Legal issues with BitTorrent

Legal issues with BitTorrent

The BitTorrent protocol's wide use for copyright infringement has led to legal issues with BitTorrent.

Copyright enforcement

BitTorrent trackers have been subjected to raids and shutdowns due to claims of copyright infringement. BitTorrent metafiles do not store copyrighted data, so it has been claimed that BitTorrent trackers, which only store and track the metafiles, must therefore be legal even if sharing the data in question would be considered a violation of copyright.cite web|url=|title=Legal threats| publisher=The Pirate Bay| accessdate=2006-05-09] Despite this claim, there has been tremendous legal pressure, usually on behalf of the MPAA and RIAA, and similar organizations around the world to shut down numerous BitTorrent trackers.

In December 2004, the Finnish police raided a major BitTorrent site, Finreactor. [cite web| url=| title=Finnish police raid BitTorrent site| first=Drew| last=Cullen| year=2004-12-14| publisher=The Register| accessdate=2006-05-09] [cite web| url=| year=2004-12-16| publisher=HELSINGIN SANOMAT| title=Police swoop closes down Finland’s largest file download site| accessdate=2006-05-09] The case is before the courts, and 32 people, in September 2006, mostly administrators and moderators, are facing charges. Software and media companies are seeking damages worth 3.5 million euros (about 5.4 million USD) in total. Two defendants were acquitted by reason of being underage at the time, but they are being held liable for legal fees and compensation for illegal distribution ranging up to 60,000 euros. The court set their fine at 10% of the retail price of products distributed. [cite web| url=| year=11.08.2006| publisher=Afterdawn| title=First hearings in Finland's largest P2P case| accessdate=2006-08-14], one of the most popular early BitTorrent sites, closed in December 2004, purportedly due to the pressure felt by Sloncek, the founder and administrator of the site. In December 2004, Sloncek revealed that the Suprnova computer servers had in fact been confiscated by Slovenian authorities. [cite web| url=| year=19.12.2006| publisher=TorrentFreak| Two Years Since the Shutdown| accessdate=2007-05-20]

LokiTorrent, arguably the biggest torrent source after the demise of Suprnova, closed down soon after Suprnova. Allegedly, after threats from the MPAA, Edward Webber (known as 'lowkee'), webmaster of the site, was ordered by the court to pay a fine and supply the MPAA with logs (the IP addresses of visitors).cite web| url=| title=Court: Hollywood gets P2P giant's server logs|last=Borland|first=John|publisher=CNET|year=2005-02-10|accessdate=2007-04-15] Webber, in the weeks following his receipt of the subpoena, began a fundraising campaign to pay legal fees in a legal battle against the MPAA. Webber raised approximately US$45,000 through a PayPal-based donation system. It is unclear how much of that money went to the MPAA. Following the agreement, the MPAA changed the LokiTorrent website to display a message intended to discourage filesharers from downloading illegal content. [cite web| url=| title=LokiTorrent Shut Down|date=2005-02-11|| accessdate=2007-04-15] Webber did not comment on this change.

On May 25, 2005, the popular BitTorrent website was shut down by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At first it was thought that a malicious hacker had gained control of the website, but it was soon discovered that the website had been taken over by the US government. Ten search warrants relating to members of the website were executed. [ cite web|url=| title=U.S. Jacks Torrent Site|publisher=Wired News|first=Kevin|last=Poulsen|date=May 26, 2005|accessdate=2007-04-21] Up until today six admins of the website pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and criminal copyright infringement of a pre-commercial release work. [cite web| url=| year=02.05.2007| publisher=TorrentFreak| title=6th EliteTorrents Star-Wars Pre-Release Guilty Plea| accessdate=2007-05-20]

On October 24, 2005, a 38-year-old Hong Kong BitTorrent user Chan Nai-ming (陳乃明, using the handle 古惑天皇 Lit. "The master of cunning", (the magistrate referred to him as "Big Crook") allegedly distributed the three movies "Daredevil", "Red Planet" and "Miss Congeniality" in violation of copyright, subsequently uploading the torrent file to a newsgroup. He was convicted of breaching the copyright ordinance, Chapter 528 of Hong Kong law. [cite web|url=| title=Peer-to-peer infringer convicted| publisher=Hong Kong Information Services Department|date=2005-10-24|last=|first=|accessdate=2007-04-15] The magistrate remarked that Chan's act caused significant damage to the interest of copyright holders. He was released on bail for HK$5,000, awaiting a sentencing hearing, though the magistrate himself admitted the difficulty of determining how he should be sentenced due to the lack of precedent for such a case. On November 7, 2005, he was sentenced to jail for three months but was immediately granted bail pending an appeal to the High Court. [cite web|url=|publisher=New York Times|title=In Hong Kong, a Jail Sentence for Online File-Sharing|last=Bradsher|first=Keith|date=2005-11-07|accessdate=2007-04-15] The appeal was dismissed by the Court of First Instance on 12 December 2006 and Chan was jailed immediately. On 3 January 2007, he was bailed pending appeal to the Court of Final Appeal on 9 May 2007.

