updated 8/25/2004 3:24:26 PM ET 2004-08-25T19:24:26

Federal agents seized computers and software Wednesday as part of an investigation targeting an Internet network used to illegally share copyrighted music, movies, software and games, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

The case marks the first federal criminal copyright action taken against a peer-to-peer, or P2P, network in which users can access files directly from the hard drives of fellow users’ computers.

Agents executed search warrants at residences and one Internet service provider in Texas, New York and Wisconsin. The warrants targeted the operators of five of the network’s “hubs,” rather than the individual users, and criminal charges are likely in the near future, according to the FBI.

The hubs act as a central point for people granted membership to exchange copyrighted files, with some hubs containing data each day equivalent to 60,000 feature films.

“The message is simply this: P2P or peer-to-peer does not stand for 'permission to pilfer,”’ Ashcroft told reporters.

An FBI affidavit filed in support of one search warrant said that agents used covert computers to infiltrate and obtain copyrighted material from some of the users connected to the “Underground Network,” including copies of new movies made from legitimate advance screeners’ copies. The network, according to the affidavit, has about 7,000 members.

Meanwhile, the Recording Industry Association of America said it has filed 744 new lawsuits against individuals claiming they illegally downloaded songs.

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