Feds Go After Star Wars Pirates, BitTorrent

The U.S. government is going after BitTorrent, a web piracy group that has distributed 10,000 free copies of “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” in the last week.

Feds go after “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” pirates (CNN/Money)

Federal agents launched a crackdown Wednesday on users of a popular new technology used to steal the latest “Star Wars” movie and other large data files, according to immigration officials. The campaign was described by government officials as the first-ever criminal action against operators of the file-sharing program known as BitTorrent.

BitTorrent, described as Hollywood’s version of the Napster scourge that rocked the music industry several years ago, has been used by Internet users to download massive files, such as movies and video games, quickly and far more easily than they could in the past. BitTorrent captured headlines last week when it was revealed that “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” was available for free online.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in a statement a crackdown against top members of a file-sharing network that is based on BitTorrent and calls itself Elite Torrents. Government agents said the onslaught included 10 search warrants and the shut down of a central Web site used to coordinate all file-sharing activity on the Elite Torrents network.

That Web site, Elitetorrents.org, had a selection of copyrighted works that government officials described as “virtually unlimited.” The sixth and final installment of the “Star Wars” franchise was available for downloading on Elitetorrents.org more than six hours before it was released on theaters Thursday after midnight, according to the government statement. Within 24 hours, more than 10,000 copies of the “Star Wars” film had been swiped.

Amazing. I’m rather skeptical about going after music file sharing, since the most popular songs are available for free on the radio. It’s hard to argue, though, that the ability to see a movie for free would not seriously harm sales.

Of course, “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be doing just fine, having already broken several box office records. . . .

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jim Henley says:

    Oh man, where does the cool new comment interface come from?

    Also, and on the subject, bittorrent seems to have HELPED the popularity of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. At the LEAST, it’s not hurting Star Wars. It probably helped generate the advance “sucks much less than the previous two movies” buzz.

  2. James Joyner says:

    It’s a plug-in available for WordPress 1.5. Mark Jaquith of http://txfx.net/ installed it for me as part of the switchover. He’s at mark at txfx dot net.

    Fair point on the advance buzz. Still, whereas hearing a cool song will make me more likely to buy the CD, seeing the movie would ordinarily make me less likely to plunk down my shekels and see it at a theater. Maybe I’d get the DVD later, though, since that’s a more convenient way to watch than on my computer.

  3. Chad Evans says:

    From what I’ve read about the copy though, it’s in such poor quality that most likely those who download it would pay to go see the movie. Part of the experience is seeing it in a sharp picture, not a hacked copy.

  4. Cornfields says:

    James,

    BitTorrent is not a “group.” Nor is it really the equivalent of Napster. It is simply a very well written file transfer protocal. It is being used to spread everything from Christian literature to Chomsky. It would be a great way on this site, for example, to share a video w/ very little bandwith. I am not saying that there is not a lot of piracy, but there is a lot of great stuff happening with it as well. It is really beautifully though out code… I use it legally for Soviet-era materials for teaching Russian history, which are available from Russian users. There are also sites devoted devoted at least a half dozen provinces in China (more questionably legit, but it is hard to stick up for the Chinese on intellectual property) w/ regional Chinese television. Shut down the Star Wars sharing, but don’t let them trick you into shutting down the whole thing… In fact, you guys should use it on this site to share documents and materials.

    As for Napster, I think it was a shame it got shut down. I did not condone the piracy, but I myself (and many hundreds if not thousands of others) used it legally to share pre-copyrighted music transferred directly from wax cylinders to mp3. Much of this material never even made it onto 78. Billy Murray, for example, was one of the most popular pre-WWI singers, and until a few years ago, there was not a single CD available of him online. When the shut down napster, this whole early music phenomenon passed… I couldn’t care a lick about contemporary music.

  5. Anon says:

    I’m being nitpicky, but it would be more semantically correct to say that BitTorrent is a technology commonly used to pirate material. It’s not a group of people.

    The error would kind of like saying “…going after cable, an entertainment watching group, …”. Cable is a technology used to distribute content to people who like to watch entertainment, it’s not a “group”.

  6. Deb says:

    I suspect that the subset of people who would actually download a copy and the subset of people who will be seeing it multiple times in the theater anyway overlap to a large extent, if the first group isn’t entirely included in the second.

  7. carlosc1dbz says:

    Well I would just like to say that it is really funny that all of the sudden the Goverment is getting involved, because Star Wars was out before it hit theaters. Why didnt the goverment act like this twards any other movie that was out early on bittorrent? Thats the question we should be asking. I bet you anything that Lucas Films is probably paying the goverment to take action or something. The goverment should try to take down bittorrent because someone tells it to.

  8. carlosc1dbz says:

    Well I would just like to say that it is really funny that all of the sudden the Goverment is getting involved, because Star Wars was out before it hit theaters. Why didnt the goverment act like this twards any other movie that was out early on bittorrent? Thats the question we should be asking. I bet you anything that Lucas Films is probably paying the goverment to take action or something. The goverment shouldn’t try to take down bittorrent because someone tells it to.