isoHunt: A Lesson in Futility?

Posted By:  Ashlee Hoffman

The Pirate BayRecently, (“isoHunt”), a website that has been around for over 10 years with millions of users, was forced offline. For those that don’t know what isoHunt is, here’s a quick explanation: isoHunt facilitated a peer-to-peer service for users to exchange files quickly and easily between individuals using the internet. It had over 1.7 million torrents in its database and 20 million peers from indexed torrents.  Launched in January 2003, the site quickly became a favorite among users.

But it wasn’t a favorite with everyone. The MPAA brought suit against isoHunt in February 2006. The MPAA made three allegations against isoHunt and its founder, Gary Fung: that the majority of content on isoHunt was infringing content, that the search engine was specialized to assist users in finding infringing works, and that Mr. Fung had made comments suggesting the purpose of the site was to allow users to download infringing content. Mr. Fung argued that he was protected by the DMCA’s safe harbor policy, which limits liability for what passes through internet services’ networks.

However, on December 21, 2009, a California District Court found isoHunt liable for copyright infringement on the theory of inducement and granted the MPAA’s motion for summary judgment.

The court only addressed the inducement theory because it found isoHunt’s inducement liability overwhelmingly clear.  The rule is that one contributorily infringes when he (1) has knowledge of another’s infringement and (2) either (a) materially contributes to or (b) induces that infringement. In applying this to the isoHunt case, the court found that isoHunt users infringed on copyrighted works and that isoHunt and Fung disseminated a message designed to stimulate others to commit infringement. In its opinion, the court noted that users had categories, such as “Top 20 TV Shows” that they could select and then search from files in that category. In addition to the structure of the webpages, the court found that Fung made a number of statements regarding the copyrighted nature of the works available on his sites.

After the court’s opinion came out, the torrent site announced it would shut down by October 23, 2013 and pay $110 million as part of a settlement with various Hollywood studios. When users access the site now, they are confronted with a message that says: “A United States federal court has permanently shut down because it was in violation of copyright law. If you are looking for your favorite movies or TV shows online, there are more ways than ever today to get high quality access to them on legal platforms.” Despite the shutdown of the site, Mr. Fung continues to comment on the freedom of information and isoHunt on his blog.

However, the story of evolving technology and information-sharing websites doesn’t end here. Two weeks following the shutdown of isoHunt, clones of the original website popped up online, one of which appears to be hosted in Australia. These sites appear to have approximately 75% of the same content as the original isoHunt. Other sites, promoting “FTS” or “Freedom to Share” clothing have also started to gain popularity demonstrating that the website lives on in many ways in spite of the shutdown settlement. The MPAA may have won the settlement with isoHunt but it’s unclear what weight that victory truly carries.


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