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U.S. Charges Founder Of Ukrainian Piracy Site In $1 Billion Scheme

  • RFE/RL

U.S. authorities have charged a Ukrainian who founded the world's biggest online piracy site with distributing over $1 billion worth of illegally copied films, music, and other content.

The U.S. Justice Department's criminal complaint on July 20 charged Artem Vaulin, 30, of Kharkiv, Ukraine, who was arrested in Poland earlier in the day, with copyright infringement, money laundering, and other violations of U.S. law.

Vaulin owned and founded Kickass Torrents, or KAT, which in recent years has become the world's biggest source of pirated media.

"Vaulin is charged with running today's most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. "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."

U.S. officials said they will seek to extradite Vaulin to face the charges filed in a Chicago federal court, which ordered the seizure of one bank account and seven domain names associated with the file-sharing website.

KAT, which distributes films, video games, television programs, music, and other electronic media, is the 69th most frequently visited website on the Internet.

The criminal complaint said the website offers "a sophisticated and user-friendly environment in which its users are able to search for and locate content" which is protected by copyright.

According to the complaint, KAT operates in 28 languages and has made available movies that were still in theaters along with other free content, earning revenue from advertising on its site.

The website's value is estimated at more than $54 million, with annual advertising revenue in the range of $12.5 million to $22.3 million, according to the complaint.

KAT has moved its domains several times after being blocked in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, and Malaysia, according to the complaint, and has relied on a network of computer servers located around the world, including in Chicago.

Recently, the website allowed users to download illegal copies of recent hit movies such as "Captain America: Civil War" and "Finding Dory."

Vaulin, who used the screen name "tirm," was involved in designing the original website and ran the site, which has been operating since 2008 through a Ukrainian-based front company called Cryptoneat.

According to the Justice Department, KAT's website "purports to comply with the removal of copyrighted materials" but evidence showed it did not remove content requested by organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and Entertainment Software Association.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters