Monday, October 22, 2007

Hollywood's Hacker

Here is a real life story about Hollywood that is worth becoming a Hollywood movie story. The story involves three people. A hacker called Robert Anderson, the famous torrents search site TorrentSpy and the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA).

The story began when a 23 year old hacker in Vancouver called Anderson cracked into TorrentSpy’s servers. He did that by simply guessing the Administrative password in a little more than 30 tries. It was 2005 & an online advertising venture with TorrentSpy founder Bunnell turned sour. So, Anderson decided to cash in on the information he had by sending an e-mail to MPAA offering inside information on TorrentSpy.

This is where the story grows into a Hollywood worthy fiasco. MPAA’s reply according to Anderson was “We would need somebody like you. We would give you a nice paying job, a house, a car, anything you needed.... if you save Hollywood for us you can become rich and powerful.” And eventually MPAA paid $15,000 for this information.

And it reaches ultimatum as Anderson claims that MPAA said “We'll set up a fake Torrent site. We'll contact the other Torrent sites. We'll get their names, address books, contact information and banking information....”. Obtaining hacked information is illegal enough, but, creating a fake site to get the details of other sites is way beyond what an Association is expected to do.

Now that MPAA got what they wanted, Anderson realized that they had no use for him & he felt abandoned. So, an year later, Anderson confessed to Bunnell (TorrentSpy) in an online chat. Soon after this conversation, MPAA sued Bunnell with the information they had got. Bunnell then countersued on the basis that the information was obtained through illegal means. But this lawsuit was dismissed.

As the case goes on, the Judge ruled that ‘TorrentSpy must begin saving the internet addresses and download activity of its U.S.-based users, and turning over the information to the MPAA’. Thus, TorrentSpy simply decided to block U.S. users as they had to protect the use privacy. This again upset MPAA.

There have been previous cases of harsh or illegal methods being used against movie piracy, like the one where a company was disrupting file sharing services by creating fake content. Then, there was a case where an executive at a national theater chain prosecuted a teenager for filming 20 seconds of a movie at a theater to show to her little brother. And the MPAA is well known for its ‘zero-tolerance war on piracy’. But I doubt that these efforts are going to inspire young movie buffs against Piracy.