President Bush likes to project the swashbuckling image, but this week it was the folks over at the Justice Department who formed the posse to go after the evildoers -- the ones on the Internet.

In a series of orchestrated announcements, department and FBI officials touted the results of several ongoing initiatives to try to stem the increasingly costly proliferation of cyber-crime, from hacking to online fraud to identity theft to spamming and scamming of various sorts.

Arrests were made, computers seized, indictments obtained and charges filed.

In one sense, cyber-crime is such a part of modern life that it almost would be more newsworthy if the feds weren't on the case.

Still, the department's cyber-sweep week is a powerful reminder to the crooks who are out there cooking up the next nasty act, and an unfortunate note to the rest of us that despite our fondest hopes, cyber-crime is not something that one day will magically be made to go away.

But one element of the campaign stood apart: an effort to nail people who trade copyrighted music, videos or software online via file-sharing services.

File-sharers (and in some cases their parents) got a jolt last year when the recording industry started suing them. So far more than 4,600 have been sued, and many have settled out of court.

But the popularity of file-sharing has barely skipped a beat, and the Justice Department said it is concerned about the hundreds of millions of dollars in sales the content owners claim are being lost every year.

Now, high-volume file-sharers with more than $2,500 in illegally traded files face the prospect of criminal prosecution.

In taking on file-sharing by individuals, the department is wading into a political thicket.

No one denies that trading a copyrighted work without paying for it is illegal. But digital rights advocacy groups aren't sure that doing the entertainment and software industries' recovery work is the best use of Justice Department time and resources.

The groups especially oppose entertainment industry efforts, in the courts and in Congress, to shut the services down and restrict the copying capabilities of electronic devices.

The debate is a deep one, touching on questions about what constitutes a consumer's "fair use" of entertainment and how to balance that with the rights of content creators to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

The Justice Department insists it is agnostic on these broader issues. But in a digital age when information is king, the government is quite serious about protecting owners of intellectual property against widespread theft.

Sharers beware.