isoHunt, a BitTorrent search engine that has been battling the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) since 2006, filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court last Friday to fight a permanent injunction issued last summer forcing them to institute a site-wide filter preventing thousands of specific keywords set by the movie industry.
The appellant brief, in which isoHunt’s legal counsel specifically outlines how they believe their constitutional rights were violated by the prior ruling, makes the case that if they must comply with this type of censorship, larger-scale search engines like Google and Yahoo will eventually succumb to the same fate.
“This case is about the freedom to search on the internet and whether web search engines have to preemptively censor user generated links and torrent data files or be subject to keyword filtering,” said isoHunt attorney Ira Rothken.
The appeal notes, “Defendants showed that 95% of the torrents available on their system were also available on Google or Yahoo.”
The argument is a timely one, in light of the Torrent-Finder domain seizure by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) late last month. The ICE affidavit regarding that case shows that the agency acted almost solely on the word of the MPAA and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) stating that the site was infringing on their copyrights. The owner of Torrent-Finder has vowed to fight the charges against them as well.
Also raised is the question of “whether the District Court exceeded its territorial jurisdiction in ordering Defendants, Canadians operating in Canada, to ‘filter’ communications taking place entirely within Canada.” isoHunt made the move north after their US ISP shuttered the domain without warning in 2007.
When the ruling of this appeal is handed down, it’s going to be a decision that has wide-reaching implications. Allowing the US to control domains hosted off of domestic soil, and censoring the phrases that can be queried by a search engine both seem like something out of a science-fiction novel. I sincerely hope that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals can make a sensible ruling that upholds the civil liberties of US citizens.