Kickass Torrents' Alleged Founder Artem Vaulin Faces Piracy Charges

22/07/2016 12:09 AM IST | Updated 22/07/2016 7:29 PM IST

CHICAGO — U.S. prosecutors have charged the alleged owner of one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, Kickass Torrents, with distributing millions of copies of copyrighted movies, music, video games, TV shows, e-books and software valued at more than $1 billion.

In a criminal complaint unsealed this week in Chicago, where some of the site's servers were located, prosecutors said Hollywood movies that were legally available only in theatres at the time often appeared on the site. Newer films on the site, as known as KAT, included "Captain America: Civil War'' and "Independence Day: Resurgence.''

Artem Vaulin, 30, of Kharkiv, Ukraine, was arrested Wednesday in Poland and the United States is seeking his extradition, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago said in a statement. No one immediately responded to emails seeking comment from addresses listed on a KAT site.

Vaulin, who purportedly used the handle "tirm'' online, faces one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, one of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and two of criminal copyright infringement. The money laundering count alone carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

zachary fardon

U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

"Copyright infringement exacts a large toll, a very human one, on the artists and businesses whose livelihood hinges on their creative inventions,'' U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said in the statement. "Vaulin allegedly used the internet to cause enormous harm to those artists.''

KAT started in 2008 and operated in some 30 languages, attracting more than 50 million unique viewers a month and generating up to $22 million in advertising revenue each year, the complaint said. Within just a few days this year, the movie "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice'' was downloaded over 532,000 times, it added.

Site operators have played cat-and-mouse games with authorities, the complaint alleges, including moving its domain following legal action in several countries like Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, and Malaysia.

In addition to the charges, a Chicago federal court also ordered the seizure of seven domain names linked to KAT. Those sites appeared to have been shut down as of Thursday.

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