May 27, 2005 10:00 AM PDT

Week in review: Revenge of the feds

The federal government doesn't mind if the Force is with you, but it does have a problem if you have a copy of the newest "Star Wars" movie.

Agents shut down a popular Web site that allegedly had been distributing copyrighted music and movies, including versions of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." Homeland Security agents from several divisions served search warrants on 10 people around the country suspected of being involved with the Elite Torrents site, and took over the group's main server.

The agency said it was the first criminal enforcement action aimed at copyright infringers who use the popular BitTorrent file-swapping technology.

According to the investigators, "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" was made available through the Elite Torrents site before being shown in theaters and was downloaded more than 10,000 times. Investigators said that the site had 133,000 members and that it distributed more than 17,000 individual movie, software and music titles.

Bram Cohen's BitTorrent program is one of the most widely used tools for legally and illegally downloading files such as movies and software, but it apparently has barely helped him earn a living. Now the programmer is aiming to turn his donation-supported work into a steadier business, with a San Francisco-area start-up devoted to BitTorrent products.

In other news:
Samsung's TV tech

The first product, to be released soon, will be an advertising-supported search engine that scours the Web for links to BitTorrent files. The search tool, which will be based on Web-crawling technology owned by Cohen's company, could be a boon to downloaders who previously have had little in the way of navigation for BitTorrent files.

While federal authorities ramp up the attack on domestic piracy, two U.S. senators are urging the Bush administration to increase pressure on Russia and China to respect copyright law, warning that those nations have become havens for movie and software piracy.

Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Senate copyright subcommittee, made an ominous statement about what might happen if unfettered piracy continues.

"Before Russia enters the (World Trade Organization), many of us will have to be convinced that the Russian government is serious about cracking down on the theft of intellectual property," Hatch said during a hearing.

Copyright infringement is a serious offense--at least that's the message sixth-graders in American Fork, Utah, will be getting. At their elementary school commencement this week, the students were slated to receive a warning from the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about the ills of illegally downloading music, movies and games from the Web.

Gone phishing
Spammers and phishers are learning more about potential victims to better hone their attacks.

Web sites that use e-mail addresses as identifiers for password reminders and registration are open to exploitation by scammers that want to generate detailed profiles of people, security company Blue Security said in a research report.

with the technique described in the report, spammers and phishers automatically run thousands of e-mail addresses through Web site registration and password-reminder tools. Because many online businesses return a specific message when an e-mail address is registered with the site, attackers can find out whether that address represents a valid customer.

Using information gathered from a number of sites, attackers can tailor malicious e-mail messages for individual recipients. That makes it more difficult for Internet users to distinguish real messages from those that are junk or part of a cyberscam. Also, customized messages are less likely to be caught by spam filters, experts said.

As Internet scams proliferate, Bank of America is launching a double-edged system it says will better protect its online banking customers against phishing and spyware. The new service, SiteKey, is designed to let people know when they are on an authentic Bank of America site. It will also verify the identity of the customer.

When people register for SiteKey, they pick an image from a list and type in their own phrase to be associated with their account. When they enter their login name and hit the SiteKey button on the Bank of America site, that same image and phrase are displayed in response, said Sanjay Gupta, an electronic commerce executive at the bank. This verifies that the user is in fact on the real Bank of America Web site, he said.

Firefox users are getting extra protection from Internet service company Netcraft, which has released a version of its toolbar to help users of the Web browser avoid phishing scams. The

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RE: The Elite Torrent fiasco (Likely to be long)
Firstly, I have to say I'm almost shocked it's taken as long as it has been before federal action of this scale. Considering BT is nearly as centralized as Napster was - the only difference being you don't need special software to browse torrent links (just to download them) - I honestly expected there would have been large federal involvement well before this. On the whole, I'm not shocked that they've done what they did.

However, I have a problem with the disclaimer they've put on the Elite Torrents site which reads, in part: "Individuals who willfully distribute or download copyrighted material risk criminal prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 2319."

This is wholly misleading due to the inclusion of the phrase "or download" in the disclaimer.

If we look at 18 USC 2319, it provides the guidelines for punishment for violation of 17 USC 506a - the section regarding criminal copyright infringement. If we turn to 17 USC 506a, we find that "criminal" infringement is (copying the US Code, verbatim):

(a) Criminal Infringement. - Any person who infringes a copyright willfully either -
(1) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, or
(2) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000,
shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, United States Code. For purposes of this subsection, evidence of reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work, by itself, shall not be sufficient to establish willful infringement.

In other words, simply downloading copyrighted material cannot be deemed "criminal" infringement unless it meets the second of the two requirements. However, the second requirement has a retail value minimum of $1,000 - so while one could argue that copying a blockbuster release movie such as Star Wars Episode 3 might meet that requirement as it has no declared "retail" value as of yet - the cap makes it nearly impossible to actually prosecute someone who occasionally downloads a game or cd mp3 rip or two.

I will say, however, that it does get a bit muddled when dealing with torrents because, typically, someone downloading via a BT client is also sharing what they have downloaded thus far - the backbone of the BT system. But if, hypothetically, you downloaded games from a website or a P2P program, there's no way you can be prosecuted for criminal infringement until you have copied over $1000.00 in retail value.

Let's look at this realisitically: At an ARV of $50.00 a game, it would take you TWENTY full game downloads before hitting the criminal infringement cap; at an ARV of $16.00 for a CD, it would take you 63 full CD rips to reach the criminal infringment cap.

In the case of Elite Torrents, yeah, they can prosecute them under the letter of the law, but the disclaimer is wholly misleading.
Posted by (38 comments )
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I didn't know that US law said that. That changes a lot.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
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Criminal Infringement
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by George Cole (314 comments )
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