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TorrentSpy shuts doors to America

Beats judge to punch

Unwilling to compromise the privacy of its users, TorrentSpy has shut its doors to American file sharers. The move came just hours before a U.S. judge denied an appeal from the company, insisting - once again - that it turn over server logs detailing user behavior.

The Dutch file-sharing service announced its U.S. shutdown with a post to the company blog, TorrentSpy vs. MPAA, a running account of its legal battle with the Motion Picture Association of America. "Torrentspy.com, an international search engine that provides links to torrent files, has decided to stop accepting visitors from the United States," the post read.

The MPAA filed a federal suit against TorrentSpy in February of 2006, accusing the service of facilitating illegal downloads of copyrighted material. Then, in May of this year, Judge Jacqueline Chooljian ordered TorrentSpy to save its server logs to disk and fork them over to the court as evidence in the case. The logs include user IP addresses and lists of downloaded files. No American court had ever laid down such an order, and many believe it has the power to erode privacy across the web.

TorrentSpy's server logs pass through system memory, but are never permanently recorded. The company argues that saving this data would violate its privacy policy, and when Judge Chooljian's order went public, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a big-name privacy watchdog, launched a defense of its own. "We think it's a very troubling ruling that goes well beyond TorrentSpy," EFF lawyer Fred von Lohmann told The Reg. "It potentially allows any company's privacy policy to be re-written by its adversary's lawyers. It's a bad precedent to set."

Judge Chooljian granted a stay of the order, and TorrentSpy appealed. But this afternoon, not long after the company announced its U.S. shutdown, the appeal was denied.

With its blog post, which went up late last night California time, the company insisted that the MPAA case and its U.S. shutdown were not directly related. "Torrentspy's decision to stop accepting U.S. visitors was not compelled by any court," the post reads. "Rather it arises out of an uncertain legal climate in the United States regarding user privacy and the apparent tension between US and European Union Internet privacy laws."

When we contacted the company's lawyer, Ira Rothken, he said much the same thing, claiming that the court's latest decision just happened to arrive hours after TorrentSpy's missive to U.S. users. "Today, ironically, at around noon Pacific time, we got served with an order denying the appeal," he said. In this case, ironically means coincidentally. He was adamant that no court order had forced TorrentSpy into its U.S. shutdown. "There was no court compelling us, not even close," he said.

But he eventually admitted that the MPAA case was a "catalyst" in the decision. "TorrentSpy.com wants to honor its privacy policy, and this ruling from the federal court in California seems to be at odds with its ability to do that," Rothken said. "So Torrentspy made the prudent decision to exit from the U.S." If the site isn't serving U.S. users, there aren't any server logs to turn over.

Even so, TorrentSpy will continue to fight the MPAA's suit - and that looming threat to the privacy of web users everywhere. The company has ten days to appeal Judge Chooljian's decision with a higher court, and it has every intention of doing so. ®

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