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German police have broken up an Internet piracy operation that peddled millions of euros (dollars) worth of bootleg films, computer games, music and software, police and prosecutors said Friday. The Web site, which charged users to download unauthorized copies of new films, had at least 45,000 subscribers and brought in more than euro1 million (US $1.22 million) in 2004 profit, officials said. After a yearlong investigation, police from the states of Thuringia, Bavaria and Lower Saxony on Thursday arrested four men. They are being investigated for possible charges of 45,000 counts of copyright violation, as well as organized crime activity, lead prosecutor Hans-Joachim Petri told a press conference. Police also confiscated computers and euro250,000 (US $305,000) in four different German cities. The suspects, whose names were not released, could face up to five years in prison if convicted. The site, taken off the Web on Thursday by the police, was operated from Germany, but registered in the British Virgin Islands with servers in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Police said they didn’t know exactly how much money the site took in, but the German Federation Against Copyright Theft estimated the pirated material would have been worth at least euro10 million (US $12.2 million) in revenue to the legitimate rights holders. “It is actually very difficult to calculate the amount of damages, because the pirated quality was very high,” enabling further copying and sale, said Diane Gross, a spokeswoman for the federation. “The 45,000 initial clients could have spread the copies even further to countless others … They were able to download blockbuster films long before they were normally available.” The suspects included two brothers who operated the Web site, ages 20 and 30, a 46-year-old lawyer from Munich and a 19-year-old technician. The attorney has previously defended alleged copyright violators, particularly Internet pirates, according to a Motion Picture Association of America press release. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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