27-year-old Kevin Cogill of Culver City, California made quite a stir last June, when he posted leaked copies of nine tracks from Guns ‘n’ Roses’ upcoming album, “Chinese Democracy,” to his music blog Antiquiet for streaming. His actions earned him an investigation by the F.B.I., however, which eventually arrested Cogill in his home Wednesday, on suspicion of violating federal copyright laws.
The leak, posted June 18, quickly crashed Antiquiet’s servers and was taken down soon after – but not before attracting the attention of publications like Rolling Stone, TIME, and Wired, as well as radio stations on Sirius and Sky News UK. Cogill, who also writes under the name Kevin Skwerl, described a seemingly amicable-but-creepy series of encounters with F.B.I. agents – whom he says he fully cooperated with – before his arrest at 6:59 Wednesday morning.
Cogill appeared for arraignment at a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles later in the day, and his bail was set at $5,000. Antiquiet writer Britney Bernstein noted that bail was initially set to be $50,000, before his defense lawyer talked it down and reportedly scolded the court for allowing Cogill to be “accosted by five F.B.I. agents” instead of being ordered to appearing by a summons.
While he is not sure who had an F.B.I. investigation opened against him, Cogill said he was contacted by frontman Axl Rose’s lawyer before the investigation began.
The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA), signed into law in 2005, spilled a handful of copyright-infringing activities – of which pre-release leaking is one – over from civil courts, into criminal ones. First time offenders can face up to three years in prison. Cogill’s arrest is the third such prerelease-related arrest nationwide that resulted from FECA.
FECA also includes provisions to stop camcording, or the practice of videotaping movies while they play in a theater. Its provisions reflect a worldwide initiative on behalf of content owners to crack down on prerelease leakers of all kinds, and the last few years have seen a surge of arrests both inside the country and out.
Kathy Leodler, the RIAA’s director of investigations for its regional office in Los Angeles, hinted that more are on the way:
“The arrest of Kevin Cogill is great for the recording industry related to our online investigations,” she said. “We are very pleased with the F.B.I.'s interest and the U.S. attorney's office's aggressiveness in pursuing this investigation. We think we'll see more and more of these pre-release cases.”
Digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation says the law is being misapplied, however: legislators were targeting “commercial pirates selling ‘Harry Potter,’ not this guy in Culver City,” said staff attorney Corynne McSherry.
Writing in Antiquiet, Cogill says he expected arrest to come at any time.
“I’ve been asked if my legal troubles are over. The answer is that they haven’t begun. I’ve only been questioned thus far. Any day now, I could get served with papers,” he said in a post dated June 29. “All I can do in the meantime is hope for the best, and get back to business as usual.”