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Calif. man pleads guilty to video piracy

The first criminal conviction in the state under a controversial copyright law involves more than 4,500 bootlegged videotapes that were created by cracking anti-copying technology.

The Justice Department said Thursday that a California resident has pleaded guilty to copyright-infringement charges, involving more than 4,500 bootlegged videotapes.

The Justice Department said 36-year-old Mohsin Mynaf of Vacaville, Calif., pleaded guilty to criminal copyright infringement, trafficking in counterfeit labels and circumventing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA is a controversial law backed by music companies and other large copyright holders that prohibits anyone from cracking code designed to protect copyrights.

The Justice Department said the case is the first criminal conviction in California and the second in the United States under the DMCA. In the second case, a modified chip was used to circumvent software security schemes and allow Sony's PlayStation to play unauthorized copies of computer games, the Justice Department said.

The conviction comes as Hollywood and electronics manufacturers are beefing up copy-protection schemes to thwart online film pirates. The Video Watermarking (VWM) Group--a coalition of consumer-electronics companies that includes Hitachi, Macrovision, NEC, Philips Electronics, Pioneer and Sony--aims to create a system that places a unique bit of code into a video file, making it difficult to copy or play without permission from copyright holders.

According to Mynaf's plea agreement, investigators found a video reproduction lab at his residence used to manufacture and sell counterfeit videos. Among the equipment were 18 videocassette recorders, printers and a device used to bypass anti-copying technology. Mynaf stripped a copy-protection scheme from Macrovision that embeds an electronic signal during the recording of videos and causes an unauthorized copy to be distorted.

"The defendant's guilty plea to both the copyright and the DMCA charges demonstrates that the U.S. government intends to prosecute piracy cases to the fullest extent of the law," Ken Jacobsen, senior vice president and director of worldwide anti-piracy at the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krotoski, who is prosecuting the case, said Mynaf faces a maximum penalty of five years and a fine of up to $500,000 for the DMCA violation. He also faces a maximum penalty of 60 years and a fine of up to $3 million for copyright infringement and trafficking. A sentencing hearing is set for July 11 before U.S. District Court Judge David Levi.