Mininova, one of the largest BitTorrent search engines in the world, has been ordered to proactively filter copyrighted material from its site or face a €5 million penalty.
Fresh off a set of legal wins against The Pirate Bay, the music and movie industries have just scored another court victory against the massive BitTorrent search engine Mininova. A Dutch judge in Utrecht has given Mininova three months to purge all links to copyrighted content from its site—or pay up to €5 million in penalties.
As with The Pirate Bay, Mininova's operators weren't accused of copyright infringement. In a peer-to-peer system, the actual files being transferred reside on millions of computers around the globe, and thus any direct infringement would be the responsibility of those users. But, like most countries, the Netherlands recognizes "contributory copyright infringement," which was the charge in this case.
The court case was brought by Stichting BREIN, a Dutch antipiracy consortium. While the charges were similar to those brought against The Pirate Bay admins in Sweden earlier this year, the two cases were quite different; unlike The Pirate Bay's deliberately inflammatory tactics, Mininova has long taken down copyrighted links flagged by rightsholders.
Not that this made rightsholders happy. Complaints had to be made against specific links, not against specific films or albums; if someone uploaded another copy, another takedown request had to be made. The burden of policing such a popular site was tremendous (similar arguments were made in reference to YouTube during its early days, but the site gradually adopted filtering technology that mollified most of the major rightsholders).
The Utrecht court found that Mininova was inciting copyright infringement in others and was profiting from that behavior through ad sales (and the company earned more than €1 million in 2007 alone). A study of randomly selected files made back in June showed that 80-90 percent of them appeared to be copyrighted; a quick look at the front page of Mininova today shows links to Inglorious Basterds, District 9, Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, "Non Nude Homemade Booty Bouncing," and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (Final Release), among others.
According to the judge, Mininova must assume that all commercially produced content is copyrighted unless it knows otherwise, and that the site must adopt proactive filtering of such content.
Combined with the news that Global Gaming Factory X plans to acquire The Pirate Bay tomorrow and turn it into a legal operation, Big Content's game of Whac-A-Mole does appear to be racking up the rodent skins. While the ease of setting up such sites means they are probably impossible to stop (and of course they host plenty of legal content, too), Big Content would sure like to make it less than brain-dead-simple to grab a copy of that hot new album.