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US prosecutors have now named a total of three men said to be operators of the defunct file-sharing site KickassTorrents (KAT). The new allegations are in a formal indictment filed Tuesday, which contains the most detailed charges against the site yet.
Last month, alleged site operator 30-year-old Artem Vaulin of Ukraine was arrested in Poland.
The new indictment (PDF) also names Ievgen (Eugene) Kutsenko aka “chill” and Oleksander (Alex) Radostin aka “pioneer,” also of Ukraine.
Bench warrants have been issued for the arrest of all three men, although authorities have confirmed the arrest of only Vaulin. The indictment was reported earlier today by TorrentFreak.
Prosecutors say the three men developed and maintained the site together and used it to “generate millions of dollars from the unlawful distribution of copyright-protected media, including movies… television shows, music, video games, computer software, and electronic books.” They gave out “Reputation” and “User Achievement” awards to users who uploaded the most popular files, including a special award for users who had uploaded more than 1,000 torrents.
The operators sorted illegal torrent files by genre, posted updates about newly available content, and policed the site for banned content, such as adult material, malware, and material that “could invoke violence or hatred,” according to the indictment.
They promoted KickassTorrent with posts on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
Vaulin, Kutsenko, and Radostin also ran “direct download” sites where users could directly download or stream movies, including solarmovie.com, leechmonster.com, iwatchfilm.com, hippomovies.com, and movie2b.com.
The site used servers around the world, rented through intermediaries in order to hide the operators’ location.
At least some of those servers were located in Chicago, where the case has been filed.
Undercover ad buys
The indictment presents a selection of the evidence that the government intends to use to convict the men, and it isn’t just simple downloads of the copyrighted movies.
The government combed through Vaulin’s e-mails and traced the bitcoins that were given to him via a “donation” button.
An undercover IRS agent purchased an ad on KAT and was told by a site admin to make payment to a shell company called “GA Star Trading” and to not “mention KAT anywhere” in relation to the payment.
The agent paid $1,500 to place an ad on the site for five days.
The ad was presented to users beginning in March of this year, when they clicked on a link to “download faster” the movie Deadpool.
Other payments went to an Estonian bank account under the name “Glomeratus.” US investigators have records of some of those payments to the alleged KAT-linked account, which accepted payments for advertisements as large as $135,000.
The specific charges against Vaulin include “making available” various copyrighted movies in June and July of this year, including Batman V Superman, Deadpool, X-men Apocalypse, Central Intelligence, Now You See Me 2, and Warcraft.
The government’s July statement about Vaulin’s arrest calls the KAT website the “most-visited” illegal file-sharing site in the world, operating in 28 languages.
Investigators say the site’s net worth has been estimated at more than $54 million, with estimated annual advertising revenue in the range of $12.5 million to $22.3 million.
While torrent and “cyberlocker” sites that distribute copyrighted content have been routinely sued by movie studios over the years, it’s very rare for website owners to be hit with criminal copyright charges.
The most famous criminal copyright case filed by the US government—against Megaupload and Kim Dotcom—is still dragging on as Dotcom continues to fight his extradition in New Zealand courts.
Kim Dotcom’s lawyer, Ira Rothken, is also representing Vaulin.