated works, the MPAA has become more involved in such cases. Last December, the industry group sued Antonio Daniele III of Chicopee, Mass., and his mother for allegedly selling pirated movies via the Internet. The case is pending.

    The MPAA also is seeking to block distribution of computer code that can be used to break the industry's DVD encryption scheme. In August, a federal judge declared it is illegal to publish information about--or hyperlinks to--the controversial code, known as DeCSS. That case is on appeal.

    The Reeves case differs in that it was instigated by the Justice Department instead of the movie industry. The MPAA said it's hopeful federal law enforcement will make crackdowns on piracy a priority in the digital age.

    "The DOJ initiating this case sends the message that the government won't tolerate copyright theft in cyberspace," Kutner said.