File-sharing sites haven't had a great year, especially in court, but on Wednesday they received a smidgen of good news.
The Motion Picture Association of America asked a federal court to rule that Isohunt was liable for copyright violations committed by its users, but the judge in the case was unconvinced. In his order, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson said the studios had yet to prove that the Isohunt's users had broken U.S. law.
Lawyers for the MPAA, the trade group representing the six major Hollywood film studios, are trying to convince the judge that Isohunt encouraged and contributed to the infringing activity of users. Wilson gave the MPAA until Sept. 15 to file a brief that convinces him direct infringement at the site was committed by those in the U.S. Apparently, Wilson has questions about whether U.S. residents have pirated content using Isohunt.
"United States copyright laws do not reach acts of infringement that take place entirely abroad," Wilson, wrote in his order.
A spokeswoman for the MPAA did not immediately have a response.
The significance of the judge's order, at least from the point of view of Ira Rothken, Isohunt's attorney, is that MPAA's investigators have struggled to draw specific examples of infringement occurring in the U.S.
"Our view is that it would be difficult if not impossible," Rothken said, "to be able to trace any direct infringement to the users of the Isohunt's site in a manner that would hold Isohunt responsible for the infringing conduct. I think the judge's order will hopefully demonstrate to the court that Isohunt, besides lacking knowledge of direct infringement, can't possibly be held liable for users conduct, especially since any such conduct occurs after they leave the site."
Rothken is hoping to argue Isohunt's case before a jury, something that no other BitTorrent sites have managed to do.
"I believe there has not been a single case in U.S. law where there has been a decision on the merits of a Torrent search engine," Rothken said. "We're cautiously optimistic Judge Wilson will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and ultimately there will be a trial on the merits."
Some of the cases that have gone against BitTorrent or file-sharing sites Sweden-based BitTorrent search engines, The Pirate Bay, was brought up on criminal misconduct charges and TorrentSpy's case was decided on a discovery sanction. Some of the issues in the Usenet.com case closely resemble Isohunt and TorrentSpy's, although the company is not a BitTorrent tracker or search engine.
Usenet.com is a company that enabled users to access the Usenet network and it too lost on a discovery sanction.
Most of these companies claim to do nothing more than help people locate files. One question often asked by readers is how is this different than what Google offers? One can find plenty of infringing content using the behemoth search engine.
"I believe the difference is that for one reason or another courts seem to place greater social importance on the Google search engine," Rothken said. "Courts also tend to frown on search engines created to find specific file types like .torrent files. And other than that there is no difference (Isohunt and Google)."