A Spokane man caught during a federal sweep against a copyright infringement conspiracy will spend five months in prison.
Scott J. Walls, 46, said he became involved with a group of people that bought computer software, video games and movies and then cracked the products’ computer codes and allowed others to download them.
He pleaded guilty to one federal charge last year and U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle handed down a sentence Thursday morning that also included three years of federal probation and $1,100 in fines.
Though copyright infringement is not a violent crime, the judge called it a serious offense with broad economic consequences.
Walls had sought probation rather than prison time. He is married with two grown daughters and one still living at home. His family also has provided for the past eight years a home to young men with Down Syndrome.
His attorney, Carl Oreskovich, called Walls a good person who made a mistake, noting Walls’ 17-year employment with a local excavating business.
The financial losses attributable to Walls are difficult to compute, but Walls and prosecutors agreed as part of a plea deal that his actions erased at least $175,000 in sales.
Deputy U.S. Attorney Russell Smoot said prison time was appropriate.
Such federal prosecutions are atypical in Eastern Washington, Smoot said, but it’s the equivalent of Walls unlocking the door to a local retailer at night and allowing people to walk in, grab software and DVD movies off the shelves and leave without paying. “This shouldn’t be seen as a simple shoplifting crime,” he said.
The FBI considered Walls a bit player in the software piracy cases.
The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped up efforts in recent years to stop online theft.
Walls told the judge that while it started as fun and games from his home computer, he grew uncomfortable with the activities.
He quit the so-called “warez scene” he had joined about two months before the FBI arrived at his home with a search warrant. The raid at his West Glass Avenue home was among 200 conducted in 15 countries. Walls cooperated fully in the investigation and helped investigators net at least two others.
These “warez” groups – derived from the words software and warehouses – are blamed for inflicting billions of dollars in losses to U.S. companies by illegally distributing music, movies, games and software.