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Vancouver-based ISOHunt torrent search engine shutdown

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Isohunt Founder at Center of U.S. Torrent-Tracking Legal Battle


Gary Fung remembers years ago when the first computer he operated was a Pentium 90.

His programming skills have grown considerably since that first computer and his mastery ofPascal. Combined with his business acumen, the 25-year-old Fung now heads the popular BitTorrent search engine Isohunt and two tracking sites, Podtropolis and Torrentbox.

The Motion Picture Association of America claims in a lawsuit that Fung is a copyright scofflaw of the highest order — facilitating the theft of millions of its copyrighted works hosted in tiny pieces resting on servers and individuals’ computers worldwide. The case, which is awaiting U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles to rule on Fung’s dismissal motion, is likely to set legal precedent in the United States and perhaps abroad about the legality of torrent-tracking services.

"This is more than just about us," said Fung, who immigrated to Vancouver a decade ago with his parents who left Hong Kong when China assumed control. "I’m not building a business on the backs of others’ works. There are a lot of unprotected works as well."

In short, the case tests whether torrent-tracking services such as Isohunt and others are a legal business model or a sham built on the backs of copyrighted works neither Fung nor the millions of BitTorrent users own or are authorized to reproduce or distribute.

"By design, torrent-tracking sites are the equivalent of commercial emporiums for infringing content," the MPAA said in an April court filing in its case against Fung.

The MPAA described torrent downloading as a "swarm" — "the downloading and uploading of different pieces of a content file from many other users simultaneously."

Isohunt began about five years ago, Fung said. "I saw the potential," he said in a telephone interview from his hometown of Vancouver, B.C. With five employees, he said, he earns enough income "to sustain ourselves by advertising dollars."

"We’re not dependent on venture capital," said the former University of British Columbia computer engineering student who dropped out to ramp up his business. "I wrote Isohunt when I was in school. It kind of grew from a hobby to business. Eventually, I didn’t have time for school."

Fung said he has some 18 million monthly visitors and he’s tracking some 1 million-plus torrents — prompting the MPAA to sue him in the United States in a case that is largely overshadowed by thePirate Bay’s legal troubles in Sweden.

The U.S. courts have never squarely addressed the legalities of torrent-tracking services. A U.S. judge last year ruled against TorrentSpy in a similar case. The judge, however, did not rule on the merits and instead declared that TorrentSpy, which just shuttered, was in default because it would not turn over internal documents.

The case against Fung is already having ramifications for its U.S.-based users. Fung said he has cut them off from the Torrentbox and Podtropolis trackers. Fung said he feared that the American courts, as they did in the TorrentSpy case, would demand that he turn over the names or IP addresses of its U.S. users.

His servers, he said, are in Toronto, and were located in the United States — a fact he said that has given the U.S. courts legal jurisdiction to decide the case.

His attorney, Ira Rothken, said "there is no other ruling I’m aware of in the history of jurisprudence that having a search engine for dot-torrent files is legal or not."

Rothken’s defense of Fung and other torrent-tracking services is simple: Fung is doing what the Yahoos and Googles of the world are doing: "There are no copyrighted works touching his sites. They’ve got to prove a infringement occurred in the United States. This isn’t Grokster or Napster. There are no copying devices."

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(just checked out of curiosity and it's still online now)

More: Here’s why isoHunt deserved to die


Hollywood is sometimes cast as the villain in debates over copyright, so it's important to give credit when it's due. Today the Motion Picture Association of America announced that file-sharing search engine isoHunt would shut down and pay the studios $110 million in damages. It was a well-deserved victory for the motion picture industry. And the decision is the latest sign that the a landmark Supreme Court file-sharing ruling in 2005 struck the right balance.

IsoHunt has been fighting major film studios since 2006. It's a search engine that helps users find files on peer-to-peer networks using the BitTorrent file-sharing software. The company's doom was sealed this year when an appeals court upheld a summary judgment ruling finding the site liable for helping its users pirate copyrighted works.

The court's opinion was based on a landmark 2005 Supreme Court decision finding that the file-sharing company Grokster was liable for its users' infringement. In that case, both sides wanted the Supreme Court to rule on whether making a product that was overwhelmingly used for infringing purposes could itself be the basis for copyright liability.

But lots of legitimate media technologies have both infringing and non-infringing uses. Drawing a line based on the ratio of the two would have been a tricky proposition. So the Supreme Court took a different path. Pointing to ample evidence that Grokster had encouraged its users to infringe copyrights, the Supreme Court fashioned a new "inducement" theory of copyright liability. Under this theory, if you build a product that can be used for piracy and you encourage your users to use it for illicit purposes, then you can be held liable for their infringement.

Critics warned that the vagueness of this rule would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits against technology innovators. But that hasn't happened for a simple reason: It's easy to avoid running afoul of the inducement standard. If an entrepreneur is sincerely not trying to profit from infringement, then she won't encourage her customers to infringe, and so plaintiffs won't be able to find evidence of her doing so.

In contrast, the court found clear evidence that isoHunt was trying to profit from infringement. For example, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that for a time, "isoHunt prominently featured a list of 'Box Office Movies,' containing the 20 highest-grossing movies then playing in U.S. theaters. When a user clicked on a listed title, she would be invited to 'upload [a] torrent' file for that movie." Since the top-grossing movies are almost always copyrighted, this feature shows clear evidence of infringing intent.

In other cases, the founder of isoHunt "posted numerous messages to the isoHunt forum requesting that users upload torrents for specific copyrighted films; in other posts, he provided links to torrent files for copyrighted movies, urging users to download them."

Legitimate entrepreneurs wouldn't have behaved this way. The inducement test gives the courts an easy way to distinguish legitimate entrepreneurs who happen to have their products used for piracy from those who intend from the outset to profit from copyright infringement. And the demise of isoHunt is another sign of that standard working well.

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It doesn't affect me at all, since I download off Pirate Bay and no one is able to shut down that website. Torrents are everywhere already and with Utorrent, torrent box, torrent plus and a host of other torrent tracking websites, it will never die. Just like how P2P softwares that share music haven't died, although more people just download the torrents for music due to it being safer and faster.

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Well, you are a thief, you know that, right?

If movies and games were 5 bucks, you'd still download! Don't kid yourself, thief

The success of https://www.humblebundle.com/ Would say otherwise.

I buy the games that are worth buying to support developers - and I'll go see a movie in Theaters if I think its worth seeing

and I'll likely pirate a copy to watch at home once or twice, or play through.



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