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Popular BitTorrent site isoHunt shutdown, forced to pay $110 million

Published time: October 18, 2013 03:46
Edited time: October 19, 2013 19:44

After more than a decade of facilitating a search of BitTorrent files and eluding copyright enforcers, isoHunt has agreed to shut down all of its international operations and pay the entertainment industry US$110 million.

Canadian Gary Fung, the site’s founder and operator, has ended his long legal battle with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), according to court records filed Thursday. The court previously ruled that Fung was responsible for “inducing” copyright infringement, meaning the jury trial scheduled to begin on November 5 would essentially have determined the size of his punishment.

IsoHunt did not host copyrighted files on its own, but did act as a search engine that pointed users to pirated videogames, music, movies, and computer software. Also closing are Fung’s TorrenTBox and Podtropolis.

The MPAA warned that its lawyers would have sought as much as $600 million in federal court, according to Ars Technica. The site is thought to have 44.2 million peer users and at least 13.7 million active torrents.

Today’s settlement is a major step forward in realizing the enormous potential of the internet as a platform for legitimate commerce and innovation,” Chris Dodd, the MPAA’s chairman, said in a statement. “It also sends a strong message that those who build businesses around encouraging, enabling, and helping others to commit copyright infringement are themselves infringers, and will be held accountable for their illegal actions.”

Fung’s defense hinged on the excuse that he had no knowledge of any copyrighted media on his site. Fung claimed it was the millions of isoHunt users who posted infringing material and said he frequently removed violations upon request.

A federal judge ruled to the contrary, asserting that Fung had “red flag” knowledge of such content and even promoted access to popular movies and TV shows in an attempt to earn more ad revenue. The court also noted that isoHunt advertised a list of the 20 highest-grossing movies in US theaters, pointing to a list of users who were hosting, or seeding, the desired files.

Fung defended his site during a prior question and answer session on the social news site Reddit. One of the main problems, he said, is how Google employs the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  

The problem with copyright on the internet is that sharing is too easy, and there’s no Big Database to know what file’s copyright belongs to who and what to do with it (take down, monetize, don’t care),” Fung wrote. “And I reckon that similar to issue with orphaned works, which there is plenty of, that category of ‘don’t care’ is a very large category. Those that do care are loud, like Hollywood and the Canadian music industry that are suing us, are a minority among all the people on earth who ‘create.’

And to others arguing that isoHunt can't be compared to Google or Youtube, I beg to differ,” Fung continued. “We have a fully electronic DMCA notice and take down system, for years when Google was still requiring snail mail for take downs I might add. Hundreds if not thousands of copyright holders have notified us for take downs and we've complied with all, and some explicitly praised us for our speed (usually within the same or next day).”

IsoHunt has become the latest casualty of devastating lawsuits levied by the MPAA and its counterpart the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Peer-to-peer service shutdowns in the past include Napster, Grokster, KaZaa, and Limewire, while a long standing battle against The Pirate Bay still has yet to come to fruition for the entertainment lobby groups.

Fung described his current mindset in a blog post following the resolution.

It’s sad to see my baby go. But I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race and I have remained faithful. 10.5 years of isoHunt has been a long journey by any business definition and forever in Internet startup time.

It started as a programming hobby in my university days that has become so, so much more. It’s been a learning experience beyond what I imagined. I’ve done the best I could, pushing the social benefits of BitTorrent and file sharing, the searching and sharing of culture itself, but it’s time for me to move on to new software ideas and projects.”