KickassTorrent in shackles: Is it all over for BitTorrenting?

This is not the first time and it is definitely not going to be the last.

We have seen IsoHunt and ThePirateBay go down in the past, and it was only a matter of time that KickassTorrent would get the short end of the stick. Especially since they had a target on their backs for quite some time now after becoming the largest, most accessed torrent repository, live. Getting your domains banned one after another in multiple countries is usually a bad omen. The arrest itself is not as big a surprise as Apple and Facebook taking part in the sting operation to locate the owner. That doesn’t happen very often. It is worth wondering however, if Artem Vaulin, the 30-year old Polish owner, had any chance to settle things with the US authorities prior to his arrest. After all, in the past,  IsoHunt was able to defy arrest by agreeing to pay $110 Million in damages to MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) on top of closing the site permanently, of course.

The official charges are two counts of criminal copyright infringement, one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. In terms of figures, the US authorities claim that KickassTorrent has caused damages well North of $1 Billion. It might not be an easy figure to settle anyway but according to TorrentFreak, the investigators have estimated that KickassTorrent deposited roughly $12 Million in a period of 8 months from advertising revenue. Not shabby at all. Most ‘successful’ BitTorrent directories have a four stage cycle. Inception, growth, lawsuits and closure, with an overall life span of 5-10 years. In the last decade, amongst other things, the growth of one particular BitTorrent directory is usually fueled by closure of others.

On a critical note, while the activities normally associated with ‘torrenting’ are illegal, some would argue that they are in line with international policy of bringing access to every kind of information to every individual in every corner of the world. Not everywhere do people have access to buy movies, music, software or even books through purely legal channels. Internet access alone does not mean that everything legal is in the reach of everyone. In a good part of Asia, even the cinemas are involved in mass piracy. But since China and Russia have the highest torrent users, this is to some extent a fallible logic. However still, piracy means a lot more to people in developing countries where probably none of the stuff being consumed will ever see the light of day. Not legally anyway. And we will, of course, keep aside, those wire walkers who claim that torrents present them with the opportunity to ‘try’ the stuff before actually purchasing it.

If we take the official numbers, $1 Billion damage in the 8 years of KickassTorrent’s service life with a million active users a day is not much at all. Also, what the investigators would have already found out is that of the $12 Million annual revenue, most will be going towards maintenance. After all, it’s not easy to serve a million users daily and it is a fact that most of these sites operate in net loss (think Bitcoin mining).

How successful have these arrests been in discouraging ‘torrenting’? Well, for starters almost all of the previously terminated websites (IsoHunt, ThePirateBay etc) are running in one form or the other and there is a mirror for KickassTorrent already online. And by far the biggest problem is that closing one website creates a vacuum which other websites step in to fill (and do so quite well) and the cycle continues. Probably nothing takes more attention from authorities than Tor and the fact that we have seen three increments of SilkRoad already should be a good yard stick on how difficult it is to keep the genie in the bottle these days. Well, people are becoming smarter every day too.

As the internet becomes cheaper, faster and more widely available, the opportunities to pirate stuff increase many fold as well. While there is no argument on which side of law these torrent websites stand, there will always be this debate if the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to almost free and endless access to knowledge.