In a tale of intrigue that's perhaps fitting for the parties involved, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has denied that it paid a hacker to steal information from TorrentSpy, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by the file-searching company this week.
The suit reads like a movie script. In it, Valence Media, which operates TorrentSpy.com, claims that in June last year the MPAA hired a man to break into TorrentSpy's computers and steal information. The association did this, the suit says, as part of a "mistaken and misdirected vendetta" against TorrentSpy.
The MPAA says that the suit was filed in response to its own suit against TorrentSpy. "They are responding with a baseless claim," said Geraldine Maloney, a spokeswoman with the Motion Picture Association in Europe.
MPAA charged TorrentSpy earlier this year with knowingly facilitating movie piracy. TorrentSpy operates a search engine that allows users to find files online that can be shared using the BitTorrent file sharing system. TorrentSpy argues that it doesn't host any content and so can't be charged with illegally distributing files.
The TorrentSpy suit says that the hacker, once an associate of one of the principals of Valence Media, improperly accessed Valence Media email accounts and had emails sent to and from the accounts forwarded to a separate email box that he could access. In doing so, he learned login information and passwords to TorrentSpy servers. Once in the servers, he allegedly copied information about TorrentSpy's income, expenses, advertising orders and other information about the servers themselves, such as the way TorrentSpy indexes files.
TorrentSpy alleges that in July last year the MPAA paid the hacker $15,000 for the information. TorrentSpy also alleges that the MPAA told the hacker it didn't care how he got the information and that it would protect him from any liability in obtaining the information. The suit does not explain how TorrentSpy discovered the information breach.
The allegations mark the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute between file sharers and organizations like the MPAA that wish to protect the copyright of content such as movies or music. The MPAA is working to shut down sites like TorrentSpy that help end users find and illegally share content while file sharing sites argue that they aren't responsible for policing how their customers use their technology.