The indictment outlines an alleged plot by defendants from nine states, Australia and Barbados to illegally distribute newly released titles, including movies like "The Incredibles" and "The Aviator," and games like "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005."
A grand jury in Chicago returned the indictment late Tuesday following undercover investigations in Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., and San Jose, Calif.
"Online thieves who steal merchandise that companies work hard to produce and protect might think that cyberspace cloaks them in anonymity and makes them invulnerable to prosecution, but we have the ability to infiltrate their secret networks and hold them accountable for their criminal conduct," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement.
The defendants, many of whom worked in high-tech jobs, were members of "RISCISO," a "warez" community founded in 1993, according to the indictment. Warez groups are underground associations that use the Internet to illegally distribute copyrighted software.
The allegedly pirated works included movies, games, graphics, desktop publishing programs and spreadsheet applications, authorities said.
Each defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, which carries a five-year maximum prison sentence. Fifteen also were charged with copyright infringement, which carries a three-year maximum.
Arraignments had not been scheduled by Wednesday, and none of the defendants was in custody, but authorities said they had begun extraditing two of the defendants who lived in Australia and Barbados.
By Megan Reichgott