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Anonymous hits US websites

The online activist group Anonymous, which opposes copyright enforcement, took responsibility for a series of network attacks yesterday on government and entertainment industry websites, after US officials unveiled the indictment of an international Internet site on charges of distributing illegal copies of movies, music, and electronic books.

Some sites experienced service disruptions; the Justice Department, Universal Music Group, and BMI, which collects copyright royalties for composers, were knocked offline. The US Copyright Office and the Recording Industry Association of America sites were also attacked.

A series of Twitter messages supposedly authored by Anonymous activists celebrated the attacks. “The entertainment industries will see that they can not simply censor us for the basis of profit,’’ read one message.

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The digital assault was apparently launched in retaliation for the indictments of seven people and two Hong Kong companies accused of distributing illicit content worth more than $500 million. The two companies, Megaupload Ltd. and Vestor Ltd., and their executives were charged with racketeering, money laundering, and copyright infringement. The Justice Department said the parties have earned more than $175 million in illicit revenue from their activities.

The indictments came one day after a massive Internet protest against pending federal legislation that would give the government new powers to fight online copyright violations. The Stop Online Piracy Act, pending in the US House of Representatives, and its Senate counterpart, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, would let the government force Internet service providers and search engines to block access to illegal materials. Supporters say it will be an important tool to stem the flood of illegally obtained content. Critics say it would enable the government to censor legitimate activities.

During the protest, a number of websites, including Wikipedia blacked out their sites; others, including the search service Google, attached protest banners to their homepages.

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Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.