Former associate of TorrentSpy founder sells out to the tune of $15,000

Money. Power. Respect. All these things and more were offered to hacker Robert Anderson by the MPAA, if the information he held could “save Hollywood.”

In the spring of 2005, a joint advertising venture between TorrentSpy founder Justin Bunnell and Anderson turned sour. Looking to salvage what he could out of the situation, Anderson hacked TorrentSpy’s servers by guessing an administrative password. TorrentSpy’s passwords were reportedly extremely weak. “I just kept changing the numbers until it fit,” Anderson told Wired. “It took a little more than 30 tries.”

After gaining access, Anderson modified the site’s mail system to forward all e-mail to his Gmail account. Information collected including banking information, passwords, and even the site’s source code. This interested the MPAA, alleged Anderson, because they said they were interested in setting up their own fake torrent site as a “shadow operation.” He claims that the MPAA told him that they’ll “get their names, address books, contact information and banking information.” 

Exactly whose information Anderson collected has not been revealed.

It is not known if MediaDefender’s MiiVi project – which presumably is still under construction under new auspices after being prematurely ousted and having its creators’ email exposed to the public – has anything to do with the above fake torrent site.

“Everything they were talking about was sent to my Gmail … everything they sent, anything sent to them, I got,” said Anderson.

Seeing the possible profit in this newfound information, Anderson approached the MPAA through an unsolicited e-mail. In the message, Anderson told the MPAA that he had an “informant” within TorrentSpy that could “intercept any e-mail communications.” Within a few weeks, he received a reply from DeanGarfield, who at the time was the MPAA’s legal director.

On June 30, 2005 the MPAA sent Anderson a contract to sign. The contract’s terms included all of the information Garfield collected, including “the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the owners of” Anderson was also requested to check into information on The Pirate Bay, and to look for “evidence concerning and correspondence between these entities.” Other terms included a non-disclosure agreement of sorts, $15,000 payment for Anderson’s services, and stipulations that confidential data only be acquired “through legal means.”

Anderson soon realized, however, that Garfield’s promises were hollow and that the MPAA had no further use for him. At that point, said Anderson, he came clean to Bunnell and warned him of the MPAA’s intended actions.

Predictably, the MPAA has since filed suit against, and since tried to compel the site to retain increasing amounts of data about its American users. In turn, TorrentSpy countersued the MPAA under the federal Wiretap Act, claiming that the MPAA was exposed to vicarious liability for Anderson’s e-mail surveillance.

In the countersuit, Anderson claimed that the MPAA’s actions were different than the terms of its contract, and said that the MPAA had little actual regard for how Anderson acquired TorrentSpy’s information.

Unfortunately Bunnell’s suit against the MPAA was dropped, with Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper saying that Anderson’s actions did not violate the wiretapping statute. Other, similar laws that may have been used against the MPAA are not available either, because they do not allow for vicarious liability.

The MPAA claims that the countersuit being thrown out is proof that its actions were perfectly legal.

TorrentSpy has not taken action against Anderson, “because he took steps to advise us of his wrongdoing and to cooperate,” said Ira Rothken, who is serving as Bunnell’s attorney. “We've made a decision to go after the bigger wrong-doing, the MPAA.”

The MPAA’s suit against TorrentSpy is currently ongoing. In May, Cooper ordered TorrentSpy to begin saving IP addresses and download activity of its U.S. based users as part of pre-trial discovery. TorrentSpy responded by blocking American users – a move later mirrored by several other popular torrent sites – citing privacy concerns.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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