Gary Fung is a Criminal Not a Hero

11 August 2009

Financial Post Magazine recently did a cover story on Gary Fung, the founder of the infamous torrent site ISOhunt. Most notably he was quoted as saying “I’m doing this for the future” in reference to increasing the use of torrent technology. He went on to say that he “respected” copyright laws, even though he really didn’t understand them when he started ISOhunt.

I am skeptical of Fung’s claims. I doubt he wants to showcase the technology, and I’m even more doubtful that he respects copyright laws. He could have chosen hundreds of different applications that could make use of this technology. Instead, just like practically every torrent site out there, he chose to distribute movies and music. Why is that? It’s because just like every torrent “advocate” out there, he is using the site as means to distribute pirated files. Fung claims that “there is plenty of legitimate material being transferred through isoHunt” which might be true (although highly unlikely) it is overshawdowed by the fact that the site is completely structured to transfer ILLEGAL files. Yes, torrent technology is legal, but ISOhunt focuses on the illegal uses of it. The community has in been in general denial, which can be seen in user comments:

“Corrupt justice systems and greedy organizations > Normal civilians. That’s the sad truth, hosting .torrent files is legal, but why do torrent sites lose? It’s because of corrupt sh!t.” –  in response to an article entitled isoHunt Loses Appeal in Preemptive Strike Against CRIA on Torrentfreak

The action against Gary Fung and ISOhunt is not corrupt, in fact it’s completely fair.

What Fung is doing is claiming the YouTube/Xerox defence, which goes something like “I have no idea what’s being put there, I only provide the technology, so I can’t be legally held responsible for what’s on there”  I call it the YouTube/Xerox defence because both these companies use this as a basis for legality when dealing copyright infringement claims. To be clear on what this defence is, I will give you an example. Let’s say you post  an episode of the TV show “The Office” on YouTube. Under the YouTube/Xerox defence, YouTube would not be held responsible for copyright infringement UNLESS somebody reported that the video was infringing on copyright law AND they failed to remove it.

Just by using the site and doing various searches, you can instantly tell that Fung is fully aware that his site is based towards piracy. To prove my point, here are the the top ISOhunt searches (featured on the HOMEPAGE) as of August 2, 2009:

  1. axxo
  2. fxg
  3. fxm
  4. transformers 2
  5. harry potter
  6. the ugly truth
  7. g-force
  8. bruno
  9. ice age 3
  10. public enemies

The top 3 results are aliases of copyright infringers, while the rest point to torrents that allow you to download these movies. Unless Mr. Fung somehow finds a way to ignore his own homepage, he is clearly evident that the majority of activity on his website is dedicated to illegal piracy.  I also doubt Fung makes any effort to remove content that is “brought to his attention” (i.e. reported to him) as pirated material, which, as I mentioned,  is an important factor to consider when using the Youtube/Xerox defence

One argument that Gary Fung presents is that Google does the same thing. He further presses this by giving Google as an example of a site that indexes torrents. In fact, when I typed “axxo” into Google, I get hits that leads to other piracy sites such as mininova and even ISOhunt. However, there’s are three things, 1) Google doesn’t host .torrent files, it indexes sites which host them 2) Google indexes everything NOT just .torrent files 3) Google can (and has) changed their algorithm in the past to avoid legal issues. This is important, because  Google doesn’t base it’s whole business model towards piracy, and it does as much as it can to prevent copyright infringement.

To be on the record, I’m not against torrent technology, I understand its merits and how it can be used. I also personally think the MPAA/RIAA is seriously losing out by spending so much money towards targeting the end user, while at the same time COMPLETELY IGNORING the opportunity to provide a legal digital distribution channel. I do agree that they should go after people like Gary Fung, but definately not against the end users. There’s clearly a demand for digital distribution, and there’s a demand that people are willing to pay for. Obviously Steam and iTunes are two great examples of how the digital distribution model can work.

Do I believe that the existing copyright law should be modified to reflect what has changed since it was enacted? Yes, absolutely. Do I think torrent technology can be used as a great tool for improving download speeds? Yes, I do. What I really am is anti-Gary Fung since he’s  doing the exact opposite of what he is supposably trying to accomplish by further illustrating that torrents are only used for illegality and straightening the argument for stricter (inflexible) copyright laws. If he were to come out and say “isoHUNT is THE place where you get you’re illegal files” I would be less concerned than the approach he is taking now.

The problem is that he is using the .torrent technology and copyright argument to hide behind the fact that he is essentially stealing. That does noone justice, not for those in favour of reforming copyright laws and not for those who see .torrent as a viable and useful technology.

I’d love to hear what you’d have to say on the matter, and I’m truly interested in finding out more about how you’d like thecCopyright laws to be changed and how you think torrent technology is great. I just don’t think what Gary Fung is trying to do, accomplishes any of that.

Some articles I referenced: