WASHINGTON – A University of Maryland student was one of three men who pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal copyright infringement charges, in what the Justice Department called the first U.S. convictions in “Operation Higher Education.”
Jeffrey Lerman, 20, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement as part of a sophisticated piracy operation, known as “Kalisto,” that specialized in illegally distributing computer games over the Internet.
The College Park student, originally from New York, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn., along with Seth Kleinberg, 26, of Pasadena, Calif., and Albert Bryndzda, 32, of Flushing, N.Y.
Lerman and Bryndzda face up to five years in prison and Kleinberg could get 10 years at sentencing.
Donald Schechter, Lerman’s attorney, declined to comment on the case Tuesday. Calls to the Lermans’ home in New York were not immediately returned.
Officials at the University of Maryland could not be contacted for comment Tuesday night.
But in a December article in The Diamondback, the campus newspaper reported that FBI agents seized Lerman’s computer and PlayStation 2 game console from his room in the Kappa Alpha fraternity house.
“Stealing the intellectual property of others is no different from any other form of thievery,” U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O’Connor said in a prepared statement Tuesday. He said protecting intellectual property rights is a priority for the department, “regardless of where the pirates are located.”
The Justice Department said Lerman admitted to having a prominent role as a “ripper” in Kalisto, or someone who removed copy protection from software and manipulated data files to make them easier to distribute over the Internet.
Through a network of “release groups,” Kalisto was able to get the pirated software through pirate servers to publicly accessible channels and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.
Operation Higher Education is part of the government’s larger anti-piracy effort, “Operation Fastlink,” which the department calls its most aggressive and far-reaching intellectual property crime enforcement effort to date.
While Operation Higher Education did lead to the conviction of a Singapore man in August, Tuesday’s pleas are the program’s first domestic convictions.
The case was prosecuted in Connecticut because the investigation was led by the FBI’s New Haven Office and because the crime crossed jurisdictional boundaries, said Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut.
The Justice Department said Operation Higher Education coordinated law enforcement efforts in a dozen countries over the course of several months, and included searches and seizures in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary and Israel, among others.
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