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Software piracy nets six-year prison term

Prosecutors and investigators hail the sentence as a major triumph. The Lakeland entrepreneur also is ordered to pay $4.1-million in restitution

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published August 25, 2006


Visitors to Danny Ferrer’s Web site found deals too good to be true.

Instead of paying $600 for Adobe PhotoShop, Ferrer listed it for $99.95 on his site, www.buysusa.com.  He offered similar deals for other products.

Business boomed for the Lakeland entrepreneur. Ferrer launched a flight school at the Lakeland airport. He bought three planes, a helicopter, a Lamborghini, a Hummer and three Chevrolet Corvettes.

Then the federal government intervened.

On Friday, Ferrer was in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., where he was sentenced to six years in federal prison. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and one count of copyright infringement in June.

Ferrer, 37, was also ordered to pay $4.1-million in restitution.

Prosecutors and investigators hailed the sentence as a major triumph in the battle against software piracy. U.S. Department of Justice officials estimate Ferrer cost software companies Adobe, Macromedia and Autodesk more than $20-million in lost sales in the three years he operated his Web site.

“It sends a message to pirates that law enforcement will track them down,” said Caroline Joiner, executive director of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Piracy Initiative for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“This sentence shows that the consequences for piracy are real.”.

Ferrer’s attorney, Nina Ginsberg, did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.

Ferrer launched his business in 2002. His catalog included high-end Adobe products including PageMaker, Illustrator and Dreamweaver MX.

On his site, Ferrer said his software was legitimate. He claimed he could offer low prices because he bought the software in bulk and originally bundled it with hardware, according to court records.

But the Justice Department said there was no bundling. Instead, Ferrer used a CD burner and stolen serial numbers that allowed purchasers to activate the products.

Ferrer was a conspicuous presence in Lakeland. In April 2005, he started Ferrer Aviation, a flight school based at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

Ferrer also launched a volunteer firefighting department at the airport because he felt the city’s nearest fire stations were too far away.

Ferrer’s life began to unravel in 2005 when the FBI was alerted to the www.buysusa.com by the Business Software Alliance, a trade association that represents leading computer software companies.

Federal agents raided Ferrer’s office and home in October 2005. His site was shut down and his assets were seized, including his home, cars, a boat and $2.4-million in cash.

In June, Ferrer pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government. The case was prosecuted in Alexandria because an undercover FBI agent bought software from the Web site and had it delivered by mail to addresses in Virginia.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, Ferrer’s Web site illegally sold more than $2.47-million of software.

The investigation was part of a crackdown by the U.S. Justice Department on the theft of intellectual property, including software.

“Modern-day pirates ought to expect modern-day penalties,” said Chuck Rosenberg, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.  “We are very pleased with the sentence imposed today — one of the longest ever imposed for software piracy — and trust that it sends a strong message to those who pilfer the intellectual property of others.”

Information from the Lakeland Ledger was used in this report. Carrie Weimar can be reached at (813) 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 25, 2006, 21:26:52]


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