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Software 'pirate' pleads guilty to charges

Unlikely to be sentenced to walk plank

A California man who operated a website selling millions of dollars of pirated software has pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal copyright infringement, the US DoJ (Department of Justice) said.

Nathan Peterson, 26, of Antelope Acres, California, pleaded guilty yesterday in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria. Peterson was owner of iBackups.net, "the largest for-profit software piracy site ever shut down by law enforcement," US Attorney Paul McNulty of the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement.

Peterson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 (£284,000) fine. Sentencing is scheduled for 14 April 2006. Including restitution of $5.4m (£3.1m), the penalties may be the highest ever imposed on a software pirate, said the SIIA (Software & Information Industry Association). The trade group alerted the US FBI in 2003 of possible copyright violations at iBackups.

Peterson's website was responsible for close to $20m (£11.4m) taken away from software vendors, the DOJ said. Peterson told customers that software sold on iBackups was legal "backup software" to protect against computer crashes, SIIA said.

The iBackups site, distributing products via downloads or mail, sold software "substantially below" suggested retail prices from companies such as Adobe, Macromedia, Microsoft and Symantec, the DOJ said.

Law enforcement authorities shut down iBackups in February, and the site now tells visitors it was shuttered by the FBI and DOJ. The site started operating in 2003 and advertised its products over the Internet, SIIA said.

Peterson used iBackups to fund an "extravagant lifestyle," including purchases of multiple homes, cars and a boat, the DOJ said. The government seized numerous assets from Peterson, including a restored 1949 Mercury Coupe vehicle purchased for $44,000 (£25,000), a 2005 Dodge Ram, a 2003 Chevrolet Corvette, a 2004 Toyota Camry, a 2005 Toyota Corolla, and a 2006 Mercedes-Benz S-Class bought for $125,000 (£71,000).

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