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Justice Dept. sweeps suspected 'warez' groups

"Operation Fastlink" takes place in 27 states and 10 countries, netting about $50 million worth of copyrighted material.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday that it conducted an international sweep of suspected online copyright pirates.

Dubbed "Operation Fastlink," the sweep consisted of 120 searches in 27 states and 10 countries. Officials seized 200 computers, 30 of which were alleged to have been used as storage and distribution servers, containing thousands of copyrighted works, including newly released movies and music.

The Justice Department estimated that the seized copyright material was worth $50 million.

"In the past 24 hours, working closely with our foreign law enforcement counterparts, we have moved aggressively to strike at the very core of the international online piracy world," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.

The operation specifically targeted "warez" groups, which allegedly disseminate pirated copies of computer software, games, movies and music on the Internet. Members of such groups may distribute material to "select clientele" over secure servers, and those files eventually end up on an Internet Relay Chat network or a peer-to-peer file-sharing service, according to the Justice Department.

Operation Fastlink is the latest in an ongoing campaign by law enforcement agencies around to world to target suspected warez groups. In 2001, the Justice Department and foreign agencies conducted a two-day raid that seized computers from a group named "DrinkOrDie."

The Justice Department added that Fastlink targeted a number of suspected warez groups, including Fairlight, Kalisto, Echelon, Class and Project X. Investigations were conducted in the United States, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Industry trade groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Business Software Alliance and the Entertainment Software Association were involved with the investigation. Separately, the RIAA has filed nearly 2,000 individual lawsuits against alleged file-swappers in hopes of scaring people away from using peer-to-peer software such as Kazaa.