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BitTorrent Operator Bites Back at MPAA - InternetNews.
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BitTorrent Operator Bites Back at MPAA

UPDATED: LokiTorrent, a Web site that tracks and indexes BitTorrent files, says it's setting up a legal defense fund to fight a lawsuit filed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

The site's operators have collected $13,955 of the $30,000 needed to start defending themselves from the MPAA's lawsuit, according to a recent posting on the Web site.

The action was filed against LokiTorrent on Dec. 14. That same day, the movie industry association sent site operators a cease-and-desist order to stop them from hosting trackers that match BitTorrent users with copyrighted movies.

Lawsuits were also filed against the operators of BitTorrent trackers Centraltracker.org and Centraldownload.org.

Edward Webber, owner of LokiTorrent, said it's only a matter of days before he's served a lawsuit specifically against him. The original suit didn't include names -- the defendant's were referred to as "[John] Does 1-10" -- because the MPAA only had IP and Web site addresses in the beginning. It wasn't until a judge allowed lawyers to subpoena Layered Technologies, Webber's ISP, and PayPal that they learned his name.

Finding his name, however, wasn't difficult, since Webber and his contact information is publicly listed on the site's domain name registration, findable through a WHOIS search.

The $30,000, Webber said, will fund the first month's legal expenses in what will likely be a protracted court battle with the MPAA and its deep pockets in Hollywood. He's looking for continued support from the P2P community and is scheduled to talk with lawyers with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on Friday in the hopes they will support the case.

"Personally, it's ludicrous to be suing a tracker for copyright infringement that hosts no copyright material," he said. "It's tantamount to suing the highway department for having roads that drug smugglers use. The random pirating of software just doesn't add up to being able to shut down the site."

Unlike the traditional peer-to-peer (P2P) model, where a user downloads a complete file from another user's system, the BitTorrent technology strips torrent files into smaller pieces so that the downloading burden is shared by more people. And while the user is downloading their file, they are also uploading the pieces they've downloaded to other users, vastly improving file-sharing speeds across the board.

Sites like LokiTorrent, which host forums that index the torrent files in use, have been under increasing attack by the content industry. Earlier this month, popular BitTorrent tracking site Suprnova.org -- shut down its service. A similar site, Suprnova.com, according to the Web site, is a "100% Legal" BitTorrent tracker site, where visitors must register their name, e-mail address and pay a monthly fee to use the site.

At any given time, hundreds of copyrighted files are indexed by the sites. LokiTorrent, for example, features BitTorrent downloads for movies like "The Grudge" and PC games like "Half-Life 2."

LokiTorrent's site contains a "terms and conditions" disclaimer for all new site registrants, not taking responsibility for the torrents listed on its site, which are input by BitTorrent users. The disclaimer states users must gain "written permission of the copyright owners" before using any copyrighted material.

The MPAA's legal maneuvering is the latest in a string of moves by the content industry to shut down Web sites facilitating the downloading of pirated movies and music. To date, that effort has been led by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in the form of hundreds of lawsuits against individual P2P users and the highly publicized Napster affair.

But as broadband use grows so does the ability to download huge movie files, prompting the movie industry to step up efforts. In a move to clarify the so-called Betamax ruling of the 1980s, the MPAA will argue before the Supreme Court next year that software developers should be liable for the illegal use of their applications. In November, the association announced its latest crop of suits against individual file-sharers.

The movie industry's actions have had mixed results. While the MPAA was able to shut down or force compliance with some BitTorrent forums, they are limited to site's hosted in the United States. LokiTorrent is registered by Webber in Portland, Maine, while Suprnova.org's site registration comes from Scottsdale, Ariz., according to domain registration records.

Outside the United States, content companies have been largely ignored by BitTorrent sites. One recent cease-and-desist threat by Dreamworks lawyers from Keats, McFarland & Wilson serves as an example. Lawyers sent the Stockholm-based BitTorrent tracker site Pirate Bay an order telling them to stop because they were liable for infringing on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

One of the site's members, replied by e-mail in August:

"As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in northern Europe," the e-mail read. "Unless you figured it out by now, U.S. law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated."

MPAA officials were not available for comment at press time.

(Updated to distinguish Suprnova.org from Suprnova.com)