A lawsuit filed last year by TorrentSpy--a BitTorrent search engine--that accused the movie studios' trade group of intercepting the company's private e-mails, was tossed out of court last week.
But while a U.S. District judge found that the Motion Picture Association of America had not violated the federal Wiretap Act, as TorrentSpy's attorneys had argued, the MPAA acknowledged in court records that it paid $15,000 to obtain private e-mails belonging to TorrentSpy executives.
The MPAA's acknowledgement is significant because it comes at a time when the group is trying to limit illegal file sharing by imploring movie fans to act ethically and resist the temptation to download pirated movies. To critics, the revelation by the MPAA is a possible sign that the organization is itself not above adopting unethical practices in its fight against file sharing.
"Ethically, it's pretty clear that reading other people's e-mail is wrong," said Lorrie Cranor, an associate research professor and Internet privacy expert at Carnegie Mellon University. "Being offered someone else's e-mails by a third party should have been a red flag."
The MPAA, which says that illegal file sharing costs the film industry more than $2 billion annually, did not respond to interview requests.
In court records, the MPAA said that the person whodid so before approaching the group with an offer to sell the information and that he signed a contract stating he had come by the correspondence through lawful means.
Ira Rothken, TorrentSpy's attorney said: "We believe that the MPAA, when it paid $15,000 for about 30 pages of e-mails, knew or should have known they were involved in purchasing something in a wrongful manner."
Rothken said that TorrentSpy will appeal the court's decision that the pilfering of TorrentSpy's e-mail did not violate the Wiretap Act.
According to court documents, the MPAA came into possession of the e-mails after first being. Anderson is a former business associate of Justin Bunnell, TorrentSpy's founder.
Anderson allegedly "hacked" into TorrentSpy's e-mail system and rigged it so that "every incoming and outgoing e-mail message would also be copied and forwarded to his anonymous Google e-mail account," records show.
Anderson, the MPAA's senior legal counsel, in June 2005. Anderson told Garfield that he had an informant who supplied him with the e-mails.
District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper also agreed with the MPAA that TorrentSpy failed to prove that the information obtained by Anderson qualified as trade secrets.