In September 2006, just months after the infamous Pirate Bay raid, the US movie studios turned their attention to isoHunt and other associated websites. Columbia, Disney, Tristar, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros issued a complaint, stating that isoHunt owner Gary Fung operated file-sharing services and profited from copyright infringement.
On December 21st 2009, a US federal court in California ruled that isoHunt is indeed guilty of violating US copyright law by way of inducement, with the operators having engaged in “purposeful, culpable expression and conduct, aimed at promoting infringing uses of the websites.”
In noting the similarities between this case and earlier ones involving both the Napster and Grokster file-sharing services, Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that a full trial was not required and granted the plaintiffs request for summary judgment.
As noted by Michael Geist, the court also concluded that inducement liability and the safe harbor provisions under the DMCA are incompatible. In this case it means since isoHunt was found to have induced infringement, it did not qualify for safe harbor.
In common with the Mininova court defeat earlier this year, the court was critical of isoHunt (and associated sites) staff actions on the site and in their forums.
The court said the clearest instance of encouraging users to commit infringements was the ‘Box Office Movies’ section of the site. These pages listed the top 20 highest-grossing movies in the US, for which users were invited to upload associated torrents.
“By implementing this feature,” said the court, “Defendants engaged in direct solicitation of infringing activity.”
Furthermore, when isoHunt generated torrent categories, such as ‘Top 20 Movies’, the court said that the fact that these lists “almost exclusively contained copyrighted works and that Defendants never removed these lists” indicated that isoHunt knew about ongoing infringement yet failed to take action to stop it.
Several other instances of staff members giving users advice on how to download copyright movies (including providing .torrent links), rip copyright DVDs and use software such as PeerGuardian were also cited.
Even the forum user ranking system didn’t escape criticism. Since user ranks included titles such as “I pir4te, therefore I am” and “All Day I Dream About W4rez,” the court concluded that the Defendants “promoted their users’ infringing activities by consciously fostering a community that encouraged – indeed, celebrated – copyright infringement.”
The court’s judgment can be downloaded here, or viewed online here. At 46 pages long it’s a pretty heavy read, but contains essential information for anyone interested in what can’t be done when operating a torrent site or other similar service in the US.
At this stage it’s unclear if isoHunt will appeal the US decision, but of course, in the meantime the site is fully operational in Canada, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.