Three men behind a brand new torrent site that almost nobody visited say they have had their lives turned upside down by Australian authorities. An unfortunate series of events, triggered by fraud committed against one of the men in South Africa, led to a police investigation and a raid. After it was discovered that the men launched a torrent site last month, all now face deportation back to their home country of Canada.
Many people have a dream to the see the world and a few years ago Michel, a Canadian from Montreal, decided to turn his into reality.
After spending the past few years traveling around Europe, eight months ago the service industry worker decided to spread his wings further still, moving first to Mauritius then on to Johannesburg and Cape Town.
From sunny South Africa, Michel moved on to Melbourne, Australia, where he met up with two friends. These fellow Canadians – ‘K’ a website designer and ‘N’ who was happy to bounce from job to job – were already in the country, one on a working holiday and the other just passing through.
A little while ago this trio of travelers, all in their early twenties, decided to pause their globe-trotting adventures for a little while to work on a new project.
On November 29 2012 the friends launched their webpage, a BitTorrent meta-search engine called TorrentFind. Obviously since it was so new the site had almost zero traffic so to boost visitor numbers Michel decided to invest in some modest advertising with ad company adBrite.
“I was willing to put $5 a day in advertising to start,” Michel told TorrentFreak.
Michel says that he tried to charge the small sum to his credit card but it was constantly rejected by adBrite. He began to suspect there was a problem with his credit account.
“I changed my phone number a few times while traveling and never bothered calling the bank to update my file. I didn’t use the card all that much either, i’ve made that mistake before,” he explained.
But that wasn’t really the problem. After using the card a few times in South Africa Michel decided to go cash only since that’s how he was being paid at the time. It turns out that sometime after his last use of the card someone managed to use his credit account fraudulently.
“I first tried to use it again to pay for hosting and the site domain but it didn’t work so ‘N’ put it on his card. The next day or two we kept trying to set up adBrite but my card kept getting rejected,” Michel recalls.
Then, less than two weeks after the launch of the site, it became clear that the trio were in serious trouble. On December 9, two police officers and a representative from IP Australia arrived at the friends’ Melbourne apartment.
“They were questioning us about what we were doing and who we were, and I had to get I.D to prove it was my credit card,” says Michel.
“Then they asked what TorrentFind was.”
Michel says that overall the police were “not too bad” although he recalls being less than happy when the IP Australia representative decided to seize his computer.
“I lost it a bit when they started taking my laptop so I got cuffed,” Michel says.
All three were placed under arrest on suspicion of fraud and taken away.
“We were brought to the station where we spent most of the morning and early afternoon,” he said. “We were detained for about 5 hours or so.”
Fortunately Michel was able to prove that he was the rightful owner of the credit card that was defrauded in South Africa, so the fraud charges were dropped. But despite the clarification the issue is far from over.
“Supposedly copyright and piracy is taken seriously in Australia and is one of the fine prints on our visas. They explained to us that we’re not in trouble for any specific copyright products but that offering links to ‘infringed copies’ is not allowed,” Michel explained.
But linking to anything is not something the site has been doing much of at all. As can be seen from this screenshot of the site’s Google Analytics data, from the date of the launch until the police raid on December 9 the site had much less than a hundred visitors once search engine hits were excluded.
The site’s most-frequent user with 30 visits was vic.gov.au, an Australian government-run site. Michel presumes that this is where the investigation against him was being run. But it seems that the authorities don’t really care.
“Now they are voiding our tourist visas for ‘abusing piracy’. We are all facing deportation. All this over a new site that has not even really done anything yet.”
Michel says that both he and his friends are no longer allowed to work and have less than a month before their presence in the country becomes illegal.
“If we cant reverse the decision they will come to arrest us in 30 days and force us out of the country. We are also facing a fine but those details are still being worked out. We have a summons to appear in front of a judge in the immigration court next week so we’ll find out more then,” he concludes.
According to the official seizure notice seen by TorrentFreak, Michel and his friends stand accused of breaching Australia’s Copyright Act of 1968, specifically “transmitting a computer program to enable it to be copied when received.”
Of course this is not what a torrent site does at all. We’ll have to wait to see whether the judge agrees.