It was a legal iTunes purchase that helped the feds nab Artem Vaulin, the alleged proprietor of KickassTorrents (KAT), the world’s biggest purveyor of illegal torrent files. The irony is almost too much to bear pointing out. But according to one lawyer familiar with the ins and outs of copyright infringement, the case could have sweeping repercussions on how torrents are regulated.
First a refresher, if all this talk of torrents sounds so 2006 to you: BitTorrenting is a way to share large files over peer-to-peer networks, and it’s frequently used for pirating movies and television shows and music. But it’s been in steady decline in recent years, thanks in part to the rise of viable paid streaming options like Netflix and Amazon Video. A recent report from Sandvine pegs BitTorrent as comprising less than five percent of total daily traffic in North America. It’s still large enough, though, to have made KAT a very big business, according to the criminal complaint [PDF] that the Department of Justice filed yesterday.
In that report, the feds allege that KAT is the 69th most-visited site on the Internet, with over 50 million unique visitors each month. That volume means that not only does KAT allegedly cost copyright holders millions, by enabling downloads of first-run movies for free, but also that it’s able to take in nearly $17 million in annual advertising revenue. That kind of popularity, combined with a tendency to dismiss valid copyright takedown requests, combined to make KAT an obvious target for law enforcement.
“Websites such as the one seized today brazenly facilitate all kinds of illegal commerce,” said Richard Weber, chief of the IRS’s Criminal Investigation unit, in a prepared statement. “[We are] committed to thoroughly investigating financial crimes, regardless of the medium.”
Authorities arrested Vaulin, who …