Two Chinese nationals have been charged with software piracy and illegally exporting technology from the US to their home country, costing the US firms involved almost $100m in lost revenue.
The alleged offenders, Xiang Li and Chun Yan Li, are a married couple and both in their mid-thirties, according to a statement from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
The statement said the pair ran a website called Crack 99 that advertised and sold pirated copies of software in which the access control mechanism had been cracked or circumvented.
The website advertised over 2,000 different cracked software products for sale at a fraction of their retail prices.
The software was stolen from more than 150 US manufacturers between April 2008 and June 2011, although no specific companies were mentioned in the ICE's report.
The prices listed for the pirated software on the websites ranged from $20 to $1,200, while the actual retail value of these products ranges from several hundred dollars to over one million dollars, said the ICE.
Xiang Li was arrested by HSI special agents in June of last year, in the US-controlled territory of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, as the US authorities underlined their willingness to target those harming its firms.
"Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is committed to protecting US industry and US jobs from people like Xiang Li, the leader of this criminal organisation who believed he could commit these crimes without being held accountable for his actions," said ICE director John Morton.
"Li thought he was safe from the long arm of US law enforcement, hiding halfway around the world in cyberspace anonymity. He was sorely mistaken."
The indictment charges against Xiang Li are for distributing over 500 pirated copyrighted works. More than one-third of these purchases were made by individuals within the United States.
However, Chun Yan Li remains an at-large fugitive in Chengdu, China.
ICE also revealed that one of the key purchasers was actually a US citizen and former Nasa employee, Cosburn Wedderburn.
According to court documents, Wedderburn purchased over $1m of cracked stolen software and is now pleading guilty to charges of criminal copyright infringement.
Xiang Li faces up to 20 years in federal prison and an extensive fine, while Wedderburn also faces a fine as well as five years in federal prison. The ICE did not give details on the fate faced by Chun Yan Li.
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