July 31, 2007 10:18 AM PDT
TorrentSpy lawyer battling 'copyright extremism'
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After the MPAA sued TorrentSpy, Rothken filed a countersuit and accused the MPAA of corporate espionage. He alleged in the filing that the MPAA hired a hacker to steal confidential information to help its case against TorrentSpy. That suit is still pending. In 2003, when the RIAA announced it was offering amnesty to file sharers, Rothken dubbed the offer "shamnesty" and sued for deceptive trade practices.
The RIAA ended up settling the case, winding down the program, and paying Rothken's attorney fees.
His aggressiveness is partly what attracts guys like Fung and TorrentSpy's founder, Justin Bunnell.
"I think a lot of entertainment litigators aren't used to going up against smart and committed opponents," said von Lohmann, who defended Streamcast Networks after it was sued for copyright infringement in 2001. "Many of them represent big movie studios and when they lean on small companies, they are used to getting them to roll over. That's just not the kind of guy Ira is."
But Rothken denies that he's out to torch copyright law. While he makes headlines for opposing copyright owners, Rothken is himself a stakeholder in the copyright system. A lucrative part of his Novato, Calif.-based law practice is negotiating licensing deals for video game companies.
"I'm in no way on a crusade against copyright law," Rothken said. "I would never say that we should do away with copyright protection. Strong copyright laws are essential for a vibrant and creative economy. That said, I'm hoping that there will be an evolution for U.S. intellectual property law."
It's not unusual for a copyright attorney to represent owners as well as those accused of infringing. But the dual roles have sometimes placed Rothken in peculiar situations.
Some might even wonder if Rothken's video game clients object to his representing accused copyright violators.
"I certainly didn't until I saw one of my games on one of these sites," said a laughing Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games, creator of Sam & Max and other video games. "It wasn't too bad because Ira made them take it down."
Rothken, who negotiates publishing and licensing deals for Telltale, acknowledges there's far more money in representing copyright holders. Nonetheless, he's been writing code since he was a kid and believes in innovation. Another motivation is the late Jack Valenti.
It was Valenti, the silver-haired former MPAA director, who testified before a congressional committee in 1982 and compared the VCR to the Boston strangler.
"Hollywood has made billions from video recorders and the home rental business," Rothken said. "They wouldn't have seen any of that money had they succeeded in killing that technology."
He argues that while the services he represents may be favored by pirates, the technologies also have legitimate uses.
"I'm all for copyright protection but I take issue with copyright extremism," said Rothken. "Hollywood says that these sites can be used for infringing purposes and therefore should be snuffed. We say 'Wait a second, this site can be used for noninfringing uses as well.' What we're after is a better balance."
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