Police raid filesharing resources

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Europe — In recent weeks several large European BitTorrent and ed2k link sites have either been closed by the police or have gone offline voluntarily. Sites in France, Netherlands, Finland and Slovenia have been affected.

On December 14, FIOD-ECD, the Dutch economic crimes police, raided the premises of the hosting provider Mindlab. Servers hosting sites Releases4u.com and Shareconnector.com were seized by the police. The reported number of systems seized differs, from 4 (tweakers.net) to 11 (the register). The raids were initiated by BREIN, a Dutch non-government "copyright oversight organization".

BitTorrent link sites distribute torrents, which are computer files with information about a larger, shared file co-ordinated by small servers known as trackers. Unlike predecessors of P2P applications like Napster, this sharing is not centralised on the servers of link site operators, and no illegal files exist on the servers of link site operators. Although such a system has been previously thought to be a legal loophole for file sharers, the recent spate of raids by copyright enforcement authorities apparently proves otherwise.

Prior to raids Mindlab clients Releases4u and ShareConnector were the largest link sites for the ed2k network in the Netherlands. Mindlab had previously refused to remove the servers for Releases4u and ShareConnector, arguing that such link sites were legal in the Netherlands.

The servers were taken down after a discussion that went nowhere according to Tim Kuik, head of BREIN. "We simply ran of patience," he says.

At the same time, FinReactor, one of the largest link sites in Finland was raided by the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (Keskusrikospoliisi, KRP) at the request of Finnish copyright organisations.

On December 19 two large BitTorrent sites, SuprNova.org and TorrentBits.org closed without providing an explanation, although these have apparently been voluntary decisions by the operators of the sites.

Prior to its closure SuprNova.org, based in Slovenia, was generally considered to be the largest BitTorrent link site on the Internet that hosted links to both authorised (e.g. Linux software) and unauthorised files (e.g. Hollywood films). This closure is surprising as it has been generally thought that its location in Slovenia would make it invulnerable to the actions of American-based copyright enforcement groups.

According to a statement made later on the site by its site's 18 year-old owner, who goes by the nickname Sloncek, and an interview for Slyck, he decided to voluntarily close the links section of the site after the news about arrests of admins of several prominent P2P sites and after receiving legal warnings.

Although the forums and the IRC network will remain online, SuprNova.org claims that it will no longer hold links to BitTorrent files again.

At the end of 2004, eXeem, a project to decentralize the BitTorrent link network developed by SuprNova.org, reached a beta stage.

In a bid to avoid the pitfall of Napster, most other major filesharing networks are decentralized, including Gnutella, Gnutella 2, KaZaA and eDonkey2000.

The goal of Exceem was to eliminate the need for torrent link sites and trackers by allowing every user to easily publish new files on the network without having to post a torrent file on a centralized server and distribute them without dedicated trackers. The closed beta testing with more than 5,000 users was underway by December. The status of eXeem after the closure of SuprNova.org remains unclear.

TorrentBits.org, another link site was closed at about the same time, the reason of which is still unknown at this time. The site's founder and owner, known by the nickname "Redbeard", remains unavailable for comment.

Other torrent sites that have reportedly closed are Delirium Vault, Youceff Torrents (closed by French police), Phoenix Torrents (closed voluntarily).

Activities of P2P link sites have not been proved to be illegal and so far no link site was successfully sued by copyright owners. However, police in many countries are often willing to close the sites when they are accused of copyright violations. Confiscating the servers is usually enough to destroy the site, as most of the sites are run by volunteers on a non-profit basis, who are unable and unwilling to fight a prolonged legal battle.

The first large link site to be closed, ShareReactor, was taken down by Swiss police on March 10th, 2004.

Raids have apparently followed a trend of a higher probability of raids when site owners have received donations from file sharers; some believe that this allows authorities to charge operators of such link sites for copyright crime instead of copyright infringement. ShareReactor and ShareConnector were both closed soon after purchasing new server equipment using money donated by their users.

Many people have suspected that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a trade association representing the interests of major movie studios based in the United States, are linked to police actions, although the extent of their involvement is unknown at this stage. The MPAA has taken credit for the closure of FinReactor, although the KRP has officially denied that MPAA had any contacts with Finnish authorities [1].

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer (P2P) file distribution tool written by programmer Bram Cohen which was debuted at CodeCon 2002. BitTorrent allows many people to download one file at fast speeds. It does this by having downloaders swap portions of a file with one another, instead of downloading from a single centralised server or individual. It is particularly suited to quickly distributing new files to a large number of users.

eDonkey2000 is a peer-to-peer file sharing application developed by MetaMachine, using the Multisource File Transfer Protocol. eDonkey network encourages permanent sharing of files, ensuring good long-term availability, but is not as effective as BitTorrent in quickly spreading new releases.

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