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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Internet piracy trio sent to jail
boxes of Microsoft software
The computer software industry is worth billions of pounds
Three men who pirated computer software have received jail terms of between 18 months and two-and-a-half years.

They were part of a network of pirates known as Drink Or Die (DOD) who cracked software protection codes, enabling it to be copied and downloaded.

The Old Bailey heard how the men, who were arrested along with around 60 others, did not make money from their activities but posed as "Robin Hoods".

The judge told them their scam "struck at the heart" of the software industry.

Alex Bell, 32, a former city banker, of Grays, Essex, and Steven Dowd, 42, of Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, had denied charges of conspiracy to defraud.

Your motivation was not only the benefit of free access - it was to enhance your personal reputation
Judge Paul Focke

They were convicted in March after a five-month trial. Bell was jailed for two-and-a-half years, Dowd for two years.

Accomplices Andrew Eardley, 35, of Deal, Kent, and IT manager Mark Vent, 31, of Grays, Essex, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud last year and were sentenced alongside their co-conspirators.

Vent was jailed for 18 months but Eardley, a former Staffordshire school IT worker, escaped jail, receiving an 18 month sentence suspended for two years.

Judge Paul Focke told the defendants it was "impossible to quantify" the loss to others caused by their scam.

"The loss of software to owners through piracy is staggering. Also, the effect on related businesses and the lives of employees can be rendered catastrophic."

They may see themselves as latter-day Robin Hoods but in reality it is a cover for fraud
Bruce Holder QC

They were among eight Britons arrested by the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit in December 2001 after a US-led investigation.

Earlier, prosecutor Bruce Houlder QC, said it was a "ground-breaking" case.

"It is the first prosecution for software piracy on this scale conducted in this country."

He added: "They may see themselves as latter-day Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but in reality it is a cover for fraud."

The prosecutor said international companies such as Microsoft, along with smaller firms, stood to lose millions as a result of the scam.

The judge concluded: "Your motivation was not only the benefit of free access - it was to enhance your personal reputation and to be a member of an organisation at the leading edge of technology, crossing the legal boundary."

Beth Scott, European manager for the Business Software Alliance, said: "We would never rejoice in anyone going to prison but we do not accept their defence that this was a victimless crime - their actions clearly contributed to a major piracy problem that impacts jobs, the economy and the businesses and consumers who benefit from innovation."

Pair convicted of internet piracy
16 Mar 05 |  Technology
The pirates with no profit motive
06 May 05 |  Technology
Pirate or harmless computer buff?
06 May 05 |  Technology

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