U.K. man threatened with BitTorrent lawsuit

Movie studios serve legal papers to owner of Web site, claiming he allowed people to download copyright films.

A British man who runs a Web site that allegedly once supported the BitTorrent peer-to-peer application is facing the threat of being sued by four major U.S. movie studios.

Kevin Reid has been accused of copyright infringement by Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros. The studios filed a lawsuit in a U.S. court earlier this month claiming that copyright-protected films have been uploaded and downloaded from bds-palace.co.uk, which Reid runs.

Reid has not yet been formally named as a defendant in the lawsuit. However, lawyers representing the four labels have served him with legal papers asking him to reach a settlement. Reid, though, said he plans to fight the legal action.

"This complaint is entirely without foundation. Mr. Reid has behaved entirely properly in running his Web site," said David Harris, an IT and intellectual property lawyer at UKITLaw.com, who is representing Reid and describes the lawsuit as "cynical and premature."

"BitTorrent is an innovative and lawful technology, and while some visitors to the site may have engaged in copyright infringement, Mr. Reid had no role in this. His site did no more than provide a forum for the public to discuss movies and current events relating to films. Mr. Reid deplores copyright infringement, and when made aware of unlawful sharing he immediately removed torrents," Harris added.

With BitTorrent, a single file is broken up into many small fragments which are distributed among computers. To download a file, a person first downloads a "torrent" file which contains a link to a tracker server, which has a log of users who have copies of the relevant BitTorrent fragments on their PCs.

Torrent files may have been shared at bds-palace.co.uk, but Reid apparently removed files that could have been unlawful. Supporters of BitTorrent argue that tracker servers don't violate copyright law as they do not host content themselves, in the same way that a search engine merely points to information.

Reid is at least the second British person to be hit by a BitTorrent-related lawsuit this month. The Register, an IT news site, reported earlier this week that these four music studios also had served a lawsuit against Alexander Hanff, who is involved with a site that the movie companies claim is a BitTorrent tracker server that has been used to distribute copyright-protected films.

Some people who ran BitTorrent tracker servers have closed them down in the face of legal threats from the movie industry, but Reid apparently plans to instead fight back.

"The movie studios are not interested in preventing copyright infringement so much as killing an innovative technology used primarily lawfully but which frightens them because of its potential for abuse," Harris said.

"The studios could have chosen to work with our client and assist him in policing the site; instead they have chosen to posture with meritless litigation," Harris said. "Our client will fight this case aggressively and prevail."

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.