LONDON – British and Dutch police shut down what they say is one the world's biggest online sources of pirated music Tuesday and arrested the Web site's 24-year-old suspected operator.
The invitation-only OiNK Web site specialized in distributing albums leaked before their official release by record companies, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said.
Many among OiNK's estimated 180,000 members paid "donations" to upload or download albums, often weeks before their release, and within hours albums would be distributed through public forums and blogs across the Internet.
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Users were invited to the site if they could prove they had music to share, the IFPI said.
The IFPI said more than 60 major albums were leaked on OiNK so far this year, making it the primary source worldwide for illegal prerelease music.
Prerelease piracy is considered particularly damaging to music sales as it leads to early mixes and unfinished versions of artists' recordings circulating on the Internet months before the release.
Police in Cleveland, in northeast England, said they were tracing the money generated through the Web site, expected to amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The arrest of a 24-year-old IT worker at a house in Middlesbrough, northeast England, followed a two-year investigation by Dutch and British police and raids coordinated by Interpol.
Cleveland police said the man, whose name was not released, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and infringement of copyright law.
OiNK's servers, in Amsterdam, were shut down by Dutch police, the IFPI said.
"OiNK was central to the illegal distribution of prerelease music online," said Jeremy Banks, the head of the IFPI's Internet Anti-Piracy Unit.
"This was not a case of friends sharing music for pleasure. This was a worldwide network that got hold of music they did not own the rights to and posted it online."
The IFPI is spearheading an international fight against all forms of Internet music piracy amid declining sales of physical CDs.
Recorded music sales have fallen by more than a third internationally in the last six years.