WASHINGTON — Federal authorities on Wednesday shut down a Web site used to find movies on the Bit Torrent file-sharing network, which was used to distribute the new "Star Wars" movie even before it was shown in theaters.
The EliteTorrents.org Web site was engaging in high-tech piracy by helping people download copies of movies and other copyright material for free, authorities said.
The action was the first criminal enforcement against individuals who are using cutting-edge BitTorrent technology, Justice and Homeland Security Department officials said.
Search warrants in 10 cities
Search warrants were executed in 10 cities across the United States, said Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Homeland Security Department. The cities included Austin, Texas; Erie, Pa.; Philadelphia; Wise, Va.; Clintonwood, Va.; Germantown, Wis.; Chicago; Berea, Ohio; Anthem, Ariz. and Leavenworth, Kan.
The warrants remained under seal, and Zuieback said no arrests had been made yet.
The EliteTorrents network admitted members by invitation only, Zuieback said. It had more than 133,000 members and made 17,800 movies and software programs available for free download in the past four months, officials said. Among those titles was “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” which was available through EliteTorrents six hours before its first showing in theaters, the officials said.
The movie was downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first 24 hours.
President Bush signed a new law last month setting tough penalties of up to 10 years in prison for anyone caught distributing a movie or song prior to its commercial release. “Today’s crackdown sends a clear and unmistakable message to anyone involved in the online theft of copyrighted works that they cannot hide behind new technology,” said John C. Richter, acting assistant attorney general.
Warning posted on Web
People attempting to access the EliteTorrents.org Web site on Wednesday were greeted with a warning about the penalties for copyright infringement.
The message also said: “This site has been permanently shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Individuals involved in the operation and use of the Elite Torrents network are under investigation for criminal copyright infringement.”
BitTorrent has become the file-sharing software of choice because of its speed and effectiveness, especially after the recording industry began cracking down last year on users of Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster and other established software.
Movie industry aided investigation
The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that movie piracy cost the film industry $3.5 billion last year, not including the sharing of files online. The association assisted in the investigation, officials said.
“Shutting down illegal file swapping networks like Elite Torrents is an essential part of our fight to stop movie thieves from stealing copyrighted materials,” said the group’s president, Dan Glickman.
Hollywood movie studios last year sued many operators of computer servers that use BitTorrent technology to help relay digital movie files across online file-sharing networks. The group also sued six sites this month that focus on swapping television programs.
This report includes information from MSNBC's Bob Sullivan.
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