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Alleged Kickass Torrents chief arrested in Poland, US begins extradition proceedings

By | Published on Thursday 21 July 2016

Kickass Torrents

The alleged boss of file-sharing hub Kickass Torrents has been arrested in Poland and will now have to fight off attempts by the US to extradite him there to face charges of criminal copyright infringement and money laundering.

Launched in 2008, Kickass overtook The Pirate Bay to become the most visited torrent directory in the world in late 2014, meaning it now often appears alongside its older rival on the list whenever the music industry goes to court seeking web-block injunctions.

The US Department Of Justice claims that to date Kickass has facilitated the illegal distribution of over $1 billion worth of music, movies, TV shows and games. In a criminal complaint filed in the Chicago courts, the DoJ adds that Kickass currently receives over 50 million unique visitors a month, making it the 69th most visited website on the net.

Artem Vaulin, the man accused of running the operation, is from Ukraine but was arrested in Poland. The authorities allege that Vaulin was involved in designing the original Kickass website and subsequently oversaw the operation, most recently via a Ukrainian-based front company called Cryptoneat.

Confirming the arrest and impending extradition proceedings, US Attorney Zachary T Fardon told reporters: “Copyright infringement exacts a large toll, a very human one, on the artists and businesses whose livelihood hinges on their creative inventions. Vaulin allegedly used the internet to cause enormous harm to those artists”.

The legal man continued: “Our cybercrimes unit at the US Attorney’s Office in Chicago will continue to work with our law enforcement partners around the globe to identify, investigate and prosecute those who attempt to illegally profit from the innovation of others”.

Embellishing on the current case, US Assistant Attorney General Leslie R Caldwell continued: “Vaulin is charged with running today’s most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials”.

She went on: “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. His arrest in Poland, however, demonstrates again that cybercriminals can run, but they cannot hide from justice”.

There are obvious parallels between the arrest of Vaulin and both the MegaUpload shutdown and the criminal case against the founders of The Pirate Bay.

The former was also led by the US and resulted in immediate extradition proceedings. MegaUpload domains were seized as its founder Kim Dotcom and others were arrested, and the feds made similar efforts to seize Kickass domains yesterday.

Though operationally speaking, Kickass is obviously much closer to The Pirate Bay, and legal arguments here are more likely to mirror the Swedish criminal prosecution of that site’s founders (albeit under American law).

In many ways the US will be hoping that the case runs more like the 2009 Pirate Bay trial, in which all four of the men accused of founding or funding the piracy site were convicted of copyright crimes.

Meanwhile America’s attempts to extradite Dotcom from New Zealand – and all but one of his colleagues – have been caught in a legal quagmire. The US authorities finally got an extradition order out of the New Zealand courts late last year, nearly four years after first asking, but that is now under appeal. And even if they get Dotcom to the US, a messy trial testing America’s safe harbour laws will ensue.

Then the American authorities did manage to take the MegaUpload file transfer platform and sister video sharing site completely offline at the time of Dotcom’s arrest, aided by the fact the firm used servers in both the US and other friendly jurisdictions.

And, while Dotcom did launch a second file-transfer platform called Mega, and is now promising a MegaUpload v2, in the main the file-sharing hub that was the original MegaUpload has stayed down.

Meanwhile The Pirate Bay – now run by a different team – continues to happily operate as normal, despite the four convictions in the big trial and more recent attempts by the Swedish authorities to shut it down.

So operationally speaking, US authorities will be hoping for something more like MegaUpload. Though, while there have been reports of the main Kickass domain wobbling a little overnight, as we go to press proxies of the site seem to be working just fine.