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Auto Parts Distributor Pleads Guilty to Manufacturing and Selling Pirated Mercedes-Benz Software

Pirated software was valued at more than $17 million, authorities say.

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WASHINGTON—An aftermarket auto parts distributor in Harahan, Louisiana, pleaded guilty Sept. 10 to manufacturing and selling more than 800 copyright-infringing copies of Mercedes-Benz diagnostic software valued at more than $17 million, an FBI press release states.

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Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite of the Eastern District of Louisiana and Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Anderson of the FBI’s New Orleans Division made the announcement.

The Brinson Co. (TBC), and its owner, Rainer Wittich, 66, of River Ridge, La., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown of the Eastern District of Louisiana to an information charging them, respectively, with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and to violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and criminal copyright infringement. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 16. As part of its plea agreement, TBC agreed to assist Mercedes-Benz in compiling a list of all customers to whom it sold, distributed, donated or otherwise provided the pirated software.

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Wittich owned TBC, which sold replacement parts and diagnostic equipment for Mercedes-Benz vehicles. According to TBC’s plea agreement, beginning in about 2001, in conjunction with two other companies, TBC began developing, manufacturing and selling non-authentic versions of the Mercedes-Benz Star Diagnostic System (SDS), a portable tablet-type computer that contains proprietary software created by Mercedes-Benz to diagnose and repair its automobiles and that requires a code or “license key” to access. TBC admitted that, without authorization, it obtained Mercedes-Benz SDS software and updates, modified and duplicated the software, and installed the software on laptop computers (which served as the SDS units).

TBC further admitted that, not later than June 2010, it began purchasing software for the non-authentic SDS units as well as updates and “patches” for the software from an individual in the United Kingdom. TBC admitted that, after Mercedes-Benz notified the United Kingdom-based individual that his conduct was in violation of the law, representatives of TBC and the co-conspirator companies discussed plans to have him “go underground and off the radar” and continue to provide assistance and support in the production of non-authentic SDS units.

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A genuine SDS unit sold for up to $22,000, and purchasers of the SDS paid Mercedes-Benz several thousands of dollars per year to receive regular software updates. According to TBC’s plea agreement, a non-authentic SDS unit sold for up to $11,000. TBC admitted that, in total, it sold approximately 725 non-authentic SDS devices, and that one of its co-conspirators sold at least 95 devices.

The case was investigated by the Cyber Task Force of the FBI’s New Orleans Division. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Evan Williams of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jordan Ginsberg and Myles Ranier of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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The enforcement action announced Sept. 10 is related to the many efforts being undertaken by the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property (IP Task Force). The IP Task Force supports prosecution priorities, promotes innovation through heightened civil enforcement, enhances coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, and focuses on international enforcement efforts, including reinforcing relationships with key foreign partners and U.S. industry leaders.

To learn more about the IP Task Force, go to www.justice.gov/dag/iptaskforce.

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