Just a little over two weeks ago, the largest torrent hosting site, KickassTorrents, shut down after the alleged founder and owner, Artem Vaulin, was arrested in Poland.
Now, on August 5, Torrentz, the largest torrent meta search engine bid farewell. Torrentz met its end in unknown circumstances, as the site didn’t outright go offline — instead, it had it’s functionality removed and replaced with farewell messages. The site TorrentFreak got contacted by one of the operators, who refused to comment on the issue. WIRED also tried to contact an operator and the creator of the site, who went by the pseudonym of “Flippy”, but the attempts were unsuccessful.
It’s a quite puzzling situation, as the site apparently didn’t go offline because of legal complaints — not that it didn’t have any.
The (i)legality of Torrentz
The site was immensely popular, even if it didn’t host any content itself. It ranked as the second most popular torrent site twice: first in 2012 and again 2015.
That situation is what kept Torrentz in something of a legal gray area — it didn’t host any pirated content, only linked to sites who did, such as the ever-persistent The Pirate Bay, and the now-defunct KickassTorrents.
Copyright holders could make Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests, which the site complied with, to remove links to the undesired content.
Of course, this wasn’t enough to appease everyone — namely, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America had kept Torrentz under scrutiny.
The site’s history
Torrentz was launched on July 15th, 2003, and was based in Finland; it had been operative for over a decade.
The site had been blocked in the United Kingdom by the ISP BSkyB; previously, it had its domain name suspended without a court order by request of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, a specialized unit of the City of London Police, back on May 26th, 2014.
Other events of note in the site are Paramount Pictures’ DMCA claim to Google to remove Torrentz and two others torrent sites from the search results of the favorite search engine.
In 2008, scammers tried to take over the original domain of torrentz.com with false papers; this led to the creation of the torrentz.eu domain as a backup, which would eventually become the default.
KickassTorrents legal woes
KickassTorrents was founded back on November 7th, 2008. The site had way more legal troubles than Torrentz, including plenty of domain name changes as a result of various domain seizures by the authorities.
It also got blocked in the United Kingdom by its Internet service providers (ISP) after an order from the High Court in London, less than a year before the Torrentz block.
The site was also blocked by Belgian ISPs and some Irish and Portuguese ISPs. Twitter was also blocking links to KickassTorrents, although it was eventually lifted.
KickassTorrents was delisted from Google at request from the Motion Picture Association of America, and blocked on Steam chat, and both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox denied access to the site due to malware and phishing concerns. The death blow, of course, was the detention of the site’s owner.
The arrest of Artem Vaulin
After being arrested, Artem Vaulin, 30, was charged with a four-count U.S. criminal indictment. The charges include two counts of criminal copyright infringement, one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Assistant Attorney General Caldwell claimed in a press release that Vaulin was “responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials” and that his arrest meant “that cybercriminals can run, but they cannot hide from justice.” The site’s annual advertising revenue was more than $16 million as of July 2016.
It is not the end of the torrent sites
Of course, as history has shown time and time again, it’s only a matter of time before a mirror or a brand new site with the same functionality pops up. Who knows, maybe there’s one out there already.
It is important to note that, in spite of the resilience of torrenting sites, digital piracy has been in a steady decline, at least in countries such as the United States, since affordable, legal streaming alternatives have been made available.
The shift from desktop computers to mobile phones also plays a part in this decline phenomenon. BitTorrent went from accounting 23% of daily internet traffic in North America in 2011 to just 5% in a short five years.
While the news of these shutdowns can be saddening for some people and a relief to others, it is important to note, not only the resilience against site takedowns but also that shutting down sites — even the more massively popular sites — doesn’t make much of a dent in digital piracy.
Sources: Torrent Freak