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This week in copyright infringement

Feds shut down a popular Web site that allegedly distributed copyrighted movies, including versions of the latest "Star Wars."

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read
The federal government doesn't mind if the Force is with you, but it does have a problem if you have a copy of the newest "Star Wars" movie.

Agents shut down a popular Web site that allegedly had been distributing copyrighted music and movies, including versions of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." Homeland Security agents from several divisions served search warrants on 10 people around the country suspected of being involved with the Elite Torrents site, and took over the group's main server.

The agency said it was the first criminal enforcement action aimed at copyright infringers who use the popular BitTorrent file-swapping technology.

According to the investigators, "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" was made available through the Elite Torrents site before being shown in theaters and was downloaded more than 10,000 times. Investigators said that the site had 133,000 members and that it distributed more than 17,000 individual movie, software and music titles.

Bram Cohen's BitTorrent program is one of the most widely used tools for legally and illegally downloading files such as movies and software, but it apparently has barely helped him earn a living. Now the programmer is aiming to turn his donation-supported work into a steadier business, with a San Francisco-area start-up devoted to BitTorrent products.

The first product, to be released soon, will be an advertising-supported search engine that scours the Web for links to BitTorrent files. The search tool, which will be based on Web-crawling technology owned by Cohen's company, could be a boon to downloaders who previously have had little in the way of navigation for BitTorrent files.

While federal authorities ramp up the attack on domestic piracy, two U.S. senators are urging the Bush administration to increase pressure on Russia and China to respect copyright law, warning that those nations have become havens for movie and software piracy.

Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Senate copyright subcommittee, made an ominous statement about what might happen if unfettered piracy continues.

"Before Russia enters the (World Trade Organization), many of us will have to be convinced that the Russian government is serious about cracking down on the theft of intellectual property," Hatch said during a hearing.

Copyright infringement is a serious offense--at least that's the message sixth-graders in American Fork, Utah, will be getting. At their elementary school commencement this week, the students were slated to receive a warning from the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about the ills of illegally downloading music, movies and games from the Web.