A federal judge issued a decision on Monday that would have required TorrentSpy, a BitTorrent search engine, to hand over information about its users had the company not ceased operating in the U.S. a day earlier.
TorrentSpy, accused of encouraging movie piracy in a lawsuit filed by the film industry last year, was ordered in June to provide the studios with user information found in the company's computer RAM. The site, which is often used by file sharers to find bootleg films, had long promised to protect the anonymity of visitors.
TorrentSpy filed an appeal and argued that data in a computer's RAM was too temporary to be considered "stored information," and that it was impractical for companies to produce such material as part of a civil suit. According to court documents, the judge on Monday denied TorrentSpy's appeal.
"The court holds that data stored in RAM, however temporarily, is electronically stored information," wrote U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper in her 18-page decision.
Ira Rothken, TorrentSpy's attorney, said that as far as the court order goes, if the company isn't doing business in the U.S. there isn't any U.S. records to turn over. Nonetheless, Rothken said TorrentSpy plans to continue the court fight by filing a new appeal with the 9th Circuit.
A spokeswoman with the Motion Picture Assoc. of America (MPAA), the trade group representing the six largest film studios, could not be reached for comment.
While the court's decision may have little impact on TorrentSpy--now that the company has ceased doing business in the U.S.--it could mean a great deal to scores of other companies, according to some experts.
Ken Withers, a legal scholar with the think tank, Sedona Conference, said shortly after TorrentSpy was ordered to turn over user information in June that he feared court's were creating "weapons of mass discovery" and expanding the scope of discovery too far.
But in her decision, Cooper wrote that discovery rules already allow parties in a civil suit to ask for data from "any medium from which information can be obtained." She noted that the rules did not exclude mediums that store information temporarily.
"RAM itself is defined as a storage unit," the judge wrote in her decision. "It is undisputed that the server log data (the movie studios) seek can be copied from RAM in defendant's computers and produced."