MPAA wins copyright case against TorrentSpy

A California court rules that the operators of TorrentSpy destroyed evidence in a copyright case against them.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has won a lawsuit against the operators of TorrentSpy.com, with the judge ruling in favor of the MPAA because the Web site operators tampered with evidence.

In a ruling that could have implications for the privacy of Web site users, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, ruled that TorrentSpy has infringed MPAA copyrights in a default judgment against the operators of the site.

Cooper, in a ruling made public Monday, agreed with the MPAA that defendants Justin Bunnell, Forrest Parker, Wes Parker and Valence Media had destroyed evidence after another judge had ordered them to keep server logs, user IP (Internet Protocol) addresses and other information. TorrentSpy billed itself as a central location to find files distributed on BitTorrent P-to-P (peer-to-peer) networks.

The defendants' conduct was "obstreperous," Cooper wrote in her decision. "They have engaged in widespread and systematic efforts to destroy evidence and have provided false testimony under oath in a effort to hide evidence of such destruction," she wrote.

TorrentSpy had located its servers in the Netherlands and argued that Dutch law protected them from having to turn over server logs and other information. In May, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Chooljian ruled that TorrentSpy must preserve server data logs held in random access memory, or RAM.

That decision was widely criticized as being an unreasonable standard because information held in RAM is temporary, but Cooper, in her new ruling, said TorrentSpy destroyed or altered several types of evidence, including user IP addresses, discussion forum postings about the trading of movies and moderator identities. "A substantial number of items of evidence have been destroyed," she wrote. "Defendants were on notice that this information would be of importance in this case."

TorrentSpy's lawyer Ira Rothken said his client had concerns about protecting users' privacy. TorrentSpy will appeal Cooper's decision, he said.

"It's not a ruling on the merits of the case," he said. "One person's willful destruction of evidence is another person's willful attempt to comply with customer privacy policies."

The ruling, if it stands, could expose private information about Web site users in many civil lawsuits, Rothken added. "This doesn't apply only to TorrentSpy, but to anyone who operates a Web site," he said.

A ruling on damages in case will happen at a later date.

The MPAA, which filed the case against TorrentSpy in February 2006, applauded Cooper's ruling. "The court's decision ... sends a potent message to future defendants that this egregious behavior will not be tolerated by the judicial system," John Malcolm, the MPAA's executive vice president and director of worldwide antipiracy operations, said in a statement. "The sole purpose of TorrentSpy and sites like it is to facilitate and promote the unlawful dissemination of copyrighted content. TorrentSpy is a one-stop shop for copyright infringement."

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