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A Perth, WA, man Sean O’Toole has been named by US authorities as leader of a group of software pirates which allegedly stole US$6.5 million worth of copyrighted computer software, movies and games.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictments in Chicago against 19 members of the underground piracy group known as “RISCISO” (Rise in Superior Couriering, plus the common file format ISO.) Sean O’Toole, 26, was named as the leader of the group. Extradition will reportedly be sought for him and for alleged group member Linda Waldron, 57, of Barbados – though how successful this may be is far from sure.

O’Toole went by the handle of “Chucky” and set policy for the group, deciding who could access servers and take material from remote sites. “This was not someone illegally downloading a song,” Fitzgerald said as he announced the 15-count indictment charging conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and other charges. “These were copyright violations on a massive scale.” The stolen merchandise would fill 23,000 compact discs and was valued at

$6.5 million, prosecutors said. The group allegedly cracked expiration and encryption codes built into trial software, computer games, and first-run movies intended only for reviewers and screeners. All 19 face a charge of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, plus restitution, prosecutors said.

Extradition problems ahead

Fifteen were also charged with copyright infringement, which carries a three-year maximum. Pirated films included Meet the Fockers and Super Streetfighter II; also involved was software from Microsoft, Intel and Hewlett-Packard.

Many of the defendants were reportedly in high-tech jobs and were members of warez group RISCISO, formed in 1993. A warez group is an underground association that uses the Internet for illegal distribution of copyrighted software. Whether or not the extradition proceedings will succeed is open to question.

In Australia, Hew Raymond Griffiths, 40, of Bateau Bay, NSW was among those caught in 2001 as part of the so-called DrinkOrDie software piracy gang that had its roots in Russia. It was broken up in an international operation called Project Buccaneer. After a US grand jury charged Griffiths with conspiracy, the US Justice Department unsuccessfully sought to extradite him to stand trial.

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