The 50th felony conviction from Operation FastLink, a major Department of Justice initiative to combat online piracy worldwide, was announced Monday by Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the Eastern District of Virginia.

Christopher E. Eaves of Iowa Park, Texas, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement for his involvement in the pre-release music group, known as the Apocalypse Crew, before a U.S. District Court Judge in Alexandria, Va. He faces up to five years of in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.

"Digital piracy is a serious and growing global problem, and this 50th conviction represents a milestone never before achieved in any online piracy prosecution," said Assistant Attorney General Fisher. "The Department will continue to aggressively prosecute those criminals who seek to benefit unjustly from the hard work and creativity of others."

"Intellectual property theft strikes at the heart of America's economy," said Assistant Director James E. Finch of the FBI's Cyber Division. "The FBI depends on our industry and law enforcement partners in the pursuit and investigation of individuals and organizations that break the law by illegally distributing pirated materials."

Eaves' conviction represents the 50th conviction resulting from Operation FastLink, an ongoing federal crackdown against the organized piracy groups responsible for most of the initial illegal distribution of copyrighted movies, software, games and music on the Internet. To date, Operation FastLink has resulted in more than 120 search warrants executed in 12 countries; the confiscation of hundreds of computers and illegal online distribution hubs; and the removal of more than 50 million dollars worth of illegally copied software, games, movies, and music from illicit distribution channels. Operation FastLink is the culmination of multiple FBI undercover investigations including an investigation into pre-release music groups.

In pleading guilty, Eaves acknowledged that he was a leading member in the illegal software, game, movie, and music trade online, commonly referred to as the "warez scene." Eaves was an active member of the pre-release music group Apocalypse Crew, a group that acted as a first provider of copyrighted music to the Internet by serving as the original source for a majority of the pirated works distributed and downloaded online.

As a pre-release music group, Apocalypse Crew sought to acquire digital copies of songs and albums before their commercial release in the United States. The supply of such pre-release music was often provided by music industry insiders, such as radio DJs, employees of music magazine publishers, or workers at compact disc manufacturing plants, who frequently receive advance copies of songs prior to their commercial release. Once a group prepares a stolen work for distribution, the material is distributed in minutes to secure computer servers throughout the world. From there, within a matter of hours, the pirated works are distributed globally, filtering down to peer-to-peer and other public file-sharing networks accessible to anyone with Internet access.