B.C. file-sharing website IsoHunt to pay Hollywood $110 million - Macleans.ca

B.C. file-sharing website IsoHunt to pay Hollywood $110 million

Also: isoHunt has $110 million?!


Vancouver’s Gary Fung built isoHunt.com 10 years ago, when he was still an engineering student. It soon became one of the top places to find links to torrent files on the Internet. Not long after that, the lawsuits came. The Motion Picture Association of America and the Canadian Recording Industry Association filed copyright violation suits against Fung, and he spent the next seven years fighting them in court. His argument was predicated on the fact that he was not distributing copyrighted material, merely providing a search tool where people could find links to torrents of all kinds, illicit and legitimate (but mostly illicit).  If that makes him guilty, argued Fung, then so is Google, since you can use their engine to find torrent files as well.  The MPAA argued “inducement”: though isoHunt wasn’t providing bootlegged files directly, it was encouraging and enabling others to do so, which, they argued, counts as infringement. The U.S.Courts agreed, and Fung’s fight is now over. He has agreed to pay the Hollywood studios $110 million, and isoHunt is to be shut down.

The most surprising aspect of all this is the suggestion that isoHunt has $110 million to give. The site’s revenue streams seem to be limited to $1/month premium memberships, T-shirt sales, and down-market banner ads for off-brand e-cigarettes and the like. To be clear: Fung agreeing to pay $110 million does not guarantee that he has $110 million. But the settlement, and the court’s and the MPAA’s acceptance of it, does make one curious about just how profitable isoHunt was, and how profitable it might have become as a legitimized content site.

If indeed Fung was generating tens of millions a year based largely on banner ads, then the traffic on isoHunt must have been staggering. This is not so hard to believe. BitTorrent traffic is estimated to comprise as much as 40 per cent of all data transferred on the Internet. Most torrent transfers begin with a visit to a tracker site, and isoHunt has been listed as the Internet’s third most popular tracker. In a wider sense, according to web ranking site Alexa, isoHunt is currently the No. 423 most popular website in the world, and it cracked the top 100 regularly, before legal woes grew overly burdensome. Considering that Google indexes more than 50 billion web pages, this puts isoHunt in some pretty rare company. Hulu.com, for example, comes in at No. 340, and Netflix.com is No. 96. IsoHunt is therefore among a handful of top sites that people in the world visit in order to find movies and television, and Hollywood just killed it.

Sound familiar? It’s the exact same tactic the RIAA took against Napster, the storied peer-to-peer service that for one magic moment was home to every music lover on the Internet. Napster wanted to strike a deal with the music business and go legit. Instead, it was destroyed and its fans were scattered to the wind.

The music industry realized too late that pirates and paying music fans are the exact same people. After Napster, downloaders began to use dozens of different file-sharing sites and apps. The music industry has been chasing down these new services one by one ever since, through legitimate efforts including Pandora, Songza, Rdio, and hundreds more, each one lacking the critical mass of Napster. It’s possible the music industry could have saved years of work and maintained control of the industry, had it just struck a deal with Napster from the start.

Gary Fung wanted to become legitimate, too. Here was his vision of what isoHunt could have been:

“I’m imagining a reboot of isoHunt… The only way to move forward is together, with the creators… From a mostly passive search engine, to a new system where you the consumer can be active participants in bringing creators on board, and you can frictionlessly contribute to the creators… If we can make such a system of frictionless funding, creating, consuming and sharing happen like I’m imagining, it’s going to be beautiful.”

It might have been, but we’ll never know.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown

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B.C. file-sharing website IsoHunt to pay Hollywood $110 million

  1. Been using it for the better part of a decade, sad to see him finally go down. I really agree with his vision. While I still go to movies and concerts to “support” artists, and film makers, I’ve been starving for a better way to fund good television especially ones that I would never have discovered had I not downloaded them.

    In terms of the rest of the world though… meh, another torrent site will spring up… I mean they can’t seem to keep PirateBay down…

    • They can’t even stop direct downloading.

    • How IGNORANT are journalists these days?

      “isohunt to pay hollywood $110 million”

      Are you kidding me? Isohunt doesn’t have $110 million. The company will just declare bankruptcy and close. That’s the point. Sheesh.

      • Might I suggest actually reading the article, first?

        “The most surprising aspect of all this is the suggestion that isoHunt has $110 million to give.”
        When the title says “to pay”, they’re talking about what Gary Fung has agreed to do, in his settlement with the MPAA, they then question his capability to do so in the body of the text.

