The first criminal prosecution for using the sophisticated BitTorrent file-sharing technology as part of a cyber-piracy scheme has ended with the guilty plea of a Pennsylvania man who illegally made a pre-released "Star Wars" movie available to more than 133,000 computer users.
Scott R. McCausland, 24, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to conspiracy and violating the "fraudulent copyright notice" law.
A criminal information filed Aug. 8 in the same Erie federal court charged McCausland with taking part in the "Elite Torrent" online piracy conspiracy.
Elite Torrent was an Internet peer-to-peer file-sharing organization with more than 133,000 members that used BitTorrent technology to illegally distribute various copyrighted digital works, including music, games, computer software and movies.
The "newer generation" BitTorrent software breaks files down into "smaller chunks of data," and the technology made it easier to access and download pirated digital works from the Elite Torrent conspirators, according to the criminal information filed in the case.
"This groundbreaking case demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Justice to prosecute individuals who use new technologies to undermine the copyright laws," U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of the Western District of Pennsylvania said in a statement. "It also serves as an example to those who believe that there is anonymity in cyberspace."
According to the criminal information, Elite Torrent conspirators had one or more of three functions in the organization: administrators, moderators and uploaders.
"Administrators were generally responsible for the day-to-day operations of the network," the information said. "Moderators monitored the online chat among ET members and had authority to exclude problem members from the ET network. Uploaders introduced pirated ... works onto the ET network."
The information says McCausland served in all three capacities using the online names SKOT and Mindhunter from September 2004 until May 2005.
During that time, the information says, McCausland uploaded a pirated copy of the movie "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" one day before the copyrighted motion picture's theatrical release.
McCausland also conspired with others to distribute the copyrighted movies "Blade Trinity," "Are We There Yet," "Hitch," "Coach Carter," "Assault on Precinct 13," "Constantine," Elektra" and "White Noise," the information alleges.
The Department of Justice said it shut down Elite Torrent May 25, 2005, and posted the following notice on the network's Web page: "This site has been permanently shut down by the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."
"Within the first week alone, this message was viewed over half a million times," a DOJ statement reported.
According to a plea agreement filed in the Erie federal court, McCausland faces a maximum sentence on the two counts of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
However, the agreement says the government will recommend a sentence reduction because he "voluntarily and truthfully admitted to authorities his involvement in the offense and related conduct" and because he "timely manifested acceptance of responsibility."
United States v. McCausland, No. 06-CR-00040, guilty plea entered (W.D. Pa., Erie Sept. 12, 2006).
White Collar Crime Reporter
Volume 20, Issue 01