British police arrest three over Web piracy ring

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LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) British police have arrested three people on suspicion of being involved in one of the country's biggest Internet-based music and film piracy rings, officials said today.

The alleged ringleader, an unnamed 33-year-old man, was held in a dawn raid at work in Cardiff yesterday, the city's trading standards department said.

A second man aged 28 and a woman aged 22 were also arrested in the anti-piracy operation in the Welsh capital. They have been bailed pending further police inquiries.

Police and officials from the UK Intellectual Property Office and the BPI, a music industry body, took part in the raids, seizing computer equipment.

The gang was one of the biggest suppliers of pirate music and films in Britain, trading standards officials and the BPI said in a joint statement.

It earned as much as 3,000 pounds a month selling fake ''master discs'' throughout Britain.

The gang sold disks that contained a huge amount of content.

One was capable of carrying thousands of compressed digital music files and could also record the entire week's new release albums, the BPI said.

The ring communicated with other criminal gangs using closed Internet chatrooms where orders and payments were made.

The content was then copied to smaller DVDs and CDs before being sold on the blackmarket.

Latest figures from BPI show the British music industry lose 165 million pounds annually from piracy with 7 per cent of the population admitting to buying fake copies.

The chief executive of BPI, Geoff Taylor, said: ''We expect this successful operation to cause major disruption to the supply and distribution of counterfeit masters nationwide.

''Almost every counterfeit CD, film or computer game bought in this country has involved criminal gangs at some point in the process.'' Cardiff Trading Standards operational manager, Steve Grey, said the operation had been complex.

''It is not easy to tackle this sort of Internet-based activity and effective enforcement in this area is becoming increasingly complex,'' he said.

REUTERS RSA RN2256

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