Who's More Ethical: TorrentSpy Or The MPAA?

from the just-a-simple-question dept

Wired has an interview with Robert Anderson, the guy who hacked into TorrentSpy’s servers and handed over a bunch of internal TorrentSpy info to the MPAA. From the interview, it’s quite clear that the MPAA knew that it was getting access to content that had not been legally obtained, but it still pushed Anderson for more such info (including asking him if he could obtain similar info about The Pirate Bay). Yet, because they know how to cover themselves legally, they made Anderson sign a contract saying that all of the info he gave them had been obtained legally. But, still, it’s quite clear that the MPAA has no qualms spying on people using questionable means. At the same time, however, we’ve noted that TorrentSpy is so aghast at the idea of spying on its own users, that it shut off US access to its site to protect its users from court-ordered spying. So, which organization comes across as more ethical here? The MPAA, who’s actively trying to get confidential information from various torrent tracker sites? Or TorrentSpy, who’s actively trying to protect the privacy of its users? Yet, why is it that people act as if the MPAA has the moral high ground here?

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Companies: mpaa, torrentspy

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Comments on “Who's More Ethical: TorrentSpy Or The MPAA?”

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Max Powers at http://ConsumerFight.com (user link) says:

Business as usual

The MPPA got caught but of course brought out the legal documents to cover their butts. Nothing new here. Corporate espionage is alive and well. I wonder what goes on that we never hear about?

Let’s not forget that hacking is still illegal and if I was TorrentSpy, I’d do exactly what they did then send out hit men to take care of business.

As of now, the score is evenly divided.

Anonymous Coward says:

There was an interesting discussion about this over at slashdot the other day. And I have to say, I’m sort of in the same boat as most of the people over there about this. While the MPAA is evil and probably did break the law knowingly in this instance and did some CYA. I also don’t completely believe this guy’s story. Some of the things he says just doesn’t ring true, and sound a little off. I think the truth is somewhere in between. The centralized idea for why the guy came out is money. Pure and simple. They offered alot of it, he got very little, and so now he’s selling his story to wired. Anytime a story has those underpinnings, all information there in is suspect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ethics vary from religion to religion, culture to culture, country to country and even person to person.

Just because YOU think file sharing is unethical doesn’t mean I do. Just because you believe in Jesus doesn’t mean I do.

So arguing morals and ethics is nonsense because quite frankly I care as little about your morals and beliefs as you likely care about mine.

As just so I’m clear I do not view sharing copyright information in any way unethical or against my moral beliefs. If you do all I can say is SUCK IT!

Anonymous Coward says:

By shutting off access to Americans, the site is essentially self filtering. Torrent Spy was once one of the best sites to find recently aired TV shows, but now search results come up empty. I’m not saying it’s ethical, but to argue that by not actively filtering its content, Torrent Spy is some big evil empire just doesn’t hold weight here (anymore at least). If people can’t upload a torrent to one site, they’ll just use another.

Amoral says:

Stick with Describing Irony

Mike has been professing morality has no place in an argument about file sharing but now he wants to intimate that TorrentSpy is more moral than the RIAA/MPAA. Pretty glib.

It might be safer if you just point out the irony in the above situation and leave the moral argument to those who are stronger in understanding those elements and how to argue them.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re #7

We are not talking about the site for sharing copyrighted content. Wake up and RTFA. Also, you do understand what open source is right? You do understand that some people want their stuff out there for promotion right? There are just as many legitimate uses for File Sharing site of any magnitude as there are “illegal”. So quit trying to make TorrentSpy out to be some big bad place. The most the MPAA should have ever gone through was sending DMCA for material they KNEW (after a thorough checkout) they had the rights to. TorrentSpy was technically protected by section 230. But you are probably one of those people who would like to think that doesn’t exist. I will summarize. If a user posts something on your site, you are not responsible for it.
You are only responsible for you, unless you are promoting all of the illegal stuff in a very serious manner (inducing).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re #7

True there are as many uses, but by far that is not what it is used for…you can’t possibly support that argument.

I have been on torrent sites looking for legit content and have given up 99% of the time and downloaded it from a slow source because I could actually find legal copies of what I was looking for.

