Software piracy case hits the Old Bailey

Two alleged members of the DrinkorDie warez network are standing trial in London, accused of involvement in a multi-million-pound fraud

Two UK citizens are appearing in court in London this week charged with illegally copying software worth several millions of pounds.

Steven Dowd, 39, of Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, and Alex Bell, 29, of Chafford Hundred, Essex, are both accused of being members of DrinkorDie, a group of software pirates that cracked many hundreds of commercial programs.

Both men deny the charges.

The Old Bailey heard on Tuesday that the two accused believed they were leading a "Robin Hood" existence, by making expensive software freely available over the Internet.

"They may see themselves as latter-day Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but in reality it is a cover for fraud," said Bruce Houlder QC, prosecutor, according to reports.

Houlder added that the pair "live and breathe a world of computer software".

DrinkorDie was an international alliance of software pirates, known as a warez network.

The group shot to prominence in the mid-1990s, when it released a cracked copy of Windows 95 onto the Internet two weeks before Microsoft had officially launched the product. It was said to be effectively shut down after a series of raids by law enforcement agencies worldwide in 2001.

Police say DrinkorDie had members in the US, Russia, the UK, Australia, Finland and Norway. An attempt to extradite an alleged member of the group from Australia to the US failed in March 2004, but American prosecutors are still fighting this ruling.

It's thought that the group had contacts within software companies, who could supply it with new software that hasn't yet been released.

The British Software Alliance, an industry body that fights software piracy, cites DrinkorDie as an example of the disregard that it claims many people have for copyright. In August it published research which found that 44 per cent of 18 to 29 year-olds in the UK possessed pirate or counterfeit goods.

The case continues.