German Police Nab Download-Service Operators

German authorities have cracked down on what is believed to be Europe's largest illegal commercial downloading service, which has been selling films, music and software.

LONDON -- German authorities have cracked down on what is believed to be Europe's largest illegal commercial downloading service, which has been selling films, music and software.

After a yearlong investigation, German police on Sept. 16 arrested a Munich-based attorney and three businessmen who have allegedly been operating the Web-based service ftp-welt.com.

The Mühlhausen Public Prosecutor in charge of the case is expected to charge the individuals for organized crime offenses, as well as violating copyright laws. The enforcement authorities acted in coordination with Germany's Federation Against Copyright Theft (GVU).

The subscription service offered downloads of unauthorized versions of new movies and other entertainment product. It is believed the site had at least 45,000 subscribers and posted well over 1 million euros ($1.2 million) in revenues this year.

The service, running since June 2003, was operated from Germany but registered in the British Virgin Islands, with servers in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. According to reports, revenue generated from the operation was directed to a company called Internet Payment Systems Ltd., registered on the Caribbean island of Tortola.

According to the GVU, the attorney, whose name has not been revealed, is known for defending alleged copyright violators, particularly Internet pirates. He apparently registered the company in the British Virgin Islands in August 2003.

The Mühlhausen Public Prosecutor has been in contact with Interpol to seek the assistance of the authorities in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic regarding the seizure of the servers located in those countries within the next few weeks.

"This multi-country crackdown demonstrates our intent to aggressively prosecute these shadowy international figures who brazenly traffic in our member companies' products," says John G. Malcolm, senior VP/director of worldwide anti-piracy operations for the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

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