Kickass Torrents Asks Justice Department To Drop Case
from the i'm-sure-the-doj-will-laugh dept
Last month, we looked at the criminal complaint against the alleged operator of the torrent search engine Kickass Torrents (KAT) and raised a number of questions about the complaint. We noted that it appeared that the alleged operator, Arten Vaulin, was getting the “Megaupload treatment,” as there were a number of similarities between the two cases and the legal leaps of logic employed by the Justice Department in making their case. Thus, it was little surprise that Ira Rothken, who has managed the legal efforts for Kim Dotcom/Megaupload, has now signed on to represent Vaulin as well. His first move, last week, was to send the DOJ a letter, asking it to drop the case. While I would imagine that the request resulted in some hearty laughter among DOJ lawyers, it does lay out some of the key arguments that Vaulin will likely make as the case moves forward.
The key issue — as we pointed out in our post — and which is also true of the Dotcom/Megaupload case — is that the DOJ appears to be making up a secondary liability for criminal infringement claim, which does not exist in the law.
This alleged criminal copyright case arises out of an erroneous theory of criminal copyright law advanced by the United States that attempts to hold Artem Vaulin (“Defendant”) criminally liable for the alleged infringing acts of KAT’s search engine users. Discussion of Mr. Vaulin?s involvement in KAT shall await another day. Distilled down, in terms of technology, nothing more is alleged in the CC than that a visitor to defendants’ alleged “KickAssTorrents” (“KAT”) site can take advantage of automated search processes embodied there to search for and locate “dot torrent” files. Such files contain textual information assembled by automated processes and do NOT contain copyrighted content. After leaving the defendants’ alleged websites, the visitor may stop and do nothing or use the data in such torrent files in conjunction with third party “client” software; and that pursuit may, according to the desires of the user and the uncertain nature of the availability of third party files on the internet, lead to both infringing and non-infringing files being constructed that are located elsewhere on the Internet. By the time any possible primary infringement by a former KAT visitor could ever occur the visit to the site is long over.
The indictment does not even come close to alleging direct “willful” copyright infringement as KAT contains and transmits no content files. Defendants cannot be held criminally responsible for what users do after they leave the KAT search engine behind. The Copyright Act does not criminalize secondary copyright infringement…. The Criminal statute at issue namely Section 506 only imposes liability for direct, willful infringement that causes specific damages…. The government?s copyright conspiracy theory for similar reasons fails as a matter of law. Such a conspiracy theory is little more than a novel back door attempt to improperly argue judge made civil secondary infringement in a criminal case. Trying to hold KAT criminally responsible for the entire global BitTorrent network does not pass muster.
Later, the letter points out how the failure of the complaint to point to any actual direct infringement shows just how weak the case is:
The absence of allegations of specific unauthorized downloads or direct infringements in the complaint is not inadvertent: rather it is a side effect of how far removed defendant is from the potential infringing event and it is part of an improper criminal complaint that purports to impose presumptive criminal liability on a BitTorrent search engine for alleged offsite infringements. It is also a sign that the government is eager to improperly introduce concepts of judge made civil law into a criminal statutory analysis.
The letter also notes that the Homeland Security Investigations agent who wrote the affidavit attached to the criminal complaint clearly did not understand how bittorrent works and completely misrepresented the technology in a way that unfairly represents how KAT and bittorrent actually work. For example:
Paragraph 19 of the Affidavit inaccurately states: ?Between on or about June 24, 2016, and on or about June 30, 2016, HSI Special Agents downloaded from the Northern District of Illinois the following prerelease movies from KAT (at Subject Domain 4).? There was no movie or other content on KAT that could ever be downloaded and therefore no direct infringements could have occurred on KAT…. Infringements that occur after users, including HSI Special Agents, leave the KAT site behind cannot be criminally actionable against KAT.
The case by the DOJ also relies very heavily on the fact that the HSI investigator was able to find a torrent for a pre-release copy of Captain America: Civil War via a KAT search. The case needs this, because it’s the only way it gets even remotely close to criminal copyright infringement (remember, there’s a big difference between criminal and civil copyright infringement, and individuals downloading/uploading stuff won’t cut it (especially if there’s no money in it). The complaint tries to get around this by focusing (almost exclusively) on the Captain America pre-release, because there is criminal infringement for pre-release works. But, again, Rothken points out the problems with this argument:
The only copyrighted work identified in Counts Three and Four is ?Captain America: Civil War,? referenced in paragraph 19, discussed supra. There is no evidence to support the allegations as ?Captain America: Civil War? or as to any specific work. The lack of evidence is not surprising given that the KAT technology did not store or transmit any content. If a user committed copyright infringement, it is only after they left the KAT servers behind.
It is settled that liability for direct copyright infringement cannot be based on provision of information services to individuals that such individuals use to commit infringement. More specifically it is also well settled law that mere hyperlinks and their more attenuated cousin, torrent files, cannot constitute direct copyright infringement. In brief, because KAT did not copy anything or transmit content, it cannot be charged with direct copyright infringement.
It also challenges the weird DOJ argument that KAT failed to comply with the DMCA notices it sent. As the letter points out, that’s not a criminal offense.
Alleged failures to comply with the conditions of a DMCA civil defense does not create a criminal cause of action. There is no Act of Congress establishing a crime for violations of the DMCA safe harbors. The DMCA is a defense in the civil context of contributory and vicarious liability for copyright infringement committed by third parties and of liability for intentionally inducing third parties to commit copyright infringement.
The Government knowing that Judge made civil law for internet secondary copyright infringement could not be applied in the criminal statutory context is attempting to use the vague and novel theory of criminal ?conspiracy? to try to argue it through a back door and such arguments fail as a matter of law. There is a scarcity of judicial opinions in contested criminal copyright cases that discuss how a criminal conspiracy theory could apply to mere internet hyperlinks or torrent files/trackers. The government by throwing against the wall the criminal conspiracy theory without any statutory support from Congress is trying to argue Judge made civil common law by analogy. Common-law civil liability principles cannot be extended to impose criminal liability. Crimes must be specifically defined by Congress. Federal crimes ?are solely creatures of statute.?
There are a few other points made in there, including laughing off the “conspiracy” claims, since the DOJ only named one person and can’t legitimately argue a “conspiracy” between KAT’s operator and its users. There are also jurisdictional questions about trying the case in Illinois (or under US law at all) and of course, the silliness of including a money laundering claim.
There’s basically zero chance that this leads to the DOJ dropping the case, but I imagine that much of this letter (perhaps verbatim) will show up in court before long…