WASHINGTON – Federal raiders. Internet pirates. Intergalactic screen adventures. The government announced a crackdown Wednesday on the theft of movies and other copyright materials that has the elements of a film plot.
Federal agents shut down a Web site that they said allowed people to download the new “Star Wars” movie even before it was shown in theaters.
The Elite Torrents site was engaging in high-tech piracy by letting people download copies of movies and other copyright material free of charge, authorities said.
The action was the first criminal enforcement against individuals who are using cutting-edge BitTorrent software to obtain pirated content online, Justice and Homeland Security department officials said.
Elite Torrents had more than 133,000 members and offered 17,800 movies and software programs in the past four months, officials said. Among those titles was “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” which was available through Elite Torrents six hours before its first showing in theaters, the officials said.
The movie was downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first 24 hours.
Authorities served search warrants in 10 cities against computer users accused of being the first to offer copyright materials to other BitTorrent users on the Web site, Homeland Security’s Customs and Immigration Enforcement agency said. The cities are: Austin, Texas; Erie, Pa.; Philadelphia; Wise, Va.; Clintonwood, Va.; Germantown, Wis.; Chicago; Berea, Ohio; Anthem, Ariz.; and Leavenworth, Kan.
Authorities said the warrants were still under seal.
Investigators said many of the copyright movies were available through the Web site before their commercial release.
President Bush signed a new law last month setting tough penalties of up to 10 years in prison for anyone caught distributing a movie or song prior to its commercial release.
“Today’s crackdown sends a clear and unmistakable message to anyone involved in the online theft of copyrighted works that they cannot hide behind new technology,” said John C. Richter, acting assistant attorney general.