Chris, as I mentioned in my post, what is happening nowadays (and for me is very different than the gaming scene ten years ago, say), is that there are a large number of "cracked" game servers out there catering to those who have pirated the game.
Therefore you CAN, relatively easily, play online.
There was a clan leader who I talked to, only months ago, who told me that the reason he ran "cracked" servers was to populate them.
In other words, if he ran a legit server, no one would come to it - it would be too far down the list of legit servers on people's game browsers and thus was "unknown".
So...to make a "name" for himself and his clan, he ran cracked servers. He was 30th or so on those. And his server was full from what he told me.
Here's a post from one of his member's:
We definitely need more legit copies of the game... I spent 2 hours last night trying to find a decent cracked hardcore server.
and finally this from their server admin:
Guys, remember SWAT4 / SWAT4 Tss we was crying about Bugs, no support from sierra, only 1 patch on SWAT4 and 0 on Tss and the reason is CRACKED GAMING !!
Im not saying buy ALL GAMES but only buy games if you love it. I use cracked games to test it. i play with 1 or 2 hours and after i buy it or i uninstall it.
I just bought, in 2007, 3 games ( CoH, Coh:OP, COD4 ) but i love it.
Guys, if you love COD4, support it.
I can tell you that at least these guys look to have gone legit.