TorrentSpy was ordered to pay the Motion Picture Association of America $110 million in damages after losing a copyright-infringement suit the film association filed in 2007.
"This substantial money judgment sends a strong message about the illegality of these sites," said Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. "The demise of TorrentSpy is a clear victory for the studios and demonstrates that such pirate sites will not be allowed to continue to operate without facing relentless litigation by copyright holders."
Valence Media, located in the former British territory of Nevis in the Caribbean, filed for bankruptcy in British court last week after shutting down its website on March 24. A note on the site's home page referred to the "legal climate in the USA" and a desire to maintain user privacy.
Rothken said the court never determined whether the website actually infringed on any copyrights and the judgment stemmed from Valence's refusal to disclose the identities of its users.
The judge ordered TorrentSpy to provide users' IP addresses during an evidence-collection period in which the addresses were to be compared to those on lists of searches on the website.
In an attempt to comply with the court while maintaining user privacy, Valence provided the IP addresses with several numbers erased. The court considered it an act of evidence destruction and decided in favor of the Motion Picture Association of America.
"In the end of the day, one person's evidence destroyer is another person's privacy protector, and one person's copyright infringer is another person's free-speech protector," Rothken said. "Those are the tensions presently going on between TorrentSpy and Hollywood."
TorrentSpy reportedly inundated the Internet with "spiders" seeking torrent files, then compiled online addresses in a public index hosted on computer servers in the Netherlands.
Rothken's dispute was that TorrentSpy could be no more responsible for copyright infringement than major search engines could. He said TorrentSpy did not link directly to indexed files but only provided text files letting people know where to find them, according to news site AFP.com.
"If an author wrote a book on where to find things and someone went after them, would freedom of speech trump copyright authority?" Rothken asked. "Are you still allowed to run a search engine when there are a lot of bad torrent files? These are issues we should have gotten to in the case."
Rothken said he is asking the 9th Circuit of Appeals in Northern California to overturn the judge's ruling and set a trial.
"The case was not decided on the merits of copyright issues whatsoever," he said. "U.S. rules of evidence conflict with European privacy standards, resulting in the judge ruling from the bench instead of letting the case go to trial."
The judge ruled that Valence was guilty of vicarious copyright infringement, along with inducing and contributing to such acts, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. The court issued an order barring TorrentSpy from operation.
Film piracy costs the worldwide motion-picture industry more than $18 billion annually, including $7 billion lost to illegal online distribution of movies, the Motion Picture Association of America said.