IsoHunt Tells Court That MPAA’s Filter is Needless Censorship

BitTorrent search engine isoHunt is fighting the permanent injunction the District Court of California issued in their case against the MPAA. According to isoHunt's owner, a site-wide filter based on a list of keywords provided by the movie industry is an unworkable solution that would impede freedom of speech and bring China-style censorship to the U.S.

isohuntLast month the U.S. District Court of California issued a permanent injunction against BitTorrent search engine isoHunt.

Gary Fung, the owner of isoHunt, was ordered to start censoring the site’s search engine based on a list of thousands of keywords provided by the MPAA, or cease its operations entirely in the U.S. Thus far little has changed. The Lite version of isoHunt remains accessible and unfiltered to U.S. visitors while isoHunt and the MPAA battle in court against both the legitimacy and usability of the proposed filter.

IsoHunt has decided to appeal the injunction and this week both parties filed their motions with the Ninth Circuit Appeal Court. In his support for the motion, Gary Fung argues that the list of generic keywords provided by the MPAA is unworkable and he accuses the movie studios of wanting to obtain control over BitTorrent.

“In my opinion, which I have expressed publicly, plaintiffs, MPAA and the Entertainment Industry are seeking not just to ‘stop copyright infringement’ but to obtain control over BitTorrent technology so that only their partners or those that conform to their demands for limiting access will have practical use of the technology,” Gary Fung told the Court.

Fung backs up his statement with the argument that keywords such as ’10’, ’21’, ‘Birth’, ‘Cars’, ‘Dad’, ‘Dave’, ‘Firefox’ and ‘Soldier’ would result in significant collateral damage with a keyword filter. It might make movie titles unavailable, but also a lot of public domain, GPL and Creative Commons works.

The MPAA has been asked by District Court Judge Wilson to supplement their titles list with more specificity, but apart from adding a few hundred more titles to the modified list, the defendants say it still lacks information which would allow isoHunt to filter effectively. Ideally, they would like to see a list of torrent hashes of alleged infringing material.

IsoHunt’s lawyer Ira Rothken further notes that the court failed to address the freedom of speech issues that are involved in this case. Fung himself likens the filter to the Great Firewall of China, where a similar keyword filter is used to censor the Internet.

“I find it absurd that we are required to keyword filter which ironically all search engines in countries like China are required to do due to political censorship, but isoHunt would be the only search engine serving traffic to US users required to do similar filtering..,” Fung wrote to the court.

These censorship and freedom of speech issues aside, isoHunt’s owner says that keeping the injunction would do serious harm to the site’s traffic and thus his business. IsoHunt has already seen a 50% drop in visitors from the U.S. after it switched to the Lite version.

“Since isoHunt switched to the Lite interface in compliance with concerns raised and publicized in the Summary Judgment, we have seen a 50% drop in US traffic and I am concerned that if a stay is not issued there will be no way to unring the bell on lost traffic,’ Fung wrote.

With both parties having presented their arguments, the Ninth Circuit Appeal Court has now to decide whether the permanent injunction will stay in place or not. This decision will be a crucial one to the future of isoHunt and possibly other BitTorrent sites. Gary Fung has always said that a keyword filter is out of the question and that he would rather shut the site down in the US.

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