Someone using eyes says:

Re: Re: Re #7

Try searching the internet instead of just running your mouth. Check out Vuze if you want legal video content served solely on torrents. There are also several gaming sites that distribute demos via torrents. Most, if not all, Linux distributions are available via torrents.
Sure, if you go searching for a DVD rip of movie X, you’re going to find that the only downloads available aren’t legal…because the very definition of that download is copyright infringement (yeah, I know, restoring backups is legit, but there are so few people who need that).
Maybe you should ban spray paint as it can be used to get a person high, or canned whipped cream for the same reason. Just because something can be used for an illegal purpose does not negate it’s legitimate use.

Captain Nemo says:

Re: Re: Re #7

I’m an active member of the Ubuntu Community, and I can tell you, torrents are EXTREMELY useful when the distro gets updated. Think about it- Normal servers get flooded when a lot of people try to use them. But BitTorrent works FASTER when there are more people. Without this type of filesharing, my download would get throttled on BOTH ENDS, instead of just my end.

anti-piracy guy says:

you're retarded

This is rich — accusing people charged with protecting copyrights of violating the “rights” of people who are flagrantly violating the copyrights. That’s like siding with burglars who sue for getting shot at by angry homeowners. Spare me your martyrdom. If you’re worried about your privacy in your attempt to evade detection as a thief, don’t break the laws in the first place.

Monarch says:

Re: you're retarded

Are you daft anti-piracy guy?
For one, Torrent Spy is not violating any copyrights! It is a search engine for torrents. Yes a large majority of torrents may be copyright infringing, but there are also quite a few that are not, and put there for fully legitimate purposes.

Would you feel different if the MPAA hired a hacker to hack Google or Yahoo? As you’re probably a shill from either the MPAA or RIAA, probably not.

Knowingly hiring a hacker to get information from someone, even if the hacker hands the information over under the clause that it was obtained legally, is VERY, VERY UNETHICAL! Doesn’t even closely compare to having a search engine, even if it is mainly used for copyright infringement that may or may not be illegal, but may only be a tort.

Captain Nemo says:

Re: you're retarded

There’s a lot of precedent giving criminals a right to privacy. Your overuse of scare quotes and overdose of so-called morality sickens me. As far as morals go, the Motion Picture Association of America has as much heart as a head of lettuce has superpowers.
This is also notable as the only time I have seen “retard” and “martyr” used concurrently.

Danny says:

Hold on...

Yet, because they know how to cover themselves legally, they made Anderson sign a contract saying that all of the info he gave them had been obtained legally.

What? So all they had to do to cover they butts was have Anderson sign a contrat saying the info was legally obtained and magiacally his hacking became legal? Yeah right. The MPAA had this contract made and signed in the event that TorrentSpy found out about the illegaly obtained info and tried the sue the MPAA, that way the MPAA could just say, “He signed the contract saying he obtained the info legally. It’s not our fault if he didn’t obtain it legally.”

But if this is possible does this mean that I could hire a hacker to do the same thing to the MPAA and have a contract like that so when the MPAA came after me I can just, “He signed the contract saying he obtained the info legally. It’s not my fault if he didn’t obtain it legally”?

IANAL says:

Re: Hold on...

That would be a legally gray area. You can’t hire someone to hack the MPAA and just hope that it’s legal; however if you hire someone to be a paid informant and your contract stipulates that any and all information they provide has been obtained legally and without prejudice, then technically you have a document to point at that absolves you from the techniques used to obtain said information.
In that respect, you are legally in the right (though as it appears, morally in the wrong). The problem with that argument is whether or not the MPAA had knowledge of the wrong doing on the part of the hacker. If so, then it would be gross negligence to continue to accept the information. Such knowledge should end the contract and any further information gathered from the source would then be illegally obtained.
It’s pretty much the same thing as buying fenced goods. If you’re aware the goods are stolen, you’re liable for some of the blame for the theft; if you’re unaware, then you may lose the stolen goods and your money, but you aren’t criminally liable.
Makes sense if you think about it, it’s about as fair a deal as an impartial system can allow.

Yeah, but says:

Re: Re:

If TorrentSpy chooses not to prosecute, why would he go to jail? If someone randomly beats the hell out of me on the street and I decide not to prosecute (maybe they gave me a couple grand after the beating?), then there’s effectively no harm done.
The MPAA is going after torrent sites because they see them as a threat to their business model. The problem here is that torrents can be used (and frequently are) for legitimate purposes (try downloading the latest Linux distro of your choice direct from a site and then again from a torrent, let me know which is better). So effectively it’s like trying to shut down Home Depot and Lowe’s because they sell crowbars…which can be used in criminal activities.
Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!

