A major figure on the Internet piracy landscape pleaded guilty in a district court Thursday to distributing music, software and gaming software in violation of copyright infringement laws.

Mark Shumaker, 21, of Orlando, Florida, and a former leader of the notorious Internet music piracy group Apocalypse Crew, pleaded guilty before the Virginia United States District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee.

Shumaker is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Lee on November 7, 2003. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 as part of a major sting operation on pronounced Internet piracy that has had the government, and groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on the trail of leaders of illegal file-trading on P2P groups.

The confession is a high-profile coup in a protracted battle by the recording industry and software companies who claim they've lost millions of due to illegal file trading or software dissemination.

RIAA President Cary Sherman applauded the conviction.

"The theft of music on the Internet is a serious crime, and this action shows that the Justice Department means business. Those who egregiously distribute music on the Internet should take note -- federal prosecution and jail time are real possibilities," Sherman said in a statement.

Paul J. McNulty, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and John G. Malcolm, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, handled the case.

"This plea shows that those who steal copyrighted music from artists and elieve they are doing so anonymously on the Internet are sadly mistaken," McNulty said. "We can find you, we will find you, and we will prosecute you."

Apocalypse Crew is an Internet music piracy group infamous for doling out copies of digital music before its commercial release in the U.S. -- something that has deeply upset musicians who rely heavily on the first few weeks of record sales for the bulk of their income from new music releases.

Jonathan Davis, lead singer for the hard rock band Korn, has told numerous publications and radio stations that he feels the early distribution of his group's 2002 album, "The Untouchables," cost them thousands of dollars.

McNulty said Apocalypse Crew tabbed industry insiders, such as radio DJs and employees of music magazine publishers, to obtain pre-release copies of compact disks. These were then uploaded onto the Internet where they were accessible to users of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks such as KaZaa and Morpheus.

McNulty said Shumaker coordinated the supply and unauthorized distribution of the group's music releases in 2001. He also operated the group's private, invite-only Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel where members discussed their activities.

The bust brings to 22 the number of like convictions stemming from what has been a successful dragnet called "Operation Buccaneer," a worldwide investigation run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS).

"The conviction of Mark Shumaker is another example of the Department of Justice's aggressive attack against high-level Internet piracy groups that initiate the illegal distribution of copyrighted works over the Internet," said Deputy Assistant Attorney General John G. Malcolm. "Music piracy, no less than software or movie piracy, is a crime and its victims are real; musicians deserve to be paid for their creativity and work."

In related news, a woman calling herself "Jane Doe" Thursday filed a motion to retain her anonymity in an ongoing legal battle between communications providers and the music industry over Internet piracy. This motion is the first of its kind.

Lawyers filed the motion in federal court in Washington D.C. on behalf of a Verizon Communications customer who was asserting her privacy and other constitutional rights.

The RIAA has issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to ISPs demanding the names and addresses of people who share copyrighted music online with the aim of suing them for copyright infringement. Courts have gone back and forth over whether to allow the RIAA access to the identities of the accused, with the RIAA at last getting its wish so it may pursue them.