      • Imagine the staggering ad-revenue this website must have been generating. It was one of the most popular websites in the world.

    • Sad to see Isohunt go down. :(
      When you buy electrical gadgets (laptops, phones, mp3 players, etc.) in the Netherlands (where you are free to download {NOT upload} torrents for home viewing), the Dutch govt. makes you pay a small fee on top of the list price. This money goes to artists/actors/authors and the like for compensation.
      Why don’t all countries just enforce that law?

      PS a good tip: don’t buy electronics in the Netherlands. They rip you off.

    • Whom wants to take RIAA and Crap Hollywood The Motion Picture Association of America and the Canadian Recording Industry Association down with protests and boycott?

      Agree vote Up^
      Disagree Vote Down.

  2. What a joke. Torrent search sites are popular for one reason. FREE STUFF. If people have to pay for what they’ve been getting for free….that’s laughable. Remember music file sharing? Napster? They did so well after becoming legit… lol!
    Itunes got the program right. Sell people what they want, not what you want to sell them. That model works. Thats why people found torrents so preferable. Yes – it was free and stealing, but you got exactly what you wanted without all the crap they try to upsell to you without you wanting it in the first place. I wanted one damn song, not 14, with only one i could stomach…at a cost of 22 bucks….
    When our current content providers figure out this dynamic, then they will profit.

    • Too bad itunes is ridiculously expensive

      • Have you been to an HMV store lately?

        • HMV they still exist ? lol s

          • Yeah, the one in Toronto seems to be doing well for itself.

      • Itunes is garbage.

        • Each song costs more then you know.

    • It’s called art you ignorant fool. Download all the cheap and shiny singles that you want, but in most cases you are missing the point. I’ve discovered most of my favorite songs by being lured to an album by the catchy lead single. I never would’ve discovered it if I didn’t give it a few listens first. Not to mention concept albums. I’ll stop now, I’m sure this is completely lost on you.

      • I have found far more art through downloading stuff that was not promoted by record labels than I ever did on albums that were promoted for their one single.
        If anything most groups produce one good song, the single, and the rest is absolute garbage.

        • Thanks. I knew I was trying to say something…you hit the nail on the head. I get long winded sometimes.

      • RRR….why the need to call people ignorant and fool? Your point would be delivered much better if you just made it

        without the histrionics.

        • he is probably a paid RIAA troll

        • I really didn’t want to answer RRR…thank you for the elegant retort.

    • I don’t agree. I gladly would pay a little fee, say 2-3$ to access episodes the day after they were aired. My problem is, I am from Europe and I like American TV… So I don’t have any chance to go legit…

      • check out this site, it is legit http://www.eztv.it and enjoy all the free dls of american tv shows. Enjoy my distant friend.

    • If you can find the right balance of price and convenience, you can get people to pay. Netflix and Steam are good examples. I used to pirate a lot of games, but with Steam I get Humble Bundles, Steam Sales, and other sites selling Steam Keys at big discounts. I now have a Steam library of over 100 games, at an average of about $1-2 per game, all legally. Those games are all in one library, that are easily accessible even if I reinstall windows or get a new computer. I get achievements and automatically download patches, and I don’t have to worry about no-cd cracks or anything. I haven’t pirated a game in years now.

      Netflix I get access to thousands of movies and tv shows for the price of a meal at McDonalds.

      If services like VUDU or CinemaNow or whatever start doing things like Humble Bundles or massive sales, you might see people moving away from illegal downloading.

  3. A drop in the bucket. If MPAA and RIAA continue spending ridiculous legal fees for takedown after takedown, they will eventually take themselves down.

    • It will stop nothing. You can’t stop piracy.

      • Completely agree.

    • Guess that’s one thing money can’t buy.

    • The sooner the better. They rip off the artists anyway. Artists get pennies on each CD sold. The recording companies, liars (lawyers), managers, etc. get most of the loot. :0)

  4. This is interesting. What would “a system of frictionless funding, creating, consuming and sharing” look like? Why would the current content owners want it?

    • Ad would draw revenue creating a pie. It is possible to increase that pie with a membership fee, paid by users. Individual artists could upload music. Every download and share would represent a share of that pie. More users, more advertising, more sharing, more profit.

  5. Jesse says lots of dumb things in his stalwart defense of piracy but to suggest that isohunt ever really wanted to become legitimate and compensate creators is one of the dumbest.

