MPAA accused of hiring a hacker

Lawsuit alleges the Motion Picture Association of America was trying to steal information from Torrentspy.com.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses the Motion Picture Association of America of hiring a hacker to steal information from a company that the MPAA has accused of helping copyright violators.

The lawsuit (click for PDF), filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by Torrentspy.com parent Valence Media, doesn't identify the man the company says was approached by an MPAA executive. But the suit calls the man a former associate of one of the plaintiffs and alleges that he was asked to retrieve private information on Torrentspy.com, a search engine that directs people to download links.

Torrentspy's complaint includes claims that the man whom the MPAA allegedly paid $15,000 to steal e-mail correspondence and trade secrets has admitted his role in the plot and is cooperating with the company.

"It is a Hollywood drama, what happened here," Ira Rothken, Torrentspy's attorney, said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.

The allegations come three months after the MPAA filed suit against Torrentspy and other directories for allegedly making it easier for pirates to distribute movies over the Internet.

"These claims (by Torrentspy) are false," Kori Bernards, the MPAA's vice president of corporate communications, said in an e-mail to CNET News.com. "Torrentspy is trying to obscure the facts to hide the fact that they are facilitating thievery. We are confident that our lawsuit against them will be successful because the law is on our side."

The suit filed by the MPAA was a departure from the organization's previous strategy of going after Web sites that were directly involved in aiding file sharing. By suing Torrentspy, as well as such companies as IsoHunt, BTHub.com, and TorrentBox.com, MPAA was declaring that it saw little difference between the file-swapping networks that the studios have aggressively taken to court and those companies that direct people to works that may be protected by copyright.

One MPAA executive is quoted in Torrentspy's lawsuit as saying: "We don't care how you get it," referring to the alleged assignment to dig up information on Torrentspy.

Some of the information that the man allegedly pilfered included a spreadsheet containing Torrentspy income and expenses from January to June 2005, copies of private e-mails between Torrentspy employees, detailed information on the company's servers, and billing information, according to the lawsuit.

Torrentspy alleges in the suit that the man, whom the company refers to as the "informant," has provided documents that prove the nature of his relationship with the MPAA, including a written agreement signed by the hacker and an MPAA executive, Rothken said.

"We have very significant proof of wrongdoing and the MPAA's involvement," Rothken said. "We think it's ironic for the MPAA to claim that they are protecting the rights of the movie studios and then go out and pirate other people's property."

Rothken said that the MPAA also paid the hacker to "gather nonpublic information" about other Torrentspy-related sites. Rothken declined to specify which sites.

Following all this, the "informant" had a change of heart and contacted Torrentspy.

"By doing that, he's mitigating the harm that he did," Rothken said. "He is also allowing us to get a remedy against the MPAA and to help us stop them from using the stolen data."

Torrentspy has asked the court for unspecified damages and a jury trial.

CNET News.com's Joris Evers contributed to this report.

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