RealTime IT News

Feds Strike Back at 'Sith' Bootleggers

The Force was with the Elite Torrents network yesterday. Unfortunately for the high-speed download network that leaked the latest Star Wars flick, it was the police force.

In the first criminal action against peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharers deploying BitTorrent technology, federal agents executed 10 search warrants across the country and seized control of the network's main server.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the 133,000 members of the network are suspected of illegally distributing 2.1 million copyrighted works across 18,000 movie, music and software titles.

The DOJ said Wednesday the downloads were "often" pre-release films, including "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." Six hours before the episodic space flick's theatrical premiere, network members downloaded more than 10,000 ripped DVDs of the film.

"Today's crackdown sends a clear and unmistakable message to anyone involved in the online theft of copyrighted works that they cannot hide behind new technology," Acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Richter said in a statement.

BitTorrent itself is an application used for moving large files, such as movies, over a P2P network. The DOJ is not targeting the technology, but rather the ringleaders of the private networks that frequently trade in copyrighted works. Hollywood is pursuing a similar strategy with civil actions targeting BitTorrent server operators.

"Through today's landmark enforcement actions, [We] have shut down a group of online criminals who were using legitimate technology to create one-stop shopping for the illegal sharing of movies, games, software and music," said Michael J. Garcia, the assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The DOJ strike against the alleged piracy ring follows the January guilty pleas of two men involved in the Underground Network, five P2P networks using Direct Connect technology to illegally trade copyrighted films and other files.

According to the DoJ, the networks required users to share a minimum of 1GB to 100GB of computer files with other users on the network. The men face maximum penalties of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and restitution to the victims.

Last month, President Bush signed a new law upping criminal penalties of up to 10 years for distributing pre-release movies and music.

"Our goal is to shut down as much of this illegal operation as quickly as possible to stem the serious financial damage to the victims of this high-tech piracy -- the people who labor to produce these copyrighted products," Richter said.

At the Elite Torrents network site, feds posted the following: "This Site Has been Permanently Shut Down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."