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'Tracker' Site Loses Piracy Judgment

February 11, 2005|Jon Healey | Times Staff Writer

The major Hollywood studios have drawn their first blood in court against a popular new type of online piracy, obtaining a $1-million judgment against a website that steered people to downloadable copies of bootlegged movies.

Edward Webber, operator of LokiTorrent.com, agreed not only to pay the damages to studios and shut down his site, but also to give the Motion Picture Assn. of America voluminous records his site has collected over the last two years.

These records could lead investigators to tens of thousands of people who distributed and downloaded unauthorized copies of digital goods, said John G. Malcolm, head of the MPAA's anti-piracy efforts.

Malcolm said the site had more than 750,000 registered users and helped distribute more than 35,000 movies, songs and other items.

"It will have a lot of records as to who these people are and what they provided, and that information will be of great interest to our members," Malcolm said. He said the MPAA would turn over information to prosecutors "in appropriate cases," but did not elaborate.

Webber did not respond to a request for comment. His website describes him as a 28-year-old computer-network consultant in New England whose main hobby is building websites. He agreed to the judgment to settle the lawsuit the MPAA brought against him, but there was no indication Thursday that he could afford to pay the $1 million in damages.

The judgment, which a federal judge in Dallas signed Thursday, came less than three months after the MPAA launched an international crackdown on "tracker" sites for people using the BitTorrent file-sharing software. The effort in December also targeted people offering bootlegged Hollywood movies on powerful computer servers connected to eDonkey, the most widely used file-sharing network.

Also Thursday, the MPAA announced that it had filed a second wave of lawsuits against BitTorrent tracker sites in the United States and more lawsuits against individual file sharers. The organization also said it filed more notices asking Internet providers to shut down eDonkey servers on their networks and lawsuits against four websites that sold file-sharing programs. The MPAA also prompted authorities in Austria to raid operators of BitTorrent trackers and eDonkey servers. Malcolm declined to say how many individuals or sites were reached by the crackdown.

BitTorrent has skyrocketed in popularity over the last year because it can deliver large files faster than other file-sharing technologies. But the software has no built-in method for finding files; instead, users rely on people who run tracker websites such as LokiTorrent that act as directories.

These tracker sites compile links to digital files that are being shared online as "torrents," the format used by the BitTorrent software. The links connect users to the Internet addresses of the people supplying copies of the file.

Charles S. Baker, Webber's attorney, said at least parts of LokiTorrent were defensible in court. In particular, he said, Webber offered to drop links to any pirated goods that copyright owners found on the site.

But the studios had plenty of money for legal fees, and "there was nobody coming to the table willing to write a check for him to defend this lawsuit," Baker said. "Like a lot of David vs. Goliath situations, he's got stones to throw, but he didn't have any money to go get a slingshot."

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