TorrentSpy to appeal whopper legal judgment

Attorney for now-defunct search engine says court's decision was an "abuse of discretion" and a "Hollywood public-relations stunt."

TorrentSpy intends to appeal a court decision that requires the now-defunct search engine to pay $111 million in damages to the six largest film studios, according to the company's attorney.

TorrentSpy attorney Ira Rothken

Ira Rothken has defended TorrentSpy since 2006, when it was accused in a lawsuit filed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) of encouraging copyright infringement. In an interview with CNET News.com on Wednesday night, Rothken said the judge's decision was an "abuse of discretion" and suggested that the large dollar amount was an attempt to draw attention to the case.

"What is really going on here is a Hollywood public-relations stunt," Rothken said. "The reason for the size of the judgment was so a bunch of news organizations would write that 'a $100 million judgment was issued against a bunch of pirates' when, in fact, it was declared against a company with no appreciable assets that has already declared bankruptcy."

An MPAA representative could not be reached for comment.

According to Rothken, TorrentSpy filed bankruptcy in England last week and is without the ability to pay even a fraction of the $100 million, rendering the judgment's dollar amount meaningless.

In March, when TorrentSpy executives shut down the site , they noted that the cost of defending the case was hundreds of thousands of dollars.

TorrentSpy helps users locate BitTorrent files, and since BiTorrent is a technology favored by those sharing digital files illegally, the site was known as an important tool for pirates. But the company argued that it never hosted any unauthorized content and shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of its users--just as Google isn't held accountable when people use its service to find pirated content.

The MPAA disagreed, claiming that unlike Google, TorrentSpy existed primarily to help people rip off Hollywood.

In December, TorrentSpy got into trouble with U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, who presided over the case, when she determined that TorrentSpy operators intentionally destroyed evidence , making it impossible for the MPAA to get a fair trial. TorrentSpy had earlier been fined $30,000 for violations of discovery orders.

Cooper took the unusual step of terminating the case, which meant that she had found in the MPAA's favor and simply had to determine the damage amount.

But Rothken said the case has no precedent-setting value because TorrentSpy never got its day in court. This may come as good news to IsoHunt, one of TorrentSpy's former competitors, which has also been sued by the MPAA for allegedly violating copyright.

"The decision means absolutely nothing as it relates to other (BitTorrent cases)," Rothken said. "It issue was not decided on the merits. It's obvious we are going to appeal."

 

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