Court Rules MPAA Must Prove Downloads Are Domestic
BitTorrent search engine Isohunt has won a skirmish in a legal battle with the entertainment industry about whether the service infringed movie studios' copyright.
Federal district court judge Stephen Wilson in California ruled that the studios had to show that at least some material was downloaded in the U.S. in order to prevail on their claim. The entertainment companies "have the burden of alleging and proving that the infringement occurred in the United States," Wilson wrote. He gave the studios until Sept. 15 to file additional papers showing that infringement took place in the country.
The case dates back to 2006, when the Motion Picture Association of America sued Isohunt and its founder, Gary Fung, for allegedly inducing and facilitating copyright infringement by enabling users to find pirated material.
Last year, the studios asked Wilson to rule in their favor without a trial, arguing that Isohunt provides users with "essential components" for infringement. The studios alleged: "Even a passing visit to the Fung sites demonstrates that defendants designed and operate them to be engines of massive copyright infringement."
But Isohunt argued that it offers at least some links to lawful content and that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides it with a defense to copyright infringement charges. Isohunt also compared itself to conventional search engines like Google -- arguing that it doesn't host content, but merely enables users to find it.
The law here appears murky. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act seems to give search engines a safe harbor from liability, but only if they don't know they are returning links to copyrighted material. In addition, Isohunt could be liable for encouraging users to infringe on copyright if it affirmatively encouraged people to do so.
Another company, TorrentSpy, was ordered to pay $110 million after losing a lawsuit. That case was similar to the one against Isohunt, but ended without a resolution of the key legal issues because TorrentSpy destroyed its server logs. The judge ruled that TorrentSpy deliberately destroyed evidence and then ended the case in favor of the movie industry.