CHICAGO — The alleged owner of one of the most visited illegal file-sharing websites was arrested Thursday. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has charged him and seized domain names associated with the website.
Artem Vaulin, 30, of Kharkiv, Ukraine, was arrested in Poland and is charged via criminal complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering and criminal copyright infringement. The United States will seek to extradite Vaulin to the United States.
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 copyrighted material is collectively valued at well over $1 billion, according to the complaint. 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 a 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, according to the complaint.
The complaint also alleges that the site operates in about 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, kastatic.com, thekat.tv, kat.ph, kat.cr, kickass.cr, and kickass.to, and relied on a network of computer servers located around the world, including in Chicago.
Several motion pictures currently available for download and sharing on KAT are still showing in theatres, including “Captain America: Civil War,” “Now You See Me 2,” “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Finding Dory,” according to the complaint.
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.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) assisted with the case with substantial assistance from the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the Polish Border Guard and National Prosecutor’s Office.