U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper has handed BitTorrent index site TorrentSpy a bill it couldn't possibly pay. Having ruled in favor of the major Hollywood studios' lawsuit in December, Cooper awarded the studios damages of $30,000 per movie allegedly infringed with the assistance of TorrentSpy's site. The total for the 3,699 movies listed in the studios' complaint: $110,970,000. Wow. (You can download a PDF of the ruling here.)
Judge Cooper's order may prove the final legal word on TorrentSpy, which shut down in March (citing a U.S. legal climate that was "simply too hostile"). But the case didn't resolve any of the important legal questions raised by the lawsuit, mainly because they never were litigated. Cooper declared the MPAA the victor last year not because the studios had proven their claim, but becauseTorrentSpy destroyed evidence that the studios would have needed to do so. Another case will have to resolve the question of whether it's illegal for a site to assemble and organize links to bootlegged movies and other torrent files -- in other words, to decide how to draw the line between search engines that don't actively promote piracy and ones that do.
In the meantime, the three individuals and company behind TorrentSpy -- Justin Bunnell, Forrest Parker, Wes Parker and Valence Media -- face a punishing financial penalty that could still go up if Cooper orders them to reimburse the studios for their legal fees.
For what it's worth, Cooper's order includes a permanent injunction that applies to TorrentSpy and anyone to whom it transfers its technology. In addition to barring the company from encouraging or helping users to download, upload or stream copyrighted movies without the owner's permission, it also forbids movies from being made available for sharing. Her view that "making available" amounts to an infringement seems consistent with the stance taken by the 9th Circuit, but conflicts with the position taken recently by several other District Court judges in other locales.