TorrentSpy Lawyer Responds to $111M Penalty

Bob Preston
LOS ANGELES — Calling the ruling a "Hollywood publicity stunt," TorrentSpy lawyer Ira Rothken said that yesterday's $111 million judgment against the torrent-tracking service TorrentSpy was not decided on the merits of copyright law.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper hit TorrentSpy for $30,000 for each of 3,699 counts of copyright infringement brought against the company by the Motion Picture Association of America.

As for the $111 million penalty, Rothken said that although TorrentSpy's parent company, Valence Media, "will obey the law," he noted that the company filed for bankruptcy protection in England last week.

"[They have] no appreciable assets," he said. "This was a Hollywood publicity stunt."

MPAA Communications Director Elizabeth Kaltman told XBIZ that Judge Cooper's decision "speaks for itself," and that despite Valence Media's bankruptcy filing, the MPAA plans to "pursue enforcement of the judgment."

In March, TorrentSpy lost the case on a default judgment. Judge Cooper said that the company had destroyed evidence and provided false testimony during the discovery process for their trial with the MPAA. Kaltman said that this decision "clearly indicates that there was some wrongdoing that [TorrentSpy was] trying to cover up."

But Rothken contended that TorrentSpy had only been protecting its users' privacy.

"One man's alleged evidence destruction is another man's privacy protection," he said.

Adult industry attorney Rob Apgood told XBIZ he applauded the decision.

"Copyright infringement is so rampant on the Internet, and it's severely damaging copyright holders," said Apgood, a member of the firm CarpeLaw. "People who facilitate theft should be held just as accountable as the thieves themselves."

Online guru Brandon Shalton agreed with Apgood's assessment, even though TorrentSpy, by its very nature, hosts no copyrighted content on its servers, a distinction Rothken made.

TorrentSpy works like a search engine, except that it seeks out small text files, often called "torrent files," that users then load into locally hosted proprietary programs that use the files as guideposts to find and download actual media files.

Rothken pointed out that Google could be used for the same purpose — a simple search for torrent files for the TV show "Lost" returned more than 200,000 results — but Shalton said that sites like TorrentSpy are "essentially an accessory" because they only search for torrent files.

"When you look at the content on torrent sites, probably like 99 percent of it is stolen," said Shalton, who founded the traffic analysis service "Anyone who sets up a torrent website knows it's illegal stuff. So that’s the gray area. If you know that what it has is mostly illegal, then you know what's up."

Rothken has appealed the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.