isoHunt, a Canadian bittorrent site akin to The Pirate Bay, is making a preemptive strike against the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), our own little Canadian version of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). From TorrentFreak:
As an act of self-defense, isoHunt has decided to sue the CRIA instead, and today Fung will file a petition (pdf) to ask the Court of British Columbia to confirm that isoHunt — and sister sites Torrentbox and Podtropolis — do not infringe copyright. “This is our preemptive strike with a narrowly defined petition for Declaratory Relief that we do not infringe, in anticipation they are going to file their own lawsuit that we do infringe [their copyright],” Fung told TorrentFreak.
Torrent sites are, for organizations like the RIAA and CRIA, the nightmare offspring of Napster. The record companies slew that beast, but P2P was born of its corpse, a demon whose name is Legion (Luke 8:30). Torrent sites like isoHunt don’t actually host files the way Napster did. They merely index files on tracker servers which help coordinate the computers of various users, each acting as both client and server, downloading and uploading from one another bits of desired files.
For example, let’s say you don’t have slice number 496 of a file but I do, and I don’t have slice 298 of that file but you do. I get the slice I need from you, and you get the slice you need from me. And we could be a part of a cloud of users for that file numbering in the tens or hundreds, or even thousands — plenty of slices for everyone’s bittorrent clients to assemble into a complete file. Then, if we’re nice, we might “seed” — that is, even though we’ve now got all the slices, we stay connected and let others “leech” from us. When there are no seeders, the situation can arise where no one in the cloud possesses the slices needed to complete the file. Blessed are the seeders, for they ensure that no slice goes astray. All in the cloud may ask and may receive.
Since none of these slices goes through isoHunt, you’d think they’d be immune from harassment by the likes of the CRIA. Further, isoHunt has a policy of removing torrents which point to copyrighted material when it is identified as such by the copyright holder. As the proprietor of isoHunt, Gary Fung, notes in a forum post on this subject, CRIA did exactly that in 2006 and received full cooperation from isoHunt. The situation is so grave from CRIA’s perspective, however, that they’re almost certain to strike back.
So, some might be wondering, what prevents isoHunt from proactively removing torrents pointing to copyrighted material? It may be these sites are such a draw because they help people get free stuff they’d otherwise have to pay for, but the argument “Hey, we’re just helping people get what they want” probably wouldn’t work that well in court. Instead, Fung offers some cogent arguments that might:
But given the ridiculously long copyright terms in most countries of the world (which does differ) and that all creative media are copyrighted by default (in many countries), large majority of files exchanged on the internet would be copyrighted. That includes Linux ISO images and your videos of friends and family doing whacky things. The real question is are they infringing against the wishes of respective copyright owners. We make and run a great search engine here at isoHunt, but we unfortunately do not have the technology to mind read what are the wishes of all copyright owners, or who they are to begin with in association with the tens of millions of files on BitTorrent, to which we only indexes metadata links and not actual content files. Whatever copyright laws or safe harbor provisions provided in different countries, the only sensible and technically possible thing to do we’ve found is to take down links to allegedly infringing content upon request and verification.
So, who knows? Perhaps Madonna wants to share her tunes with all her fans for free. Perhaps she figures, “What the heck, I’ve made a pile of money and I don’t need anymore. Everyone enjoy the music on me!” Hey, could happen, and isoHunt can’t read her mind.
On a purely practical level, we should all want isoHunt to win this one, if only to avoid the chilling effect a loss could have on the interactive nature of the internet. Ther was a time, when the internet was new, that having content on the web meant having your own web site. Then came message boards, and suddenly anyone with a web browser could author content. Then boards evolved to forums evolved into blogs and wikis and social networking sites, and now a huge amount of information on the web comes from the masses. Policing a popular forum could be a full time job. For a major social networking site, forget it, and likewise for a site that hosts user-submitted torrents.
The compromise is precisely the one isoHunt has in place. If you see something that infringes your copyright, complain and it will be taken down. This is formally built into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US, and for all the DMCA’s flaws, is one aspect which appears to work, given that while the host must take down the allegedly offending material upon complaint, the original poster is entitled to immediately contest, which is happening right now on YouTube as a result of 4,000 take-down requests by the Church of Scientology .
Granted, a system like that incorporated into the DMCA can be open to abuse, but it’s better than saying hosting entities are completely responsible for user-posted content, where any infraction by a user must be paid for as an infraction by the host. One of the great democratizing aspects of the internet is the low cost of entry. If that gets stomped by high cost of liability, it will become even more the domain of media corporations with big bucks. With the exception of the media corporations, no one wants that.
So here’s wishing isoHunt the best of luck. Go get ’em, Mr. Fung!