    • Why wouldn’t he? Surely, going legitimate would be more profit and less headache for Gary.

    • Oh yeah Itunes is such a great stuff?

  6. And now Hollywood movies are safe, no one can get them off the Internet anymore!

  7. Another pyrrhic victory for an industry defending an obsolete business model. People download free stuff to try, and they buy stuff they like. Hollywood is still making money by the boatload from new movies, regardless of how many bootleg copies are downloaded. If you shut down all of the torrent sites, you will not increase sales by the number of downloaders you cut off.

  8. Hopefully they hid money during good times and should disappear to another country.

    Screw RIAA/MPAA. Racketeering and extortion at its finest.

  9. If Hollywood would get with the times and offer digital downloads as opposed to buying obsolete media (vhs, dvds, bluerays is next) then maybe, just maybe people from all over the world will pay for their useless crap. Also people in other countries have to wait until the freaking movie is released in their country. Maybe a global release date would suffice. Digital media could do this. Hollywood won’t though. Hollywood forces people to download illegally. Hollywood is its own worst enemy. Then blames people for it’s problems. Still, I am glad that no one pays for porn, those scum bags don’t deserve a cent. BAHAHAHAHAHA!

  10. I’m reminded of the adage: When you owe the bank 1,000 it’s your problem, when you owe the bank 1,000,000 it’s theirs. Good luck MPAA, I suspect you’ll need it.
    Wait. I know, you can sue for non-payment, or seize all those valuable copy-righted assets that Isohunt has, oh, they don’t have any copyrighted assets? So why the lawsuit?

  11. who needs torrents when i can watch without downloading at http://www.hdtele.info :)

  12. This makes no sense. Holly wood doesn’t need any more money. They are doing fine with their billions of dollars. People who are struggling for money however, deserve to not have to pay ridiculous amounts of money for programs and things so they can earn the money to buy the things they want later in life. This is just another example of big corporate companies stepping on the little guy for more money.

    • Wow, so people that are struggling for money are entitled to the work of others without paying? How about they don’t pay, they don’t watch?
      Sorry, I guess watching movies and listening to music is a basic human right, and the people that create these forms of entertainments are there to serve us all.

  13. There will never be a vision like that come to life simply because any vision like that entails removal of all control from big movie houses and that’s the fear that really drives these bu||$#it lawsuits. The movie industries are making more money than ever, yet they complain the very advertising they get from downloads is killing their business. Straight out BS and the governments just eat it up. What a joke that we live a in a world where creativity and the right to not be tied to wealth mongering over barons like Disney and any movie houses is cast aside in favour of corporate despotism. People need to wake up and stop this or we will slowly sink into a society of progressionless monkeys.

  14. Google, the biggest torrent search site on the internet filetype:torrent

  15. Closing Napster solved nothing. Closing Demonoid solved nothing. Closing Isohunt will solve…

  16. wait for the criminal trial! Fung Boy going to jail.

  17. “The MPAA argued “inducement”: though isoHunt wasn’t providing bootlegged
    files directly, it was encouraging and enabling others to do so, which,
    they argued, counts as infringement”

    So as a result of this precedent, I am guessing every liquor manufacturer has just become liable for the actions of every drunk on the planet?

    Every arms manufacturer has just become liable for every firearm infraction as well, after all, recklessly providing their products to dangerous people has a bit more of a substantive effect on society?

    I don’t see either of these examples much of a stretch from the precedent set in these ‘inducement/ infringement’ internet cases.

    Perhaps we finally have a means with which to challenge the ‘anything for a dollar’ capitalist system?

  18. who is Hollywood here, the actual artist(s)? I doubt it.

  19. Screw Hollywood.

  20. Isohunt looks like a search engine linking to torrent hosting sites of movies. If they shut it down the actual torrent hosts are still operating anyway so what’s the point?

  21. As if Hollywood needs that $110 million.

  22. all he has to do is move to another country and start it up again…you can’t stop an idea or prohibit anything…Ever!

    • He never ran or tried to hide…..he was highly visible and did his best to fight them.

  23. This is why I’ve banned myself from purchasing DVD’s, CD’s, etc. I will NOT support the RIAA, MPAA, CRIA, etc. They will get NO cash from me for these stunts. It’s been PROVEN that torrent sites and “illegal downloads” actually increase sales! Heck, last time I did buy a CD, it’s because I heard a song on the RADIO (for free of course). So, screw them. I’m done.

