Firm pleads guilty to selling pirated Mercedes software

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Federal prosecutors said Thursday a Louisiana auto parts distributor pleaded guilty and admitted to selling pirated Mercedes-Benz diagnostic software valued at more than $17 million.

The Brinson Company, and its owner, Rainer Wittich, 66, of River Ridge, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and to violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for selling 800 pirated copies of the software used to fix Mercedes-Benz luxury cars.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 16. TBC agreed to assist German automaker Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz USA unit “in compiling a list of all customers to whom it sold, distributed, donated or otherwise provided the pirated software.”

Wittich owned TBC, which sold replacement parts and diagnostic equipment for Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Starting in about 2001, “in conjunction with two other companies, TBC began developing, manufacturing and selling non-authentic versions of the Mercedes-Benz Star Diagnostic System (SDS), a portable tablet-type computer that contains proprietary software created by Mercedes-Benz to diagnose and repair its automobiles and that requires a code or ‘license key’ to access.

TBC admitted that, without authorization, it obtained Mercedes-Benz SDS software and updates, modified and duplicated the software, and installed the software on laptop computers,” the Justice Department said.

TBC said it began purchasing software for the non-authentic SDS units as well as updates and “patches” for the software from an individual in the United Kingdom. The Justice Department said after Mercedes-Benz told the United Kingdom-based individual that his conduct was in violation of the law, “representatives of TBC and the co-conspirator companies discussed plans to have him ‘go underground and off the radar’ and continue to provide assistance and support in the production of non-authentic SDS units.”

A genuine SDS unit sold for up to $22,000, and owners paid Mercedes-Benz several thousands of dollars per year to receive regular software updates. According to TBC’s plea agreement, a non-authentic SDS unit sold for up to $11,000.

TBC said it sold approximately 725 non-authentic devices, and that one of its co-conspirators sold at least 95 devices.

Software piracy is a big issue and the Justice Department has a task force on Intellectual Property.