In June 2006, the popular website, an exact replicate of Supernova, was also subject to closure.

The Pirate Bay torrent website, formed by a Swedish anti-copyright group, is notorious for the "legal" section of its website in which letters and replies on the subject of alleged copyright infringements are publicly displayed. On May 31, 2006, The Pirate Bay's servers in Sweden were raided by Swedish police on allegations by the MPAA of copyright infringement. [cite web| url=| year=31.05.2006| publisher=TorrentFreak| title=The Piratebay is Down: Raided by the Swedish Police| accessdate=2007-05-20] The Pirate Bay was back online in less than 72 hours, and returned to Sweden, accompanied by public and media backlash against the Swedish Government's actions. [cite web| url=| year=03.06.2006| publisher=TorrentFreak| title=| accessdate=2007-05-20] A film, "Steal This Film (Stockholm, Summer 2006)," relating to these incidents has been produced. [ [ Steal This Film (Stockholm, Summer 2006)] website. Retrieved 2007-04-22.] The Pirate Bay is now, supposedly, going to counter-sue the Swedish government for millions of Swedish kronor (SEK) lost from having their website shut down. Fact|date=February 2007

On May 29, 2007, A federal judge ordered TorrentSpy, a torrent website, to begin monitoring its users' activities and to submit these logs to the Motion Picture Association of America. TorrentSpy's attorney, Ira Rothken, has stated that TorrentSpy would likely turn off access to U.S. users before it started monitoring anyone, since such monitoring is in violation of TorrentSpy's own privacy policy.

HBO, in an effort to combat the distribution of its programming on BitTorrent networks, has sent cease and desist letters to the |accessdate=2007-04-22]

In Singapore, anime distributor Odex, has been actively tracking down and sending legal threats against Internet users in Singapore since 2007. These Internet users have allegedly downloaded fansubbed anime via the BitTorrent network. Court orders on ISPs to reveal subscribers' personal information have been ruled in Odex's favour, leading to several downloaders receiving letters of legal threat from Odex and subsequently pursuing out-of-court settlements for at least S$3,000 (US$2,000) per person, the youngest person being only 9 years old" [,4139,137645,00.html Parents get shock letter] ", Liew Hanqing, The New Paper, 2 August 2007] [ Kicking kids for profit?] , Michael Tan, CNet Asia, 16 August 2007] . These actions were considered controversial by the local anime community and have attracted criticisms towards the company, as they are seen by fans as heavy-handed. [ Anime firm boss gets online death threats] , Chua Hian Hou, The Straits Times, 16 August 2007, p. 4]


On November 23, 2005, the Motion Picture Association of America and BitTorrent Inc. CEO Bram Cohen, signed a deal they hoped would reduce the number of unlicensed copies available through's search engine, run by BitTorrent, Inc. It meant had to remove any links to unlicensed copies of films made by seven of Hollywood's major movie studios. As it covered only the website, it is unclear what overall effect this has had on copyright infringement. [cite web| url=| publisher=BBC News| date=2005-11-23| title=Deal signed on downloading piracy| accessdate=2006-11-04]

Legal defenses

There are two major differences between BitTorrent and many other peer-to-peer file-trading systems, which advocates suggest make it less useful to those sharing copyrighted material without authorization. First, BitTorrent itself does not offer a search facility to find files by name. A user must find the initial torrent file by other means, such as a web search. Second, BitTorrent makes no attempt to conceal the host ultimately responsible for facilitating the sharing: a person who wishes to make a file available must run a tracker on a specific host or hosts and distribute the tracker address(es) in the .torrent file. Because it is possible to operate a tracker on a server that is located in a jurisdiction where the copyright holder cannot take legal action, the protocol does offer "some" vulnerability that other protocols lack. It is far easier to request that the server's ISP shut down the site than it is to find and identify every user sharing a file on a peer-to-peer network. However, with the use of a distributed hash table (DHT), trackers are no longer required, though often used for client software that does not support DHT to connect to the stream.

See also

*File sharing
*File sharing and the law


External links

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