A joint US-Polish law enforcement operation has led to the arrest of the alleged owner of the piracy-focused BitTorrent links site KickAssTorrents.
The US Department of Justice announced yesterday that Ukrainian national Artem Vaulin has been arrested in Poland and that it will seek to extradite him to Chicago to face criminal copyright infringement charges.
The site, which has been banned at the ISP level in countries including the UK, provides links to download and share copyrighted works such as movies and music from other BitTorrent users.
But it’s perhaps best known in the domain name industry for regularly jumping from one TLD to another as its domains are terminated by local authorities.
According to the DoJ, it has been seen on kickasstorrents.com, kat.ph (Philippines), kickass.to (Tonga), kickass.so (Somalia) and kat.cr (Costa Rica).
The department said it has seized seven domain names as part of its operation.
According to my records, there are 20 examples of kickasstorrents.example domains in the Alexa one million, all in new gTLDs (though I’ve no idea whether they’re part of the same operation).
The DoJ reckons KAT makes annual revenue of between $12.5 million to $22.3 million from advertising accompanying its links.
The US government seized five domain names and is going after dozens more as part of its crackdown on Liberty Reserve, a digital currency provider apparently popular with criminals.
The Department of Justice said yesterday that the company was responsible for laundering $6 billion spread across 55 million transactions, “virtually all of which were illegal”.
The service was being used to facilitate fraud and child pornography, among other nasties, according to Justice.
Seven people have been arrested in the US, Spain and Costa Rica and five domain names were seized: libertyreserve.com, exchangezone.com, swiftexchanger.com, moneycentralmarket.com and asianagold.com.
Three are registered with Go Daddy. The main site, libertyreserve.com, is with Swedish registrar AB NameISP and exchangezone.com is with Internet.bs.
But .com registry Verisign handled the seizures, according to a court order published by Justice (pdf).
While Liberty Reserve was based in Costa Rica, there doesn’t appear to be any reason to believe the company’s activities were any more legal there than in the US.
Justice is also seeking the forfeiture of 35 other domain names, mostly .coms, that were allegedly (pdf) being used as “exchanger” sites, where Liberty Reserve users could exchange real money for virtual currency.
Law enforcement agencies in the US and Europe have shut down 132 domain names in order to stop the selling of counterfeit merchandise online.
According to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the now-annual Cyber Monday crackdown included domain names in the .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro and .uk ccTLDs.
Law enforcement from those countries were involved, via Europol, in their respective local seizures, while ICE nabbed 101 domains in generic TLDs whose registries are based in the US.
One person was also arrested, and ICE plans to seize $175,000 in ill-gotten gains sent to a PayPal account connected with the sites.
It’s the third year in a row that ICE has led an operation of this kind before “Cyber Monday”, which in recent years has become the most popular day of the year for e-commerce deals.
The operation started when ICE and Europol “received leads from various trademark holders regarding the infringing websites”, ICE said in a press release.
Three US members of Congress have expressed “deep concern” over the alleged lack of due process followed when the Department of Homeland Security seizes domain names.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Jason Chaffetz quiz DHS (pdf) about the methods employed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in its Operation In Our Sites.
The Congressmen’s letter highlights the case of the hip-hop web site Dajaz1.com, which had its .com seized by ICE and then returned.
“Much of Dajaz1’s information was lawful,” the letter reads. “Despite this, DHS and the Department of Justice suppressed this website for more than a year.”
The Congressmen say that “if a website’s domain is seized, it needs to be given meaningful due process that comports to the US Constitution and US law”.
Operation In Our Sites has seen ICE seize hundreds of domains — mainly .coms accused of copyright infringement — from US-based registries including Verisign since late 2010.
Despite the relatively small number of domains seized, there have been a number of controversies.
Notably, the Spanish TV download web site RojaDirecta, which lost its .com and .org domains despite being ruled legal by a court in its home nation, last month had them returned to it by ICE.
The FBI and UK Serious Organised Crime Agency have seized 36 domain names that were allegedly being used to sell compromised credit card information.
As well as seizing the domains and a number of computers, SOCA said it has arrested two men “suspected of making large scale purchases of compromised data” from the sites.
The sites all used what SOCA calls “automated vending cart” software to process the sale of credit card information. Judging by the video below, some of the operations were fairly professional.
One of the seized domains was cvvplaza.com. SOCA provided the following video which really has to be seen to be believed.
I wonder if the spokesmodel had any idea what she was getting into when she accepted this gig.
While the full list of domains was not released, a SOCA spokesperson said the breakdown by TLD was as follows:
.name – 2
.net – 11
.biz – 4
.us – 5
.com – 11
.org – 3
These are all TLDs whose registries are based in the United States, so I’m guessing the US authorities did the actual seizing.