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Federal authorities on Wednesday shut down an online file-sharing network that had the new Star Wars movie before it was shown in theaters. The Elite Torrents network was engaging in high-tech piracy by allowing people to download copies of movies and other copyright material for free, authorities said. The action was the first criminal enforcement against individuals who are using cutting-edge BitTorrent technology, Justice and Homeland Security Department officials said. The network had more than 133,000 members and 17,800 movies and software programs in the past four months, officials said. Among those titles was “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which was available through Elite Torrents six hours before its first showing in theaters, the officials said. The movie was downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first 24 hours. “Today’s crackdown sends a clear and unmistakable message to anyone involved in the online theft of copyrighted works that they cannot hide behind new technology,” said John C. Richter, acting assistant attorney general. People attempting to access the elitetorrents.org Web site on Wednesday were greeted with a warning about the penalties for copyright infringement. The message also said: “This site has been permanently shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Individuals involved in the operation and use of the Elite Torrents network are under investigation for criminal copyright infringement.” BitTorrent has become the file-sharing software of choice because of its speed and effectiveness, especially after the recording industry began cracking down last year on users of Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster and other established software. The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that movie piracy cost the film industry $3.5 billion last year, not including the sharing of files online. The association assisted in the investigation, officials said. “Shutting down illegal file swapping networks like Elite Torrents is an essential part of our fight to stop movie thieves from stealing copyrighted materials,” said the group’s president, Dan Glickman. Hollywood movie studios last year sued many operators of computer servers that use BitTorrent technology to help relay digital movie files across online file-sharing networks. The group also sued six sites this month that focus on swapping television programs Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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