CHICAGO — Federal authorities in Chicago have charged the alleged owner of today’s most-visited illegal file-sharing website with criminal copyright infringement and have seized domain names associated with the website.
ARTEM VAULIN, 30, of Kharkiv, Ukraine, allegedly owns and operates Kickass Torrents, or KAT, a commercial website that since 2008 has enabled users to illegally reproduce and distribute hundreds of millions of copies of copyrighted motion pictures, video games, television programs, musical recordings and other electronic media, collectively valued at more than $1 billion, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago. KAT receives more than 50 million unique monthly visitors and is estimated to be the 69th most frequently visited website on the Internet, according to the complaint.
Vaulin was arrested today by authorities in Poland. The complaint charges Vaulin with one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of criminal copyright infringement. The United States will seek to extradite Vaulin to the United States.
The complaint and arrest were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and Richard Weber, Chief, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. Substantial assistance was provided by the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, and the Polish Border Guard and National Public Prosecutor’s Office.
“Copyright infringement exacts a large toll, a very human one, on the artists and businesses whose livelihood hinges on their creative inventions,” said U.S. Attorney Fardon. “Vaulin allegedly used the Internet to cause enormous harm to those artists. Our Cybercrimes unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago will continue to work with our law enforcement partners around the globe to identify, investigate and prosecute those who attempt to illegally profit from the innovation of others.”
“Vaulin is charged with running today’s most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “In an effort to evade law enforcement, Vaulin allegedly relied on servers located in countries around the world and moved his domains due to repeated seizures and civil lawsuits. His arrest in Poland, however, demonstrates again that cybercriminals can run, but they cannot hide from justice.”
“Artem Vaulin was allegedly running a worldwide digital piracy website that stole more than $1 billion in profits from the U.S. entertainment industry,” said Executive Associate Director Edge. “Protecting legitimate commerce is one of HSI’s highest priorities. With the cooperation of our law enforcement partners, we will continue to aggressively bring to justice those who enrich themselves by stealing the creative work of U.S. artists.”
“Investigating cyber-enabled schemes is a top priority for CI,” said Chief Weber. “Websites such as the one seized today brazenly facilitate all kinds of illegal commerce. Criminal Investigation is committed to thoroughly investigating financial crimes, regardless of the medium. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to unravel this and other complex financial transactions and money laundering schemes where individuals attempt to conceal the true source of their income and use the Internet to mask their true identity.”
KAT operates in approximately 28 languages, according to the complaint. KAT’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, according to the complaint. KAT has moved its domain several times due to numerous seizures and copyright lawsuits, and it has been ordered blocked by courts in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and Malaysia, the complaint states.
In addition to the charges, a federal court in Chicago ordered the seizure of seven domain names associated with the alleged KAT conspiracy. The site relies on a network of computer servers around the world, including servers located in Chicago, and has operated at various times under the domains kickasstorrents.com, kat.ph, kickass.to, kastatic.com, kickass.so, thekat.tv and kat.cr, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, movies that were still in theaters have consistently been made available for download by the KAT conspiracy. Films that KAT recently made available for download include “Captain America: Civil War,” “Now You See Me 2,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” and “Finding Dory,” according to the complaint.
Vaulin, who used the online screen name “tirm,” was involved in designing KAT’s original website and oversaw KAT’s operations, according to the complaint. During the latter part of the conspiracy, Vaulin allegedly operated KAT under the auspices of a Ukrainian-based front company called Cryptoneat.
Criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Conspiracy to commit money laundering is punishable by up to 20 years.
The public is reminded that a complaint is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William E. Ridgway and Devlin N. Su of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois; and Senior Counsel Ryan K. Dickey of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section.