German police said Sunday they had exposed the names of thousands of users of illegal Internet piracy sites as part of a crackdown on swapping bootleg copies of movies,
computer games, software and music. A spokesman for the state crime office in the eastern region of Thuringia said that an ongoing probe of four Germans had allowed authorities to crack the online address book of the site, unmasking thousands of suspects. "We don't know yet if we are talking about 8,000 or 20,000 people," the spokesman said, noting that copyright violators could face heavy fines or even prison terms. The four men at the center of the probe between the ages of 19 and 46 were detained in September. Three have since been remanded in custody. Authorities believe their Internet site, which was not named, posted revenues of nearly €1 million ($1.3 million). The Hamburg Society for the Prosecution of Copyright Infringements (GVU) said that smashing the ring had wiped out a major part of the German-language Internet piracy industry. A GVU spokesman said the group had the largest operation in German-speaking Europe with the most up-to-date music and films on offer. Prosecutors said they believed the copyright holders of the media had lost revenues running into tens of millions of euros due to the illegal site. In June, a young man was convicted and fined in Cottbus, eastern Germany for posting thousands of copyrighted songs on an Internet music swap site in a legal first for the country.