  24. excellent he is shut down and i hope others our too as an artist i would like to be able to feed by family like other people such as retail clerks ,lawyers and so on and thanks to sites like this i have lost money not from anything that i have done and so it is just like a thief breaking into your house every night and taking 20.00 from your wallet soon you can not afford to buy groceries for your family so again as an artist all i can say is hallelujah i hope to see some extra money in my pocket instead of having it taken by cowardly thieves

    • I seriously doubt that will ever happen. Maybe you should try becoming a retail clerk instead.

    • No. It is NOT like taking money from your wallet…Most down-loaders WILL NOT purchase the original…we will take it because it is free…So if you think that you would be getting paid if we were not downloading…then you are deceiving yourself…

    • Maybe if you didn’t suck as an artist people would pay you for your work. Lots of artists make money, even with the big bad internet. If you can’t make a living stop blaming others and get a real job before your family starves (apparently).

  25. I use isohunt to download Homeland each week. I bought the first season on iTunes, but the reason I pirate it is because they won’t sell me episodes right when they air. I need to wit about a year until they make them available for legal streaming. And because I already pay Shaw $200 per month for cable and it was supposed to get every channel imaginable, I balked when they said Super Channel (which carries Homeland) was another $15 per month. I already can see all the other Showtime shows like Dexter and Californiacation on Movie Central, so this to be was just gouging. F*ck them. I would gladly pay Showtime and HBO direct to get access to their channels, but they insist on bundling and pandering to the cable companies. So I steal the show in protest. Because it’s the only way I can send a message to change their system and let me buy episodes legal and direct as soon as they air.

  26. Hollywood should stop releasing garbage movies.. they release like 2-3 movies a year worth buying.

  27. Ok just so I have this straight.
    Isohunt is a tool that can be used by people for legal purposes but the majority of users used it for illegal purposes. On this basis it was shut down.
    Hmm. Better start stocking up on rolling papers. :)

  28. i have a question, why do they never go after bill gates? he’s the one
    ultimately responsible for all the pirating, he makes the machines that
    do the burning. is it because he has more money than god and could
    probably win any lawsuit thrown at him? Fung is right, i now have to use google to find the movies and shows i want, a lot less convenient and time consuming but still effective. btw, i would like to file a class action lawsuit against the mpaa for all the
    hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours wasted viewing shitty movies,
    who’s with me?. a movie is like a box of chocolates, you never know
    what you’re going to get. with all the
    billions of dollars hollywood spends on producing total crap which i
    have been tricked into watching many many times, i hardly feel bad about
    downloading a couple of hundred movies. approximately 2% of them were
    entertaining enough to lay down money for, the rest are just time
    killing crap. Except for the tv shows, those have been getting good but
    who wants to subscribe to 18 different packages to get the channels you
    want to watch plus plan your life around their schedule? I’m too stupid
    to figure out netflicks, plus i don’t own a credit card

  29. There is no way I will pay to watch shows with advertisements

    Isohunt was a great community and it will be missed

  30. does any one know the name of his blog?

  31. yip, teh big boys need to take thier heads out of the ole arse butt and deal with this guy. Co operation is better than competion.. sorry english i am not

  32. This is an mistake like mega uploads. Its gonna costs those music company’s billion again. tards..

  33. I have been using isohunt for about seven years and now im not sure what im going to use but the future looks bright. By the way I still buy music and movies even when i download them so hollywood can suck it =P

  34. aww that is just awful, loved that engine

  35. An aspect overlooked is that isohunt also had a very active community of people that conversed and were there to help. It had a forum where people were never ridiculed for not knowing how to use a PC or solve a hardware issue. They were helped and often these people in turn helped others as their experience in how to surf the webs in safety and avoid the traps of malware grew.

    Music labels also overlook that not every download is a lost sale…..much is downloaded listened to and dumped as people use torrents to sample and discover.
    They also ignore the wider audience created by torrents. Many bands and musicians might never have had their music distributed in some lands but the P2P system removed such boundaries and a fan base for an artist would grow.
    As for rights and wrongs look at the recent rant by Thom Yorke blasting Spotify.


    if the artist is paid only 0.4pence per stream it amounts to 2500 downloads equal to 10 quid. On the other hand 2500 downloads via a torrent might well amount to a higher income as it has been proven that torrent downloaders purchase far more music that non downloaders.

    interesting survey here


  36. hey Hollywood go ahead and release some more remakes