[Techtaffy Newsdesk]

Seven individuals and two corporations have been charged with running an international organized criminal enterprise allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy of numerous types of copyrighted works. Piracy through Megaupload.com and other related sites generated more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and caused more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners, says the U.S. Justice Department and FBI. This action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States.

The individuals and two corporations – Megaupload Limited and Vestor Limited – were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 5, 2012, and charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, among other things.

The indictment alleges that the criminal enterprise is led by Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, 37, a resident of both Hong Kong and New Zealand. Dotcom founded Megaupload Limited and is the director and sole shareholder of Vestor Limited, which has been used to hold his ownership interests in the Mega-affiliated sites.

According to the indictment, for more than five years the conspiracy has operated websites that unlawfully reproduce and distribute infringing copies of copyrighted works, including movies – often before their theatrical release – music, television programs, electronic books, and business and entertainment software on a massive scale.

The conspirators’ content hosting site, Megaupload.com, is advertised as having more than one billion visits to the site, more than 150 million registered users, 50 million daily visitors and accounting for four percent of the total traffic on the Internet. The estimated harm caused by the conspiracy’s criminal conduct to copyright holders is well in excess of $500 million. The conspirators allegedly earned more than $175 million in illegal profits through advertising revenue and selling premium memberships.

The investigation was initiated and led by the FBI at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), with assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

This case is part of efforts being undertaken by the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property (IP Task Force) to stop the theft of intellectual property.