Piracy site IsoHunt to shut down and pay $110m

Screenshot of IsoHunt listings IsoHunt lists many popular TV programmes and movies available to download illegally

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IsoHunt, a popular website offering BitTorrents of mostly pirated material, is to shut down following a court settlement.

The site's owner, Canadian Gary Fung, has agreed to pay $110m (£68m) to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

MPAA chairman Chris Dodd said the move was a "major step forward" for legitimate commerce online.

In a blog post, Mr Fung said: "It's sad to see my baby go."

The site is currently still online, but will soon be shut. It is one of the most popular sites of its kind on the internet.

A group of companies, including Disney, Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox, accused the site of wilfully infringing copyright by listing millions of popular movies and TV programmes - in a court battle that has lasted for more than seven years.

Now Mr Fung has agreed to settle. He added: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race and I have remained faithful. 10.5 years of IsoHunt has been a long journey by any business definition and forever in internet start-up time.

"It started as a programming hobby in my university days that has become so, so much more."

Court documents acknowledged that it is unlikely that Mr Fung's company could pay $110m, and that the MPAA would probably receive between $2m and $4m.

Degree of separation

Like a similar site, The Pirate Bay, that has been blocked in the UK by a court order, IsoHunt did not host pirated material itself.

It instead acted as a directory of sources from which to download illegal files.

Start Quote

The successful outcome of this landmark lawsuit will also will help preserve jobs and protect the tens of thousands of businesses in the creative industries”

End Quote Chris Dodd Motion Picture Association of America

According to court documents, Mr Fung's defence hinged on this degree of separation - and argued that it was the users of IsoHunt responsible for distributing pirated material, not IsoHunt.

The Californian court disagreed.

"It sends a strong message that those who build businesses around encouraging, enabling, and helping others to commit copyright infringement are themselves infringers, and will be held accountable for their illegal actions," said MPAA chairman Mr Dodd.

"The successful outcome of this landmark lawsuit will also will help preserve jobs and protect the tens of thousands of businesses in the creative industries, whose hard work and investments are exploited by sites like IsoHunt."

'Reluctant revolutionary'

Ahead of the ruling, Mr Fung had taken to social news site Reddit to take part in an AMAA - Ask Me Almost Anything - session.

In it, he described himself as a "reluctant revolutionary", and backed calls for copyright reform.

He said he did not hold a disregard for the law, and acted upon requests to remove links to pirated content when the company was made aware.

Walking Dead billboard Despite efforts to minimise piracy, vast numbers still illegally downloaded TV series The Walking Dead

He also said the industry could render sites like IsoHunt obsolete if it offered simultaneous releases worldwide, as well as digital offerings that were cheaper than physical copies.

His thoughts echoed findings by a trio of researchers at George Mason University in Virginia, US.

Their site piracydata.org has been collating the weekly top 10 most-pirated films and investigating whether legal digital methods were available.

They found that half of the movies in the list were not available to access legally online. Furthermore, none of the 10 titles could be streamed - arguably the most straightforward way to consume media online.

However, in contrast, efforts by Fox to curb piracy of TV series The Walking Dead fell flat.

Despite the first episode of the latest series being made available to stream free online, the programme was still illegally downloaded more than 500,000 times, according to data gathered by Torrentfreak.com.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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