The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said yesterday that it had broken up an international piracy operation run by Li Xiang, 36, of Chengdu in Sichuan, China.
Li was arrested in June 2011 after being lured by undercover buyers from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations division to the Pacific island of Saipan, in the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, to deliver pirated software.
Li pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and wire fraud in the US district court in Wilmington, Delaware.
The ICE investigation revealed that Li used the Crack 99 website to distribute pirated or cracked software to customers all over the world, including the United States. Software is "cracked" when its digital license files and access control features have been disabled or circumvented.
According to statements made at the plea hearing and documents filed in court, HSI identified Li as the operator of a website located at www.Crack99.com that was advertising thousands of pirated software titles at a fraction of their retail value.
From April 2008 to June 2011, Li engaged in more than 500 transactions, in which he distributed approximately 550 different copyrighted software titles to at least 325 purchasers located in at least 28 states and more than 60 foreign countries, with more than one-third of the buyers in the United States, including a NASA engineer and a defence contractor, the ICE said in a statement.
Li operated a website used to distribute more than USD 100 million worth of pirated software around the world, making it "one of the most significant cases of copyright infringement ever uncovered and dismantled by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the statement said.
Li will be sentenced May 3, 2013 and faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, a USD 250,000 fine and three years of supervised release following his prison sentence.
"Li mistakenly thought he was safe from the long arm of HSI, hiding halfway around the world in cyberspace anonymity," said ICE Director John Morton.
"Fast forward to today, where he is now being held accountable in Delaware for illegally stealing, distributing and ultimately exploiting American ingenuity and creativity at a loss of at least USD 100 million to US companies.
Two US citizens, NASA engineer Cosburn Wedderburn and Wronald Best, chief scientist at a US defence contractor, have also pleaded guilty to copyright infringement and await sentencing, a media report said.