Video game pirate headed to slammer

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A Maryland man has been sentenced to four months behind bars for helping to organize a software and hardware piracy scheme out of a chain of video game stores.

Hitesh Patel, one of a group of employees and managers from the three-store Pandora's Cube chain in Maryland, pled guilty and was sentenced to four months in prison, said Rick Hirsch, senior vice president for intellectual property enforcement at the Entertainment Software Association. According to the ESA, Patel was charged with conspiracy to commit felony copyright infringement and for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Hirsch said that Patel and several colleagues, including Pandora's Cube owner Biren Amin, had been selling modified Xboxes that let players use pirated console games. Hirsch said Pandora's Cube was also selling modified Xboxes preloaded with pirated games.

Amin, who was also convicted and faces his own sentencing in the coming weeks, would not comment about his case or Patel's.

But a clerk for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland confirmed that Patel had been sentenced on July 19, though the judge in the case, Peter Messitte, had yet to formally put through the sentencing papers.

Hirsch said the ESA, a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbies for the video game industry, complained about the piracy to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. That agency, along with the U.S. Department of Justice's Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section, or CCIPS, then conducted a months-long investigation for raiding Pandora's Cube stores in December, Hirsch said.

A CCIPS employee contacted on Wednesday declined to comment on the case.

Hirsch said he wasn't surprised that Patel had pleaded guilty.

"They pretty much were caught red-handed," he said. "I don't think there was any dispute of the facts of what they were doing."

Hirsch said that the Pandora's Cube defendants were hardly the only ones in the United States selling Xboxes modified to allow the storage or playing of pirated games.

"I think there are a number of similar operations around the country, most of them doing it on a more covert basis than Pandora's Cube," he said. "But I think this creates a message for people engaged in these operations who think they are not really vulnerable to having anybody do anything about this."

By Daniel Terdiman
CNET News.com