US cracks down on Internet movie pirates, websites seized

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US authorities launched a crackdown on Wednesday against websites offering pirated copies of movies, sometimes within hours of their release in theaters.

The domain names of nine websites offering first-run movies were seized along with bank, Paypal and advertising accounts as part of the initiative called "Operation in Our Sites," US law enforcement officials said.

"If your business model is movie piracy, your story will not have a happy ending," Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.

"Criminal copyright infringement occurs on a massive scale over the Internet, resulting in billions of dollars in losses to the US economy," Bharara said. "That's why we took the actions we did."

The US attorney's office mounted the crackdown on movie pirates with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

It comes a week after Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a wide-ranging strategic plan to protect intellectual property.

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"We are dedicated to protecting the jobs, the income and the tax revenue that disappear when organized criminals traffic in stolen movies for their own profit," said ICE assistant secretary John Morton.

Kathy Garmezy of the Directors Guild of America said there had been a "dramatic rise" in the number of websites "making films and television shows - created by our members - available for illegal download or streaming."

"If left unchecked, this illegal activity threatens the very ability of filmmakers to both earn a living and create the content that is enjoyed by billions around the world," she said.

US authorities said "Operation In Our Sites" is targeting not only pirated movies but other items distributed over the Internet such as music, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, software, electronics and games.