Penthouse.com disclosed this week that U.S. government officials have confiscated materials from the residence of a Usenet user, known as “Muad’Dib,” who copied images and text from Penthouse.com’s members-only section and posted them on Usenet newsgroups.
After obtaining a temporary restraining order and a search and seizure order from a U.S. District Court in New England, representatives of Penthouse.com and federal law enforcement officials served the orders on Muad’Dib on April 20th, searched his property, and seized computers and storage media.
Gerard Van der Leun, Vice President of Online and Internet Services and Director of Penthouse.com, said, “Given the fact that Muad’Dib has not only boasted of having more than 20,000 of our images on his computer, but was in the habit of filling requests for material from other members of the group, we felt we had no choice but to pursue this course of action.”
Low Key Raid
Although federal law enforcement agents were involved, Van der Leun told the E-Commerce Times that the raid was low key and that the neighbors probably did not even realize what was going on.
At Muad’Dib’s residence, in an unnamed New England location, Van der Leun said the raiders found “CDs full of the stuff” and a cataloging system Muad’Dib used to keep track of his purloined images. Once cornered, Muad’Dib pointed the finger at other copyright violators. Penthouse.com says it will be taking action against these individuals in the near future.
“The sheer scale of their activities and the clandestine manner in which they operated would leave no one in any doubt that their motives were malicious,” Van der Leun added.
Van der Leun believes that Penthouse.com acted more benevolently than other companies in similar circumstances by handling the matter quietly. He said that “The purpose was just to assert our rights.”
Not an Inside Job
The raid took place after a three-month investigation by Penthouse.com into the theft of its copyrighted material. Van der Leun said, “For some months now we have seen tens of thousands of our images copied wholesale from our site and posted to the Usenet Newsgroups by users operating under false e-mail addresses and identities.”
According to Van der Leun, Muad’Dib posted the pictures as fast as they were put up on the Penthouse.com site. In fact, the company wondered at one point whether an insider was behind the newgroup postings.
Penthouse said the action was necessary to protect its business and to protect kids from viewing adult material. Van der Leun pointed out that the raids on the members-only site were analogous to someone going into a bookstore, stealing a book, and then distributing copies for free.
“Our pay site is an adult site,” Van der Leun said. “It is for adults only and we mean it. We take the responsibility of limiting access to our site and our content to adults very seriously. Once material is stolen from our site and posted to a global newsgroup we have no control whatsoever over who sees it. We certainly cannot tolerate or abet such a situation.”
Protecting the Perp
Penthouse.com said it has reached a settlement with Muad’Dib, but that the details will not be released. One of the conditions of the settlement was that Penthouse.com not identify the perpetrator or his home state. However, Van Der Leun told the E-Commerce Times that he is “not a kid” and added that the person has assets and standing in the community.
Van der Leun also told the E-Commerce Times that if the raid had been carried out in a high profile manner and Penthouse.com had chosen to push for prosecution, “He could have lost everything.”