The website isohunt.com, founded in 2003, was shut down in late October, as its owner, Gary Fung, has been subjected to a copyright lawsuit by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) over a period of seven years. The website was dedicated to providing an index of torrent files, which can loaded into a BitTorrent client, allowing for computer files to be shared via a peer-to-peer network. It was the judgement of the court that Mr Fung owed $110 million, however the company is likely to be able to pay no more than $4 million. The court also issued a gag order, forbidding Mr Fung from making comments to the media, although his personal website and blog have since been updated with references to the case in the meantime.
sohunt is another in a long line of companies providing file-sharing services that have been forced to close and/or sell their assets. Although websites have been forced to close before due to complaints of copyright infringement, in the case of isohunt.com, judges ruled that Mr Fung ‘induced’ illegal downloading, a claim that he rejected, since the website merely indexed information provided by its users. Isohunt was not accused of hosting copyrighted material without the permission of its owners. The judgement that the founder of the web- site owes damages to the clients of the MPAA based on the fact that the website describes the activities of file-sharers is analogous to the claim that a person owes damages to the proprietor of a building, after providing directions to a person who later decides to burn the building down – except that nothing of value is lost. Indeed, if information is to be commodified, file-sharing creates wealth whilst depriving the holder of the original of nothing.
Other companies responsible for creating file-sharing services in the past have been subjected to punitive measures, such as the creators of peer-to-peer clients such as Kazaa and Lime Wire. These efforts have been demonstrably fruitless – the software in each case was open-sourced, and the networks distributed, so that today, superior versions are readily available, running on the same networks, such as the Gnutella network.
In this case, other websites are accessible which provide a similar service, such as the Pirate Bay website, and in any case, the source code and other necessary information are freely available in order to permit the creation of new software and facilitating websites. The necessary hardware can be obtained from the nearest municipal dump. ISPs in the UK are required to block certain websites relating to file-sharing. Readers will find that the website piratebrowser.com is not blocked, and that this website allows access to the Pirate Bay’s website. Neither is bittorrent.com blocked.