US arrests alleged owner of KickassTorrents over $1bn copyright claims

21 Jul 2016

US authorities operating in Poland have arrested a man alleged to be the owner of the file-sharing giant KickassTorrents, charging him with copyright infringement and money laundering.

The name KickassTorrents would be familiar to many who search for illegal torrents of popular TV shows, films and video games. It was even named as the world’s most used torrent site, surpassing The Pirate Bay last month.

Now, however, the service is being dealt a major blow following the arrest of the alleged owner of the service, 30-year-old Artem Vaulin, a Ukrainian national living in Poland, where national authorities are cooperating with the US government.

Future Human

Cooperation from Apple

Documents relating to the case show that the US district court in Chicago had filed a criminal complaint against Vaulin – known online as ‘tirm’ – claiming he had engaged in a conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, money laundering and two counts of copyright infringement.

The documents released also show that the US authorities ran a sting operation to arrest Vaulin by posing as advertisers looking to place advertising on his website, at which point bank account details were exchanged, revealing his association with KickassTorrents.

Apple also cooperated with US authorities, according to the complaint filed, showing that the tech giant handed over information to the government after Vaulin’s IP address, used in an iTunes transaction, was cross-referenced with access to his Facebook account.

Apple KAT

Excerpt from US court documents showing Apple’s involvement in case. Screenshot via US Department of Justice

$1bn worth of copyrighted material

According to the news release from the US Department of Justice, KickassTorrents is responsible for distributing $1bn-worth of copyrighted material through the torrent service, including seven films still in cinemas.

“Copyright infringement exacts a large toll, a very human one, on the artists and businesses whose livelihood hinges on their creative inventions,” said US Attorney Zachary Fardon.

“Vaulin allegedly used the internet to cause enormous harm to those artists.”

Estimates from the US government put a financial value on KickassTorrents, suggesting it to be worth over $54m, with annual advertising revenue of between $12.5m and $22.3m.

Operating under a number of different domains on servers located around the world, the site used to alert users to the status of these various domains and proxies is now offline, suggesting many KickassTorrents sites have been taken offline.

KickassTorrents page image via Gil C/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic