TorrentSpy renews legal campaign against MPAA

Company behind a BitTorrent file-sharing search engine appeals a year-old court order that led to its demise. It was ordered to pay nearly $111 million in damages to the MPAA.

Nearly a year since being ordered to pay the big film studios more than $100 million, TorrentSpy is launching a legal comeback.

On Tuesday evening, TorrentSpy filed an appeal to overturn a judgment issued by U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper. Last May, Cooper ordered TorrentSpy, which shut its doors as a result of the legal fight with the Motion Picture Association of America, to pay nearly $111 million in damages to the MPAA for infringing the copyright of thousands of films and TV shows.

TorrentSpy was a favorite tool for those seeking bootleg films, but site operators always insisted that its search engine was used for legitimate purposes as well. The appeal was filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to TorrentSpy's attorney, Ira Rothken.

"We're arguing the court was wrong in procedures and wrong in judgment," Rothken told CNET News on Wednesday. "In a one-hour hearing regarding discovery issues, the court terminated the case and didn't give TorrentSpy a trial. We believe the court was wrong and abused its discretion. We believe the court ordered TorrentSpy to do things that (were) in violation of the site's privacy policy, and we believe that the tension between the court's discovery orders and user privacy rights is an important issue on appeal."

A year ago, the judge found that TorrentSpy operators intentionally destroyed evidence in the case, making it impossible for the MPAA to get a fair trial. They had earlier been fined $30,000 for violations of discovery orders and were warned of severe sanctions, if they continued to ignore the orders.

The MPAA had always argued that TorrentSpy's reason for existing was to aid those interested in pirating films.

"TorrentSpy blatantly contributed to, profited from, and induced massive copyright infringement," an MPAA representative said. "Anyone engaging in the same conduct as TorrentSpy would be liable for copyright infringement. The court clearly recognized that TorrentSpy defendants engaged in evidence destruction because they knew that such evidence would prove damaging to them. The sole purpose of TorrentSpy and sites like it is to facilitate and promote the unlawful dissemination of copyrighted content."

The site attempted a series of legal maneuvers to protect the anonymity of visitors. In August 2007, the company cut off access to residents of the United States, presumably to avoid complying with a court order that it turn over users' personal information.

More to come.

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