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You Win, Hollywood: Vancouver's Gary Fung forced to shut down Isohunt
Not with a bang, but a diplomatic whimper.
Vancouver whiz Gary Fung – whose "baby" is the immensely popular media downloading, sharing site Isohunt – was forced to eventually close down operations on Friday, and pay a fine of $110 million after losing a legal battle with the Motion Picture Association of America.
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful," Fung wrote on his blog. "Ten-and-a-half years of isoHunt has been a long journey by any business definition, and forever in Internet startup time. It started as a programming hobby in my university days that has become so, so much more."
Isohunt links to 13.7 million active BitTorrent files – movies, TV shows, and music – and 51 million users. It is ranked 423rd in worldwide web traffic, and 167th in Canada.
Clearly, the site is popular. Obviously, torrents and shared files (stolen, depending on who you talk to) are the norm – an expectation – from users. Are Fung's 51 million users as guilty as he is? Is he simply the fall guy, and shouldn't Hollywood be encouraging competition in the way it has always claimed to?
It would seem, based on the MPAA's victim-toned statement – which called Friday's final call "a major step forward in realizing the enormous potential of the Internet as a platform for legitimate commerce and innovation" – that it's only unfair when you're the one losing.
According to Vince Gilligan, the Breaking Bad show-runner who just completed one of the most critically acclaimed and popular dramas in TV history, piracy helped his show gain the audience it came to serve.
Torrent sites and downloads "led to a lot of people watching the series who otherwise would not have," Gilligan said on Friday (according to TheWrap.com).
"The downside is a lot of folks who worked on the show would have made more money, myself included, if all those downloads had been legal."
The trick, as it was when Napster shut down a decade ago, is for the industry to wake itself up in time to right the ship.
Does the MPAA really expect people to stop downloading content if it's available to them? Does it really think it knows what 51 million people want better than Gary Fung does?
For an organization like the MPAA – which represents Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros. – they may wake up one day to find they "would have made more money" (using Gilligan's own words) if they had embraced and incorporated the Internet in time.
The MPAA first launched its suit against Fung and Isohunt in 2006. Seven years ago. That's almost as long as an Oliver Stone movie.
Nobody is taking these threats seriously. Nobody is scared. If you're one of 51 million users sharing 13.7 million files, wouldn't you feel like you're in the majority?
Forget shutting Isohunt down... the real question is, why didn't the MPAA buy it from him? Why didn't Disney, or Universal, or Warner Brothers?
This guy has guaranteed your industry 51 million active viewers, readers, and porn-watchers. He's a Vancouver man-kid whose audience is one-and-a-half times the size of Canada. Why isn't he working for you?
Call Friday's decision a milestone if you will, but don't deny the inevitable.
Hollywood will win its battles but, if it continues to shuck off the future, it will lose the war.