U.S. authorities have charged a Ukrainian citizen, the alleged owner of the world’s most visited illegal file-sharing website KickassTorrent, with criminal copyright infringement and have seized domain names associated with the website.
Artem Vaulin, 30-year-old from Kharkiv, was arrested on July 20 in Poland and was charged under a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago.
The charges are one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.
U.S. authorities claim Vaulin was running a worldwide digital piracy website that stole more than $1 billion of copyrighted materials from the U.S. entertainment industry.
The complaint further reveals that Vaulin was arrested after cross-referencing an IP address he used for an iTunes transaction with an IP address used to log into KickassTorrent’s Facebook page.
During its investigation, the FBI also posed as an advertiser, and obtained details for a bank account associated with the site.
“(Vaulin’s) arrest in Poland demonstrates again that cybercriminals can run, but they cannot hide from justice,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a press release on July 20.
A federal court in Chicago ordered the seizure of one bank account and seven domain names associated with KickassTorrents.
The United States is now expected to seek to extradite Vaulin from Poland.
The illegal file-sharing scheme has allegedly operated at various times under the domains kickasstorrents.com, kat.ph, kickass.to, kickass.so and kat.cr, and relied on a network of computer servers located around the world, including ones in Chicago.
The original site’s net worth has been estimated at more than $54 million, with estimated annual advertising revenue in the range of $12.5 million to $22.3 million, according to the complaint.
U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois says copyright infringement exacts a large toll on the artists and businesses whose livelihoods hinge on their creative inventions.
“Vaulin allegedly used the internet to cause enormous harm to those artists,” Fardon said.
However, the charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Meanwhile, in less than 24 hours, the team of enthusiasts have restored a good portion of the website, putting it back online as a mirror of the original website with identical design and a similar domain — kickasstorrents.website.
Thy have also published an online manifesto claiming that Vaulin’s detention is “another attack on the freedoms and rights of internet users globally.”
“In the world of regular terrorist attacks where global corporations are flooded with money while millions are dying of diseases and hunger, do you really think that torrents deserve so much attention?” they wrote. “We don’t!”
A manifesto published by Artem Vaulin’s supporters after his arrest.
Kyiv Post has reached out to the website’s team on Facebook for comment on the news and what it means for the site’s future, but has yet to hear back.
The website had provided a directory of torrent files and links to facilitate peer-to-peer file sharing using the BitTorrent protocol since 2008, and in 2014 overtook its popular counterpart The Pirate Bay in hits. The website formerly had up to 1 million visitors a day.
This article first appeared in the Kyiv Post, a syndication partner of Ukraine Digital News.