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The operator of the popular file-sharing service isoHunt, which the courts have declared a massive copyright scofflaw, is shutting down to settle a long-running lawsuit from the Motion Picture Association of America, according to court records lodged today.
Gary Fung, the site’s Canadian operator, also agreed to pay $110 million in damages as part of the deal to end the long-running legal battle. He is unlikely to get his hands on that much money, but the Hollywood studios get what they want: the shuttering of a torrent search engine that pointed the way to pirated movies, music, videogames and software. The deal includes Fung sites called IsoHunt, TorrenTBox and Podtropolis.
“Today’s settlement is a major step forward in realizing the enormous potential of the internet as a platform for legitimate commerce and innovation,” said Chris Dodd, the MPAA’s chairman. “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.”
Programmer Bram Cohen released the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol in 2001, and its efficient way of transferring files has become the method of choice for illicit, peer-to-peer sharing of copyright-protected content that sites like Canada’s isoHunt and Europe’s The Pirate Bay have capitalized upon.
The isoHunt litigation began in a Los Angeles federal court in 2006. In March of this year, a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, unlike the search engine Google, Fung does not deserve protection under U.S. copyright laws for hosting links to pirated content. That’s because Fung’s business model, the court said, was designed for the primary purpose of copyright infringement, with the majority of links on his search engines pointing to unauthorized, copyright-protected content. It was the first time a U.S. federal appeals court has ruled against a BitTorrent search engine.
Fung claimed it was not he, but his millions of users, who fed his sites with links and were redistributing them without authorization from the rights holders. Fung asserted that he was merely a search engine, like Google, that was protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s so-called safe-harbor provision that permits internet companies to escape liability for illegal content posted by their users if it is promptly removed at the request of the rights holder. Fung claimed he removed files upon request.
The appeals court did not see it his way, ruling the safe harbor under the DMCA does not exist for sites that “induce” unlawful file sharing. The court noted that isoHunt had prominently featured a list of “Box Office Movies” of the 20 highest-grossing movies in U.S. theaters, and also hosted links to where the movies were being seeded by BitTorrent users. Once somebody begins downloading the link, they also begin seeding the file to others in what is known as a “swarm.”
The U.S. Copyright Act carries penalties of up to $150,000 per violation.
Under terms of the settlement, Fung has seven days to shutter the sites.
IsoHunt claims to offer 44 million peers, more than 13 million active torrents, and is ranked the 426th most-visited website, according to Alexa.com.