- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Put on Internetbefore release


Four men pleaded guilty to helping post songs on the Internet before they were released to the public, leading to the distribution of millions of pirated copies, the Justice Department said.

The guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Alexandria were the first on federal criminal charges related to the early release of music on the Web between 1999 and 2004, prosecutors said. Each man faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when they are sentenced May 19 for criminal copyright infringement.

Groups such as Apocalypse Crew and Chromance received digital advance copies of songs from people such as disc jockeys, music-magazine publishers and compact-disc plant employees, then sent them to computer servers that made the music available worldwide within hours, the Justice Department said.

“Prerelease theft undercuts the ability of artists to sell their music before it even hits the market,” said Brad Buckles, an executive vice president with the Recording Industry Association of America. Artists such as Eminem and U2 were forced to alter marketing plans after early copies of their CDs were released on the Internet.

Derek A. Borchardt, 21, of Charlotte, N.C.; Matthew B. Howard, 24, of Longmont, Colo.; and Aaron O. Jones, 31 of Hillsboro, Ore., pleaded guilty yesterday. All belonged to Apocalypse Crew, prosecutors said. George Hayes, 31, of Danville, Va., who pleaded Feb. 13, is accused of being a member of Chromance.

Howard, who works for a metal-roof manufacturer, didn’t make any money by distributing the songs to the Apocalypse Crew’s computers, said his lawyer, Steven McCool. He wouldn’t say where Howard obtained the songs.

“At the time that Matt was committing these actions, he didn’t fully appreciate the consequences,” Mr. McCool said. “Now he fully understands his conduct was criminal and he accepts full responsibility.”

Lawyers for the other men didn’t return messages seeking comment.

The investigation was part of “Operation FastLink,” an international probe begun in 2004 to crack down on illegal distribution of movies, music, software and games over the Internet. The RIAA, representing music companies such as Warner Music Group Corp. and EMI Group PLC, has filed more than 17,000 lawsuits over online-music piracy.

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