UK man threatened with BitTorrent lawsuit

American movie studios are getting tough with Brits who are involved with BitTorrent sites, but they may have a fight on their hands

A UK man who runs a Web site that once supported the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing application is facing the threat of being sued by four major US movie studios.

Kevin Reid has been accused of copyright infringement by Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Brothers. They filed a lawsuit in the US courts earlier this month claiming that copyright-protected films have been uploaded and downloaded from bds-palace.co.uk, which Reid runs.

At present, Reid has not been formally named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Lawyers representing the four labels have served him with legal papers which invite him to reach a settlement. Reid, though, plans to fight the 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 between many computers. To download a file, a user 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 were shared at bds-palace.co.uk, but Reid is understood to have removed torrent 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 UK-based person to be hit by a BitTorrent-related lawsuit this month. IT news site The Register reported earlier this week that these four music studios had served a lawsuit against Alexander Hanff, who is involved with a site, dvdr-core.org, which 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 it appears that Hanff and Reid may both make a stand.

"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," said Harris.

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