On Thursday, news broke of Artem Vaulin, the founder of KickAss Torrents (KAT), being arrested in Poland and the domain name being seized, making the website unoperational. In short, the most beloved Torrent site for those with piracy close to their hearts has gone dark, and in all likelihood for good.
Additionally, alternative popular proxies have also been swiftly taken down. At the time of writing, the five most popular KAT proxy sites, along with the main website, are no longer accessible due to the fact that KAT servers across the globe are being taken down, instead of just the domain names being seized. We have seen how earlier blocking one domain name caused the website to crop back up with a new one, so a server-level takedown seems to be the only way to put a website into the ground once and for all.
The case of Vaulin and KAT is a little different, however, from that of other Torrent websites. It has been known that the company often avoided adhering to takedown notices under the US’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act by finding legal loopholes, including, but not limited to, questioning the validity of the complainant’s ownership of copyright.
KickAss Torrents isn’t the first to be targeted by the US government for illegal distribution of digital content, with popular websites like The Pirate Bay going through its own fair share of arrests and takedowns in the last few years. But it is unlikely that taking one website down, regardless of its popularity, is going to have the effect that the authorities are looking for. We have seen time and time again how people find ways to skirt copyright law. When one source goes down, we have seen alternatives crop up, KAT itself being one of them. KAT shot to popularity back in the day when The Pirate Bay was having trouble keeping its domain names active.
The Pirate Bay, the legal system chased down and caused the shutting down of Suprnova, a very popular torrent site before The Pirate Bay shot to fame. In the last 10 years, many Torrent sites such as Newnova (rebirth of Suprnova), IsoHunt and TorrentSpy have all had their tryst with the legal system, forcing them to cease operations at one point or the other. One popular Torrent distribution site from the early days that still remains active is Demonoid, although use of the website has declined drastically in the last few years. Demonoid was an “invite-only” torrent site that reached critical fame in the 2006-2008 era, quickly getting targeted by law enforcement and consequently having to take all its trackers offline in 2012 for a period of almost two years.
In the absence of Demonoid rose The Pirate Bay, in whose absence rose KAT. It would seem that there is a pattern here.
The internet is a free domain and as such, no matter to what extent authorities try and police it, it will never truly be in a state of control. Piracy has become an undeniable fact of life for most users. The sheer number of people engaged in piracy is reason enough for an alternative to crop up. When Rapidshare was taken offline, Megaupload took its place. When Megaupload was seized, several sharing/hosting sites cropped up. Similarly, as one popular Torrent site has been taken down, another has taken its place, almost seamlessly. Even today, with KickAss Torrents being gone (for now), we are still left with plenty of options to get our fix of illegally downloaded movies and as authorities prepare to move in on the last remaining bastions of piracy, new alternatives are coming up each day. It is essential to remember that a particular website may have been taken down, but those uploading and downloading the content remain free and it would not be long before they find a new platform to connect on.
The real grey area for Torrents lie on the fact that BitTorrent is only a transmission protocol and as such isn’t really a “product” that can be made illegal. In fact, BitTorrent is used rather frequently for totally legitimate use by many companies. Often large files are moved around within organisations using the BitTorrent protocol. Many popular Linux Distros are made available for download via the BitTorrent protocol as well. One of the most popular companies to use the BitTorrent protocol is Blizzard Entertainment that uses its own Torrent client to download games and updates such as those for World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo III. In fact, if companies like Microsoft and Apple were to start releasing their OS increments over the BitTorrent protocol, the result would be less bandwidth use at their end (as Blizzard Entertainment discovered) along with faster distribution of the software to its users as Microsoft and Apple servers would not be getting choked catering to and delivering thousands of download requests in one go.
While BitTorrent struggles to be adopted by legitimate companies for legitimate use, it finds itself in the hands of individuals who have truly demonstrated the power of the protocol. It is impressive that BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer sharing protocol can handle the transfer of immense gigabytes of data without breaking down. The protocol could be put to much better use, but what becomes of it is something that only time will tell. As of now, what we do know is that KickAss Torrents is gone, and soon, another shall take its place.