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Studios win $111 million judgment against TorrentSpy

Los Angeles federal court judge also issues a permanent injunction against the former search engine of BitTorrent files.

In a major win for Hollywood studios, a California federal judge has ordered TorrentSpy to pay nearly $111 million in damages for infringing the copyright of thousands of films and TV shows through its BitTorrent search engine.

The Los Angeles judge, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, also issued a permanent injunction against TorrentSpy, which was once one of the most popular indexes of BitTorrent files before it shut down in March after a two-year copyright battle with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The company closed its site on March 24, citing financial hardship and a desire to protect the privacy of its users.

MPAA CEO Dan Glickman said the judgment should serve as warning to other search services of file-sharing applications.

"The demise of TorrentSpy is a clear victory for the studios and demonstrates that such pirate sites will not be allowed to continue to operate without facing relentless litigation by copyright holders," he said in a statement.

The judge ordered TorrentSpy to pay $30,000 per copyright infringement--for 3,699 films and shows. That works out to be worth $110,970,000.

How that amount will be paid is unclear. A call to TorrentSpy's attorney was not immediately returned. (Editor's note: Click here for the follow-up story with the TorrentSpy attorney's prickly reaction.)

The judgment puts a fine point on another long battle between technologists and copyright holders.

The studios originally sued TorrentSpy in February 2006, alleging that the site promoted and contributed to online copyright infringement by helping people locate illegally copied films and television shows on the Internet. Last December, a federal judge sided with the MPAA by saying that TorrentSpy had destroyed evidence that would make a fair trial possible.

According to the court, TorrentSpy operators had intentionally modified or deleted directory headings naming copyrighted titles and forum posts that explained how to find specific copyrighted works; concealed IP addresses of users; and withheld the names and addresses of forum moderators. The company had previously been fined $30,000 for violations of discovery orders and were warned of severe sanctions if they continued to ignore the orders.

TorrentSpy's attorney, Ira Rothken, called that ruling "draconian in nature and unfair." He said he did not believe any data was intentionally destroyed, and that some actions were taken to protect the privacy of TorrentSpy users.

Rothken also said at the time that TorrentSpy would appeal any decision on damages.

Still, the permanent injunction prohibits Valence Media, operator of TorrentSpy, from engaging in any activity that "encourages, promotes or solicits, or knowingly facilitates, enables or assists, copyright infringement," according to the court.

CNET's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.