Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Three pirates busted in 'Operation Higher Education'

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The 'Higher Ed' appellation was inspired by the defendant's penchant for stashing their wares on university computers, rather than the Department of Justice's "that'll teach 'em" attitude. Operation Higher Education represents an offshoot of last year's better-known, worldwide 'Fastlink' anti-piracy crackdown.

Seth Kleinberg, 26, of Pasadena, California (who incidentally is the 'executive editor' of online gaming mag, 20 year old University of Maryland student from College Park, Jeffrey Lerman, and 32 year old, married father, Albert Bryndza of Flushing, New York, yesterday confessed to charges of copyright infringement before a U.S. district court.

All three men were arrested last April on suspicion of operating within a variety of piracy release groups including the notorious Kalisto and Fairlight, and for cooperatively stripping PC, Playstation 2 and Xbox titles of their copyright protection mechanisms and distributing them to a wider community.

Kleinberg (aka 'basilisk'), who is expected to face the harshest sentence of the three men, is to be charged with supplying, cracking and 'currying' (distributing) pre-release software titles.

Lerman will be tried for his involvement in ripping patented data to a more manageable size to aid distribution, while Bryndza awaits his fate in the dock on charges of constructing servers to house and disperse the modified code.

Their downfall transpired through the group's lust for fortune in addition to peer group infamy. A Singapore based affiliate of Fairlight who paid the group for topsite leech slots, unbeknownst to him was being tracked by the FBI. Agents passed his details to Singaporean authorities who, in August 2004, convicted him for hawking his colossal haul on the open market. Likely as a result of his replete cooperation he was given a fairly lenient (this is Asia after all) 15 month prison sentence. Soon after, Lerman, Bryndza and Kleinberg were brought into custody for questioning.

Singapore bread crumb trail or not, the Department of Justice's computer crimes division were not bereft of leads. For as long as I can remember Game Over has been strongly associated with the piracy 'scene' - it's no coincidence that they always managed to secure pre-release copies of games for review (they have, in the past, even been cited in various release group calling cards, aka nfos!).

In response to his arrest and upcoming conviction, Kleinberg remorsefully commented:

"I am sure you are aware of last April's "Operation Fastlink." Unfortunately, I made some bad choices, and was involved in the warez scene. I am accepting responsibility for what I did, and pleading guilty tomorrow in the United States District Court in Connecticut.

I am very sorry for what I have done, and after I serve my sentence, I hope I will be able to continue my career in the game industry, and move on with my life. This last year has been incredibly hard for me emotionally, facing the consequences of my bad choices, and I am hopeful for your support, but I'll understand if you want nothing to do with me."

The trio of 'sceners' will be sentenced in July and could face between 3 and 10 years of jail time. Luckily for them, as they all have clean records, their sentences could be drastically reduced. Also of course, it's a safe bet that 'get out of jail' (earlier) cards will be dangled under their noses. The accepted currency I believe is information leading to further arrests.


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