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Software engineer sentenced to prison

A former Symantec security software engineer is sentenced to spend nearly three years in prison for providing technology to a Web-based piracy group.

A former security software engineer convicted of providing technology to a piracy group known as DrinkOrDie was sentenced Thursday to nearly three years in prison.

Barry Erickson, 35, of Eugene, Ore., pleaded guilty in federal court in Virginia to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. Erickson, who is scheduled to serve 33 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release, is the first person to be sentenced in the case.

U.S. attorneys said Erickson, who was an engineer at Symantec and a member of DrinkOrDie, provided his company's technology to the group's members so they could remove copyright protections on software and provide counterfeit copies via the Web.

"The prosecution of this defendant, and the lengthy prison term he has received, demonstrate the Department of Justice's resolve that the copyright laws will be enforced in the cyberworld," U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said in a statement announcing the sentencing. "It is yet another step in our initiative to make the Internet safe for individuals and businesses."

Members of the loosely knit DrinkOrDie group often came together only through the Internet to distribute pirated software and movies via secret Web sites and invite-only IRC (Internet relay chat) channels.

So far, several alleged DrinkOrDie ringleaders and members have pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing. Officials in the U.S. Attorney's Office said they expect additional prosecutions.

Erickson's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In his plea, Erickson agreed that he caused between $2.5 million and $5 million worth of damages.

Defense attorneys have long argued that it's impossible to determine exactly how much damage software pirates cause, which gives prosecutors a lot of leverage.

For example, Jennifer Granick, a defense lawyer who's also the litigation director of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, said prosecutors can convince defendants to agree to large damages by threatening to ratchet up the numbers if they don't plead guilty.

"We're operating in this theoretical land of damages," Granick said.

However, copyright owners maintain strong law-enforcement action discourages piracy. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, has said that the number of pirated software sites of all types has declined by 45 percent since police began cracking down on DrinkOrDie's activities in December.