Wired Exclusive: I Was a Hacker for the MPAA

But once Anderson turned over the data and cashed the MPAA's check, he quickly realized that Garfield had no further use for him. "He lost interest in me," he says. Anderson felt abandoned: During negotiations with Garfield, the hacker had become convinced he was starting a long-term, lucrative relationship with the motion picture industry. "He was stringing me along personally."

Hollywood's cold shoulder put Anderson's allegiance back up for grabs, and about a year later he came clean with TorrentSpy's Bunnell in an online chat. "'I sold you out to the MPAA,'" Anderson says he told Bunnell. "I felt guilty (for) what happened and I kinda also thought at that point the MPAA wasn't going to do anything."

"He was kinda blown away," recalls Anderson.

Bunnell declined to comment for this story.

The MPAA sued Bunnell and TorrentSpy shortly after Anderson's chat. Bunnell then countersued the MPAA under the federal Wiretap Act. Bunnell alleged that Anderson's e-mail surveillance amounted to wiretapping under the law, and that the MPAA was exposed to vicarious liability for the crime.

As Bunnell's star witness, Anderson was not sued "because he took steps to advise us of his wrongdoing and to cooperate. We've made a decision to go after the bigger wrongdoing, the MPAA," says Bunnell's attorney, Ira Rothken.

But U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper in Los Angeles dismissed Bunnell's lawsuit Aug. 21 on the grounds that Anderson's intrusion did not violate the federal wiretapping statute. Attorney Rothken says he did not sue under the federal computer-hacking law, because it doesn't allow for vicarious liability.

Last week Rothken filed a notice of his intent to appeal Cooper's decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. For now, the court's decision has put the brakes on Bunnell's lawsuit against the MPAA, and freed the movie industry to use the purloined e-mail in its lawsuit against TorrentSpy for alleged copyright infringement.

That suit is ongoing and contentious. Cooper ruled last May that TorrentSpy must begin saving the internet addresses and download activity of its U.S.-based users, and turning over the information to the MPAA in pretrial discovery. In response, TorrentSpy began blocking U.S. users, and made changes on its site to protect user privacy -- drawing a fresh burst of outrage in legal filings by MPAA lawyers earlier this month.

The MPAA's Kaltman says the court's decision to throw out Bunnell's lawsuit against the MPAA left no doubt that Garfield's relationship with Anderson was aboveboard. Kaltman points out that the court took note of the contract language between the MPAA and Anderson that represented any data from Anderson as being lawfully obtained.

But Paul Ohm, a University of Colorado Law School scholar specializing in computer crime, is skeptical. "It's hard to say with a straight face that you can obtain that legally," said Ohm. "Ethical red bells should have been going off."

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