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TorrentSpy Hit with $110+ Million Copyright Judgment

Defunct BitTorrent index TorrentSpy has been ordered to pay more than $110 million in damages for copyright infringement. From News.com:

The judge ordered TorrentSpy to pay $30,000 per copyright infringement — for 3,699 films and shows. That works out to be worth $110,970,000.

TorrentSpy shut down its site in March. Ira Rothken, TorrentSpy’s attorney in the copyright suit, tells News.com the company declared bankruptcy last week, a fact he says will be lost amidst the judgment’s large dollar figure:

“What is really going on here is a Hollywood public-relations stunt,” Rothken said. “The reason for the size of the judgment was so a bunch of news organizations would write that ‘a $100 million judgment was issued against a bunch of pirates’ when, in fact, it was declared against a company with no appreciable assets that has already declared bankruptcy.”

TorrentSpy plans to appeal the decision.

The judge overseeing the case ruled against TorrentSpy in December after allegations of evidence destruction surfaced. From a Dec. 2007 report:

TorrentSpy operators intentionally modified or deleted directory headings naming copyrighted titles and forum posts that explained how to find specific copyrighted works; concealed IP addresses of users; and withheld the names and addresses of forum moderators, the court found. They had earlier been fined $30,000 for violations of discovery orders and were warned of severe sanctions if they continued to ignore the orders.

These actions may have obscured the underlying legal issues in the TorrentSpy case, specifically TorrentSpy’s assertion that it was a search index, not a file host. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) analyzed this angle in 2006:

… that’s the important question raised by the TorrentSpy lawsuit: what’s the difference between a “good” index and a “bad” index, and is that a distinction that copyright law can effectively make? In 1998, when Congress passed the DMCA’s “safe harbor” provisions, it seemed to be saying that indexes should be shielded from copyright claims, so long as they implemented a “notice-and-takedown” procedure. The TorrentSpy suit (as well as the MP3Board.com lawsuit) suggests that the entertainment industry wants to renegotiate that bargain in court. The result could have important implications not just for torrent indexes, but for all online index and search services.

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