How much will one count of 'conspiracy to commit software piracy' cost you?

Two thousand dollars ($2,000) and two years of probation…after five years of investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division and three years of litigation in the Connecticut District Court.

That was the sentence for Michael Uszakow, 46, of Houston Texas, in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut this week. His "Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Copyright Infringement" took place when he participated in the cracking/warez scene.

Uszakow was indicted for accessing warez FTP sites called "Nite Ranger Hideout" and "The Ether Net (TEN)" between 2002 and 2003, and uploading about 3,195 copyrighted files, and downloading 7,296 copyrighted files. Among the files in Uszakow's transaction, he was charged with trading cracked versions of MasterCam 9.1, AutoCad 2004, and BEA WebLogic Server 8.1.

According to the 2008 indictment, "all defendants herein, and others known and unknown, knowingly did conspire, combine, confederate, and agree to commit offenses against the United States…[and] willfully to infringe the copyright of a copyrighted work for purposes of commercial advantage and private financial gain, willfully to infringe the copyright of a copyrighted work by the reproduction and distribution, including by electronic means, during a 180-day period, of one or
more copies of one or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000."

Uszakow pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in August, which carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine or alternatively, twice the gross gain to the defendant or loss to the U.S. resulting from the offense. In February, his counsel filed a motion requesting a "non guideline sentence," based on U.S. v. Crosby which brought Uszakow the mandatory minimum sentence instead.

As one of our readers asked: Why were these "pirates" being pursued by the U.S. Government and not the individual companies whose software was being traded?

The crackdown can be summarized by the "Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act" (PRO-IP Act) of 2008 (H.R. 4279), which directs the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) to "coordinate the development of a Joint Strategic Plan against counterfeiting and infringement."

A summary of the 2010 Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement (.pdf here) said , "We heard from a broad array of Americans and received more than 1,600 public comments with specific and creative suggestions Federal agencies, including the U S Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Commerce (DOC), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and State (DOS), the Office of the U S Trade Representative (USTR) and the U S Copyright Office participated in the development of this Joint Strategic Plan."

Through this process, we identified a number of actions the Federal government will take to enhance
the protection of American intellectual property rights:
1. We will lead by example and will work to ensure that the Federal government does not purchase
or use infringing products
2. We will support transparency in the development of enforcement policy, information sharing
and reporting of law enforcement activities at home and abroad
3. We will improve coordination and thereby increase the efficiency and effectiveness of law
enforcement efforts at the Federal, state and local level, of personnel stationed overseas and
of the U S Government's international training efforts
4. We will work with our trading partners and with international organizations to better enforce
American intellectual property rights in the global economy

5. We will secure supply chains to stem the flow of infringing products at our borders and through
enhanced cooperation with the private sector
6. We will improve data and information collection from intellectual property-related activity and
continuously assess domestic and foreign laws and enforcement activities to maintain an open,
fair and balanced environment for American intellectual property rightholders.

The Department of Justice officially created its Intellectual Property Task Force in 2004 after six months of investigations, and this case was first filed in the District Court of Connecticut in 2008.

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