The first federal criminal prosecution of an online music pirate happened Thursday, when 21-year-old Mark Shumaker pleaded guilty to violating copyright laws.
The Orlando, Florida, resident entered his guilty plea before the Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. District Attorney's office. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 when sentenced on November 7.
"This plea shows that those who steal copyrighted music from artists and believe they are doing so anonymously on the Internet are sadly mistaken," read a statement from United States Attorney Paul McNulty. "We can find you, and we will prosecute you."
As a principal of the Apocalypse Crew (APC), a "warez" group specializing in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works, Shumaker was accused of illegally distributing 10 or more copies of copyrighted works during the period of May 15, 2001, to December 11, 2001. The group would obtain pre-release copies of music from industry insiders and make them available to its members. From there, the song files would eventually wind up on public peer-to-peer services like Kazaa.
Shumaker was responsible for maintaining the APC's Internet Relay Chat, where members discussed the latest downloadables. He also uploaded many files for the group's shared use.
"The theft of music on the Internet is a serious crime, and this action shows that the Justice Department means business," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. "Those who egregiously distribute music on the Internet should take note — federal prosecution and jail time are real possibilities."
The Apocalypse Crew also engaged in the illegal distribution of movies, software and video games. Most of their commerce occurred on the FTP sites Drink or Die and its subsidiary Fatal Error, whose ISP is based in Dulles, Virginia.
U.S. Customs agents seized five computers and assorted software from Shumaker's home in Orlando, Florida, on December 11, 2001. Hundreds of copyrighted movie, music, software and game files, valued between $40,000 and $70,000, were found on the computers' hard drives.
Although Shumaker didn't get paid monetarily for his services to APC, he did receive "personal financial gain" within the meaning of the criminal copyright statute: He received and expected to receive other copyrighted works at no cost.
Shumaker isn't alone in being a bandit busted on the high seas of the Internet. According to the U.S. attorney's office, more than 22 others have been convicted on charges of felony copyright infringement as a result of Operation Buccaneer, a worldwide investigation run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. Shumaker was simply the first to specialize in music.
For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.