Artem Vaulin, a 30-year-old Ukrainian that is believed to be the creator and owner of Kickass Torrents, currently the most popular and most visited illegal file-sharing website, has been arrested in Poland on Wednesday.
On the same day, US authorities have seized domain names associated with the website – KAT is currently inaccessible – and have charged 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. They will seek to extradite him to the United States for a trial.
According to the complaint, Vaulin allegedly owns and operates Kickass Torrents or KAT, a commercial website that has enabled users to illegally reproduce and distribute hundreds of millions of copyrighted motion pictures, video games, television programs, musical recordings and other electronic media since 2008.
The complaint alleges that KAT receives more than 50 million unique visitors per month and is estimated to be the 69th most frequently visited website on the Internet.
In addition, a federal court in Chicago ordered the seizure of one bank account and seven domain names associated with the alleged KAT conspiracy.
According to the complaint, KAT has consistently made available for download movies that were still in theaters and displayed advertising throughout its site. 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. The site operates in approximately 28 languages.
KAT has moved its domains 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, according to the complaint. KAT has allegedly operated at various times under the domains kickasstorrents.com, kat.ph, kickass.to, kickass.so and kat.cr, and relied on a network of computer servers located around the world, including in Chicago.
The complaint alleges that Vaulin, who used the screen name “tirm,” was involved in designing KAT’s original website, oversaw KAT’s operations and, during the latter part of the conspiracy, Vaulin allegedly operated KAT under the auspices of a Ukrainian-based front company called Cryptoneat.
In the complaint, Homeland Security Investigations agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan explained how the investigation went on and repeatedly tied Vaulin to KAT:
- His name came up in WHOIS records for various KAT domains
- The email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) previously listed as that of the owner of the site has been tied to an iTunes transaction, and the IP address from which the transaction was initiated was the same used to log into KAT Facebook account, and later to a Coinbase account in Vaulin’s name.