Goodbye TorrentSpy!


Oh, it's a dark day in the less-than-legal world of bittorrents. Digital freedom, too.

The ever-popular search engine TorrentSpy is making its way through the American legal system, having been sued by the MPAA in February 2006. The MPAA is calling down its usual thunder, copyright infringement, by maintaining that TorrentSpy allows individuals to find and download bittorrents of copyright material. No, really?

But the legal battle over TorrentSpy itself is hardly the most consequential part of the case; torrent web sites come and go , after all. No, I'm more troubled by the particulars of the battle itself, and this time, the battleground hovers directly over TorrentSpy's site logs. ...or lack thereof.

While Torrentspy has continually maintained that it doesn't keep track of activity to its website -- the IP addresses of its users -- that time might be soon drawing to a close. Judge Jacqueline Chooljian, of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, ruled May 29 that TorrentSpy must begin offering logs (and said IP addresses) for all computers that access the TorrentSpy web site. But, as always, there's a catch to the ruling. TorrentSpy previously attempted to fight off the request by arguing that since it maintains no logs, it cannot be compelled to create that which is not already there, or in this case, server logs. TorentSpy satisfies the law and the discovery process merely when it turns over material already in its possession.

And there's the rub. The MPAA has been ever-so-crafty in its arguments, to which Judge Chooljian agreed; when said IP-related data is temporarily stored on a computer's RAM, that qualifies as being "within the possession, custody, and control of [the] defendants." Consequently, said content is being treated like a legal document of-sorts.  Regardless of a site's privacy policy, a log has now been created, in the eyes of the court.

So what does that mean? Provided a higher court doesn't issue the grand appellate smackdown, it's a nuclear bomb for the world of anonymous web surfing. Now, your accessing a site will forever be recorded, provided you aren't on a Tor network or other similar proxy. And the ruling has just made life a little more taxing for companies with a web presence, as they'll likely -- if not legally -- be required to maintain these "RAM logs" so that a computer's contents can be accounted for in its entirety.

My thoughts? This will never last. Whether the entire ruling will be struck by a higher court on appeal or, at the very least, more specifically defined to the case at-hand, it'll change. Perhaps not in the overall favor of poor TorrentSpy, but hopefully more limiting as to not destroy the sanctity (and servers) of the Internet as we know it today. The function of RAM is in no way comparable to maintaining server logs, and the MPAA merely lucked out by finding a judge dumb enough to go along with this legal loophole.

TorrentSpy has an appeal of the decision pending, but there's no word yet as to when that will get heard.

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