Motion Picture Association accused of hacking

Valence Media, which operates the file-sharing portal site TorrentSpy, has accused the Motion Picture Association of America of hiring a computer hacker to help garner information for use in the industry group's patent infringement suit against the site.

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Valence and its owners have filed their own suit claiming that the MPAA, which represents the interests of the U.S. film industry, paid a known hacker to infiltrate the company's IT systems looking for potential evidence.

If brought to court, the suit will represent one of the most high-profile accusations of industrial espionage carried out via the use of paid hackers ever heard in the U.S. legal system.

According to the suit, filed specifically in the names of Valence executives Justin Bunnell, Forrest Parker and Wes Parker, contends that the MPAA "willfully and intentionally" purchased, procured, used and disclosed private information that it unlawfully obtained via a break into the company's computing systems.

The filing further claims that the MPAA paid its hacker $15,000 to steal e-mails and screen prints from Valence's servers, including client bills and the documents related to the firm's technology infrastructure.

MPAA representatives didn't immediately return calls seeking comment on the suit, for which Valence is seeking unspecified damages.

In February 2006, TorrentSpy was included in a lawsuit filed by the MPAA against companies providing links to the controversial BitTorrent file-sharing site. The MPAA claimed that TorrentSpy and other similar sites were guilty of facilitating copyright infringement by providing direct links into BitTorrent's hosted content.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered BitTorrent to block protected content from reaching its service as a result of an MPAA suit, and the company has since remade itself as a law-abiding venture.

In May 2006 the firm made the ultimate leap, signing a major distribution deal with Warner Brothers, one of the MPAA's largest members.

Named in the suit is Dean Garfield, the MPAA's director of legal affairs, who is accused of organizing the deal with the unnamed hacker and specifically telling the individual that when it came to getting Valence's information, "We don't care how you get it."

The lawsuit maintains that the involved person had gained previous knowledge of Valence's systems via a prior business arrangement.

It is widely held that the employment of hackers for the purpose of stealing industry trade secrets has long been a problem in the United States, but few cases have made it all the way to prosecution.

In one case decided earlier in May, the Los Angeles federal District Court sentenced a hacker to nearly five years in prison for loading a malicious program onto an estimated 400,000 computers, including some systems controlled by the U.S. Department of Defense, for the purpose of selling access to those machines to others.

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