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An Australian man accused of running a global software piracy network came a step closer to being extradited to the United States after a brief hearing in a Sydney court Tuesday. If he is turned over to U.S. law enforcement authorities, Hew Raymond Griffiths, 41, would be the first Australian extradited to America over alleged breaches of copyright law. U.S. authorities allege he was the ringleader of an Internet group, “DrinkOrDie,” which illegally copied and distributed more than $50 million worth of pirated software, movies, games and music before investigators shut down the group in 2001. The Australian Federal Court already has ruled that Griffiths should be extradited. He has 15 days to appeal the court’s July 7 ruling. He is being held at a Sydney detention center. His brief appearance Tuesday at the city’s Central Local Court was to allow a magistrate to review his detention. Magistrate Allan Moore said Griffiths should continue to be held and added he “is eligible for surrender to the United States.” DrinkOrDie was part of the so-called “warez scene” in which participants known as suppliers obtain access to copyrighted software, video games, movies and music files, often before the titles are available to the public. Other participants, known as crackers, use their technical skills to “crack” the copyright protection, while others known as couriers distribute the pirated software to various file servers on the Internet. The group, founded in Moscow in 1993, gained worldwide notoriety when it released a pirated version of the Windows 95 operating system two weeks before it was released by Microsoft. Griffiths faces two charges, one of conspiracy to violate U.S. copyright laws and one of criminal copyright infringement. If convicted, he would face a maximum 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $500,000. More than 20 people in Virginia, California and Illinois have been convicted as a result of the federal investigation. Ten defendants received sentences ranging from 33 to 46 months. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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