The investigation, called "Operation Higher Education," has been conducted in 12 countries, prosecutors said. The three men pleaded guilty to being part of organized groups including Fairlight and Kalisto, both of which specialized in distributing pirated copies of computer and video games.
"Stealing the intellectual property of others is no different from any other form of thievery," U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor said in a statement. "It is a priority of this Office and the Department of Justice to protect the intellectual property rights of our nation's inventors and creators, regardless of where the pirates are located."
The U.S. federal government has stepped up its investigation and prosecution of Internet piracy over the past several years. Most of its actions have targeted organized "warez" groups rather than individuals swapping music or movies on peer-to-peer networks, however.
"Higher Education" is part of a larger global antipiracy operation called "Operation Fastlink," which the Department of Justice.
Pasadena, Calif., resident Seth Kleinberg pleaded guilty to breaking copyright protection on software titles and distributing them online for several pirate groups. He faces up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Two other men, Jeffrey Lerman and Albert Bryndzda, each face up to five years in prison.