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Australian ISP raided in BitTorrent crackdown

Music industry investigators target a company accused of using BitTorrent technology to link copyright infringers.

Australia's music industry piracy investigations unit has raided an Internet service provider in Perth in what it says is the first Australian assault on the use of BitTorrent technology for copyright infringement.

Michael Speck, outgoing general manager of Music Industry Piracy Investigations, or MIPI, said the raid occurred Thursday at the offices of Swiftel Communications in Perth after federal magistrate Rolf Driver granted a civil search order.

"We have identified Swiftel as an ISP which has adopted BitTorrent technology to link infringers to music clips and sound recordings," Speck said in a statement. "We believe hundreds of thousands of downloads have been conducted in the last year in breach of copyright laws".

Evidence gathered during the raid would, Speck said, be used to bring a copyright prosecution before the courts.

Speck said that MIPI's investigation, which has been under way since December of last year, focused on two Internet Web servers known as the Torrent Web pages and a Web site called Archie's Hub.

He said investigators found that the Torrent Web pages and Archie's Hub were apparently hosted on the Internet by a system whose domain names were listed as being owned by Swiftel Communications and Swiftel Pty. The piracy investigations unit established that Swiftel Communications and Swiftel Broadband were wholly owned subsidiaries of People Telecom. Executives at Swiftel were not available for comment.

Speck said the unit's investigations revealed that the Torrent Web servers hosted a "database of music video files which can be very quickly downloaded," provided the user has BitTorrent software or software or a protocol equivalent to BitTorrent.

Speck said investigations ranged from the inspection of the Web site's features to company searches and the surveillance of sites in Western Australia and New South Wales that the MIPI suspected housed computers used in the operation of the Swiftel sites.

BitTorrent is a software application and system that enables efficient software distribution and peer-to-peer sharing of very large files--such as entire movies and TV shows--by enabling users to serve as networking redistribution points. Rather than having to send a download to each person requesting it, the distributor or holder of the content sends it to one person, who in turn sends it to other people, who together share the pieces of the download back and forth until everyone has the complete download.

BitTorrent makes it possible for the original server to serve many requests for large files without requiring immense amounts of bandwidth. A user may expect to see a full-length movie arrive within a few hours. BitTorrent's protocol has been described as a "swarming, scatter and gather" file-transfer protocol.

Speck said Archie's Hub also appeared to function similarly to the Torrent Web pages, except that there were a limited number of users whose files are made available for members of Archie's Hub to share.

Investigators said that Archie's Hub could only be accessed by users who are members of Swiftel. Unlike the Torrent Web server, however, the Web site uses Direct Connect software to enable members of Archie's Hub to share digital sound recordings and music video files with other members.

Direct Connect is traditional P2P file-sharing software and allows users to connect directly to each other to swap files.

During the investigation, Speck said they uncovered a list of video files on the Web site from different artists such as Eminem, Ja Rule, Nelly, Avril Lavigne and Jennifer Lopez, among others.

Kristyn Maslog-Levis of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.