Friday, February 20, 2009

When Sgt. Friday met the Internet pirates

An affidavit by an FBI agent filed in support of a criminal copyright prosecution provides fascinating insight into how anti-piracy investigators go about tracking their prey. Get past the unintentionally hilarious Dragnet-era deadpan ("Based on my knowledge, training, and experience, and the experience of other law enforcement officers, I have knowledge of the Internet and how it operates. I know that the Internet is a worldwide computer network which connects computers and allows communications and transfer of information and data across state and national boundaries..."), and it's a pretty interesting story.

Here's what happened, according to the affidavit, filed by Special Agent Mark Burnett (no, not that Mark Burnett): Paramount (for reasons unknown) decided to release a "comedy" called The Love Guru on June 20, 2008. Shortly before that date, MPAA cyber-sleuths discovered that someone was offering to upload a copy of the film to a "topsite" known as "PUKKA." The MPAA forwarded this information (including the IP addresses from which the alleged pirate uploaded the file) to the FBI, which took over the investigation.

The FBI took the IP addresses to Cox Communications, the ISP to which the addresses were assigned. Cox then gave the FBI the name and address of the 2 subscribers associated with those IP addresses, who lived next door to each other on Spanish Lace Drive in Irvine, CA. The FBI surmised that the uploader first tried on an unsecured wireless network, but wasn't able to finish; he then used his own secure network to complete the transfer. Special Agent Burnett interviewed the relevant residents, and made some progress.

Separately, Burnett pursued a lead at Los Angeles Duplication & Broadcasting ("LADB"), a company hired by Paramount to make screener copies of The Love Guru. The FBI believed that a copy made by LADB (and intended for Jay Leno) was the source of the upload. Burnett interviewed an employee named Jack Yates, who had made the Leno copy, or, allegedly, 2, the first of which was apparently rejected by Paramount because of its poor quality. Yates' story didn't match with company records, and there was a surveillance video that allegedly showed him making an unauthorized copy and removing it from the facility, but he denied any knowledge of taking a copy or how the movie leaked to the Internet.

Meanwhile, the FBI did a forensic examination of the computer of Mischa, a roommate of one of the Irvine Cox customers, which confirmed the Love Guru upload. Mischa then allegedly told Burnett that "Yates made a copy of The Love Guru at his place of work....Yates gave the copy to his cousin, Erich Blume. Blume then gave the copy to Nick Krieger, who was a former roommate of [Mischa] in Capo Beach. Krieger gave the copy to [Mischa]. [Mischa] uploaded the movie to the FTP site."

All of which led to Yates being charged on February 9 not only with criminal copyright infringement, but also with a violation of 18 USC §1001 for making a false statement to the FBI.

Read the whole thing.

(h/t Wired)

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