Earlier this week, Xiang Li pleaded guilty in Delaware federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Li, a Chinese national, was charged with selling “cracked” software (i.e., software for which access controls had been circumvented) to customers around the world through websites such as cracked99.com. Li charged $20 to $1,200 for cracked versions of high-end software that retailed for up to over $1 million.
Investigators with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit arrested Li in June 2011 after luring him to Saipan (a U.S. territory) by posing as businessmen who wished to purchase cracked software from Li. Undercover agents had been purchasing pirated software from Li since January 2010, including software that could be used for military applications. Agents also reviewed emails in Li’s Gmail account, determining that Li conducted over 500 transactions with customers in more than 60 countries.
More than one-third of Li’s customers were located in the United States. Cosburn Wedderburn, a former engineer for NASA, and Dr. Wronald Best, the chief scientist at a U.S. government defense contractor, were two of Li’s biggest customers. Wedderburn allegedly purchased cracked software worth over $1 million from Li and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. Best purchased software worth over $600,000, and also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement.