Nearly two years ago the U.S. District Court of California issued a permanent injunction against BitTorrent search engine isoHunt.
The Court ordered the owner of isoHunt 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 US.
“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,” isoHunt owner Gary Fung wrote to the court in a response.
Hoping to get the decision overturned isoHunt filed an appeal, which is still ongoing, but in the meantime it saw no other option than to comply. The filter was implemented and has since prevented a list of film-related phrases from showing up in the search results. But not without collateral damage.
Besides blocking links to Hollywood blockbusters, the MPAA’s filter is also preventing public domain works and authorized content from being accessed.
Filmmaker Brian Taylor is one of the independent artists whose work is falsely censored by the MPAA filter. Last week his small film production firm En Queue Film released a 18 minute horror short titled “the Bite.” In addition to putting it on video streaming sites Taylor also thought it would be a good idea to put it on isoHunt.
“I got it going, had downloads start from the US and Europe almost immediately, which made me a very happy guy,” Taylor told TorrentFreak.
However, this enthusiasm faded quickly when he tried to access the torrent from a US connection a day later. Instead of a link to the torrent file the filmmaker was welcomed with the following message. “Torrent has been censored, as required by US court.”
Needless to say Taylor was shocked to see the work that he owns 100% being censored. The whole idea was to share it with a wide audience, including people from the US.
“Some of us aren’t stealing movies from torrent sites, some of us are offering original material,” Taylor told TorrentFreak.
“My original material being blocked in the US hurts my chances of: being discovered, making money, making more art. Not to mention the fact that Americans miss out on “the Bite,” the most original realistic short horror film ever made.”
Unfortunately, this takedown is not an isolated incident.
Another good example is this torrent with thousands of songs from the 1930’s, that are all believed to be in the public domain. While the content is completely unrelated to any motion pictures, the MPAA filter prevents US visitors form accessing it.
We asked isoHunt to look into the issue and we were told that an unfortunate combination of keywords in the file names is to blame.
“We’ve found that it was a TV title that censored it,” Gary Fung told TorrentFreak, adding that these false positives are quite common.
“There are thousands of titles the MPAA sent that we are forced by the US court injunction to censor our index against, and these are but two tangible examples of non-infringing content that is falsely censored,” he added.
As isoHunt has pointed out to the court before, this false censorship based on a filter which includes many dictionary words, is clearly hindering freedom of speech. This is one of the main reasons why the BitTorrent search engine continues to fight the filter requirement in court.
The Ninth Circuit Appeal Court now has 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 many other search engines including Google.