Federal Agents Shut Down File-Sharing Web Site

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Federal agents yesterday shut down a Web site that they said was letting people download movies and other copyrighted material free.

Users of the Elite Torrents site were able to download copies of the new "Star Wars" movie before it was shown in theaters, authorities said.

The action was the first criminal enforcement against individuals who are using BitTorrent technology, Justice and Homeland Security Department officials said.

Elite Torrents had more than 133,000 members and 17,800 movies and software programs in the past four months, officials said. Among those titles was "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," which was available through Elite Torrents more than six hours before its first showing in theaters, the officials said.

The movie was downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first 24 hours, they said.

Investigators said many of the copyrighted movies were available through the Web site before their commercial releases.

President Bush signed a law last month setting penalties of up to 10 years in prison for distributing a movie or song before its commercial release.

"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," said John C. Richter, acting assistant attorney general.

People trying to access the Web site yesterday saw a warning about the penalties for copyright infringement, although officials said the investigation is focusing on those who originally offered the copyrighted materials.

BitTorrent has become the file-sharing software of choice because of its speed and effectiveness, especially after the recording industry last year began cracking down on users of Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster and other established software.

The peer-to-peer software works by using tracker files that are posted online. The tracker files point to users who are sharing a given file. BitTorrent then assembles complete files from multiple chunks of data that it obtains from everyone who is sharing the file.

The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that copyright infringement cost the film industry $3.5 billion last year, not including the sharing of files online. The MPAA assisted in the investigation, officials said.

Hollywood movie studios last year sued many operators of computer servers that use BitTorrent technology to help relay digital movie files across online file-sharing networks. The group also sued six sites this month that focus on swapping television programs.

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