The alleged founder of one of the world's most notorious illegal file-sharing sites was arrested in Poland on Wednesday, the Justice Department said.
Thirty-year-old Ukrainian Artem Vaulin faces conspiracy, copyright infringement and money laundering charges in the United States, where authorities have accused him of operating KickassTorrents.
“Vaulin is charged with running today’s most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a news release.
KickassTorrents, or KAT, does not host pirated movies and music. Instead, it serves as a hub to spread links to files that help users download the material using a peer-to-peer file-sharing method known as BitTorrent — much like the better-known site the Pirate Bay. The site appeared to be facing technical difficulties at the time of writing.
“In an effort to evade law enforcement, Vaulin allegedly relied on servers located in countries around the world and moved his domains due to repeated seizures and civil lawsuits," Caldwell said.
KickassTorrents is estimated to be the 69th-most-popular site on the Internet and is visited by more than 50 million people a month, according to a 50-page criminal complaint filed in a federal court in Chicago.
The complaint estimated that the site's massive traffic brought in annual advertising revenue of between $12.5 million and $22.3 million. It also alleges that the site routinely ignored requests to remove links that enabled visitors to download pirated material.
The United States is seeking to extradite Vaulin, and the charges he faces carry a combined maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. The Washington Post was not immediately able to reach a Vaulin for comment.