KickassTorrents (commonly abbreviated KAT) is a website, founded in 2008 and offline as of July 2016, providing a directory for torrent files and magnet links to facilitate peer-to-peer file sharing using the BitTorrent protocol. As of November 2014, KAT became the most visited BitTorrent directory in the world, overtaking The Pirate Bay, according to the site's Alexa ranking. On 20 July 2016, the domain was seized by the United States government and is offline; the site's proxy servers were shut down by its staff at the same time.
Blocking and censorship
KAT was initially launched in November 2008 at the domain name kickasstorrents.com.
On 21 April 2011, KickassTorrents moved to the Philippines domain name kat.ph after a series of domain name seizures by the United States Department of Justice against Demonoid and Torrentz. The site later moved to several different domains, which the operators plan to do every six months, including ka.tt, kickass.to, kickass.so, kickasstorrents.im and kat.cr.
On 28 February 2013, Internet service providers (ISPs) in the United Kingdom were ordered by the High Court in London to block access to KickassTorrents, along with two other torrent sites. Judge Richard Arnold ruled that the site's design contributed to copyright infringement.
On 23 June 2013, KAT was delisted from Google at the request of the MPAA. In late August 2013, KAT was blocked by Belgian ISPs. In January 2014, several Irish ISPs started blocking KAT. In February 2014, Twitter started blocking links to KAT, however by the end of February 2014, KAT was unblocked on Twitter. In June 2014, KAT was blocked in Malaysia by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission for violating copyright law.
In December 2014, the site moved to the Somalia domain name kickass.so. Reports stated that it was moved as a result of site's regular domain change. On 9 February 2015, kickass.so was listed as "banned" on Whois, causing the site to go offline. Later that day, the site reverted to its former domain name kickass.to.
On 14 February 2015, it was found that messages mentioning "kickass.to" were blocked on Steam chat, but "kickass.so" and other popular torrent websites were not blocked, only flagged as "potentially malicious".
On 23 April 2015, the site moved to the Isle of Man based domain name kickasstorrents.im but was quickly taken down later that day and on 24 April it was moved to the Costa Rica based domain name kat.cr.
By July 2015, the site's kat.cr address had been removed from Google Search's results. After the removal, the top Google search result for KAT in many locations pointed to a fake KAT site that prompted visitors to download malware.
In October 2015, Portugal bypassed its courts by making a voluntary agreement between ISPs, rightsholders and the Ministry of Culture to block access to KAT and most of the other popular BitTorrent websites.
In October 2015, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox blocked access to KAT because of security concerns with some of the ads pointing to malware; users can bypass the block by clicking on the 'ignore' link. In April 2016, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox blocked KAT due to phishing concerns. Both blocks were later removed after KAT dealt with the concerns.
Arrest of the alleged owner
On 20 July 2016, the United States Department of Justice announced that it had seized the KAT.cr domain and had identified its alleged owner. Artem Vaulin, a 30-year-old Ukrainian man known online as "tirm", was detained in Poland after being charged with a four-count U.S. criminal indictment. The remaining domains were taken offline voluntarily after the KAT.cr domain name was seized.
Vaulin was arrested after investigators cross-referenced an IP address he used for an iTunes transaction with an IP address used to log into KAT's Facebook page. The FBI also posed as an advertiser, and obtained details of a bank account associated with the site. The investigation was led by special agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan, who also tracked down Ross Ulbricht, the operator of the online drug marketplace Silk Road. Der-Yeghiayan had observed the transaction within KAT's shell companies for years.
The criminal complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by Homeland Security Investigations, said that it was in possession of full copies of KAT's hard drives, including its email server. The investigation suggested that KAT made over $12 million per year in advertising revenue.