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After TorrentSpy closure, what's next for MPAA?

Unlike TorrentSpy, which crumpled under the legal costs of fighting copyright battle before getting to trial, IsoHunt is determined to have its day in court.

The movie industry has seen mixed results from suing individuals for file sharing but continues to clobber BitTorrent search engines.

TorrentSpy, once one of the most popular indexes of BitTorrent files, shut down on Monday following a two-year copyright battle with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). TorrentSpy, accused in a lawsuit of encouraging copyright infringement, finally crumpled under the legal costs.

This can't come as good news to Gary Fung, chief executive of IsoHunt. His company was among a group of torrent-file search engines, which also included TorrentSpy, accused of copyright infringement in a 2006 lawsuit filed by the MPAA. With TorrentSpy gone, the MPAA can now set its sights on IsoHunt.

But Fung points out that TorrentSpy was never able to argue the main copyright issues in court. The presiding judge found in favor of the film studios after ruling that TorrentSpy destroyed evidence. Fung says he is determined to take up the copyright issue to the end. Unlike TorrentSpy, he doesn't care what it costs.

"The demise of TorrentSpy is a clear victory for the content industries and sends a clear message to operators of other illegal BitTorrent portals that they will not be allowed to operate in the United States without facing relentless litigation by copyright holders."
--statement from MPAA

The courts have not yet ruled on whether search tools can be held liable for copyright infringement. Most relevant cases have been settled before going to trial, copyright experts said. It's important to note that IsoHunt and TorrentSpy don't store any unauthorized movie files on their sites but the search engines are often used to find pirated copies.

"There is no reason for us not to see this through. We've come this far," Fung told CNET on Thursday. "TorrentSpy shutting down doesn't mean a victory for the MPAA. The judge declared that TorrentSpy didn't adhere to court procedures. That's different than a judge deciding against the company after hearing their arguments."

But Fung is up against an MPAA legal juggernaut that is playing on its home turf, is fresh off a series of court victories, and has plenty of money. The lobbying group for the six largest movie studios said in a statement on Thursday that it took issue with TorrentSpy's suggestion earlier this week that it lost on a technicality.

"TorrentSpy's characterization of the site's closure as a voluntary decision conveniently ignores the fact that after two years of intense litigation by the major Hollywood studios, a federal court found TorrentSpy liable for copyright infringement," the MPAA said in the statement. "Late last year the court imposed the harshest sanction against the TorrentSpy defendants and ruled in favor of the studios because of TorrentSpy's brazen, continuous, and systematic destruction of evidence and subversion of the judicial process. In short, the ruling meant that TorrentSpy would have to shut down their site sooner or later."

The MPAA's case against IsoHunt is in the U.S. District Court of Central California in Los Angeles, which is perceived by many to be extremely friendly to copyright holders.

Whether that is true, the film industry has racked up plenty of file-sharing victories. Besides TorrentSpy, the MPAA was blamed for driving LokiTorrent and out of business. And more recently, the MPAA won important legal precedents in the TorrentSpy case.

In June, TorrentSpy was ordered by a federal judge to provide the film studios with user information found in the company's computer RAM. 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.

In August, the judge denied TorrentSpy's appeal. The decision will conceivably enable the MPAA to gain access to users' personal information in similar cases, say legal experts.

"The demise of TorrentSpy is a clear victory for the content industries," the MPAA said in its statement, "and sends a clear message to operators of other illegal BitTorrent portals that they will not be allowed to operate in the United States without facing relentless litigation by copyright holders."

Fung said he's been fighting the MPAA's attempts to require him to turn over user logs on the grounds that his company is based in Canada, which has stricter privacy laws than the United States.

But the 25-year-old CEO acknowledges that the U.S. and Canadian governments have agreed to honor court decisions in each other's countries.

"IsoHunt is located in Canada and has a slightly different set of circumstances than TorrentSpy," said IsoHunt's attorney, Ira Rothken, who also represented TorrentSpy. "IsoHunt is waiting for the (judge's decision) on a motion for summary judgment. The company is looking forward to defending itself and being the first to go to trial in a search-engine case."