Music Industry ‘Shuts Down’ Top Torrent Trackers

A regional court in Hamburg has ordered a hosting company to identify the operators of three iconic BitTorrent trackers that together coordinated dozens of millions of transfers per day. The order is the result of a complaint from German music group BVMI, which says it's behind the shutdown of the trackers shut down earlier this year.

opentrackerOpenBitTorrent, PublicBT and have long been the three largest BitTorrent trackers on the Internet, coordinating the downloads of 30 million people at any given point in time.

This means that these non-commercial services, powered by the open source Opentracker software, handled a staggering three billion connections per day – each.

We say handled, because the trackers have been offline since mid-January. The trio mysteriously disappeared, but the German music industry group BVMI now takes credit for the shutdowns.

According to BVMI’s lawfirm Rasch, the hosting company took the tracker offline after they were ordered identify the operators. However, the host initially refused to disclose the personal details.

In an injunction released this week a Hamburg court ordered that the hosting company now has to hand over the personal details of the tracker operators.

The ruling follows a complaint from BVMI and is the first against so-called standalone BitTorrent trackers. These trackers do not host or process any infringing material themselves and are a content neutral part of the BitTorrent ecosystem.

According to BVMI CEO Florian Drücke the music industry has recently expanded its focus beyond traditional torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay, to include these standalone trackers.

“Without the Tracker, it will be much more difficult for those who offer and seek illegal content to make the first connection,” Drücke says.

The downside, however, is that legal torrents also use these trackers to coordinate connections.

According to Christian Solmecke, a German IT lawyer who has experience with file-sharing cases, the verdict comes a a surprise.

“The court ruling amazes me. Apparently the court assumes that BitTorrent trackers are by definition something illegal. This is not the case,” he says.

The lawyer doesn’t deny that the trackers play a role in both legal and illegal transfers, but they are content neutral and merely passing on metadata, similar to a DNS provider.

“By the same argument these BitTorrent trackers are switched off you might ultimately forbid an ISP to continue to provide Internet access to end users, if copyright violations are committed,” Solmecke adds.

While the three targeted trackers have been offline for months already, the ruling means that these type of services had better avoid Germany as their home base in future.

“Apparently, the music industry sees the entire BitTorrent network as ‘evil’,” Solmecke concludes.

Update: The article was updated to state that the court order only requires the host to identify the operators.

Rasch lawyer Mirko Brüß further notes that this case should not be compared with and ISP who provides Internet access to consumers.

“It appears Mr. Solmecke is not familiar with the BitTorrent technology. He is obviously not aware of the fact that the “opentracker” software comes with a blacklist. The tracker operators were asked to add certain info-hashes to this blacklist but failed to do so within a reasonable period of time,” Brüß says.

“After their ISP was made aware of this situation, he shut the servers down in order to prevent his own liability. This is basically the same as the established notice-and-takedown proceedings under the DMCA and cannot be compared to an ISP providing internet access to end users.”

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