Dictionary Man says:

Re: ethics

If someone repairs your A/C at your house and you refuse to pay them, have you stolen something?
Just because you are not taking a tangible object does not mean it isn’t theft. The argument for it being stealing is that, as a consumer, there is a likelihood (no matter how small) that you might purchase the film (or a viewing thereof). If you obtain a viewing for free, you have effectively cost the industry potential money. In this way, watching a movie at a friends house is also a type of theft. If the MPAA had their way you probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see any problem with downloading the files, I just recognize that getting the entertainment without paying for it is a form of theft of services.
If there are any MPAA people reading all this, I’d like you to know that I’d happily pay for my downloads if you would provide a reasonable outlet for me. Say $5/movie, and I can burn off a DVD when I get it downloaded? Not your cup of tea? Paying $30 for a DVD isn’t mine, so we’ll have to just agree to disagree for the time being.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: ethics

If someone repairs your A/C at your house and you refuse to pay them, have you stolen something?

No, you have not stolen something. You’ve breached a contract. That’s different. Learn the difference. It may seem subtle, but it’s important.

Just because you are not taking a tangible object does not mean it isn’t theft.

No, it isn’t theft — and the difference is important.

The argument for it being stealing is that, as a consumer, there is a likelihood (no matter how small) that you might purchase the film (or a viewing thereof). If you obtain a viewing for free, you have effectively cost the industry potential money.

If that’s the argument, then you just flunked econ. Based on your definition “likelihood (no matter how small) that you might purchase” being somehow prevented then you just made almost every business in the world thieves. I’ve made this point before, but based on this definition, the pizza shop that opens next to the deli is guilty of theft. After all, when it’s time for lunch, and I choose the pizza shop over the deli, that pizza shop (again, based on your definition) has “effectively cost the deli some money.”

You see why that’s not theft? It’s a marketing decision. No company has a right to money. They have a right to try to convince people to pay them for goods or services.

If you want to take the analogy even further, let’s say I open up a beverage shop, and a pizza shop opens up next door and offers free sodas with every pizza. Again, by your definition, this is theft. After all, who’s going to buy a soda at the beverage shop when you can get a free one next door? But we don’t condemn that, because that’s reasonable competition.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Your all missing something

Well the naysayers are.

First, Downloading music without consent of the artist is NOT stealing. It is copyright infringement. Never let anyone confuse the two, that is where most of these arguments come from.

Second, Torrent Spy and The Pirate Bay are just hosting sites for USER POSTED items. They are not in control of what is put up. They are protected by “safe harbor.” And if they determine that the only way to protect their users is to block access from the US than that is OK. Self censorship is a good thing, government mandated censorship is not.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

Corporate crime pays

It is an unfortunate circumstance that corporate profits have become the most important factor in decision making. I first noticed this in the aftermath of Exxon’s Valdez debacle: the US Congress refused to fine the corporation over fears that Exxon stockholders would be unfairly penalized.

The MPAA won’t face any trouble over this or any illegal activities in which they choose to engage. Aside from their army of lobbyists and their Congressional allies–bought and paid for, fair and square–the same argument applies as with the Valdez: Everyone knows it’s a big problem, but no one in power wants to risk losing the next election.

dualboot says:


I think the analogy of the burgler being shot is quite a bit off. The burgler is actually IN the house, possibly posing a threat to the people inside if they don’t act. TS is not threatening someone’s life, and this “spy on the copyright infringers” notion assumes that every single user is infringing! I use file sharing sites to download music from my family’s homeland that would not otherwise be available in the US. It is not copyrighted, and so I am not infringing. Heck, the performers ALLOW video and audio taping at their concerts when they tour here. Does this mean that the MPAA has the right to hack the system I use for these downloads and get my information? I think not.

THIS is where I have the problem with what MPAA is doing… they should have researched which copyrighted material was in violation, and then issued a legal document demanding the info for THOSE items. So, unless copyright laws change, MPAA has a right to SOME of that information, but they need to go about getting it through the legal system in order to avoid violating the rights of the rest of us.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re #26

Thats the point. And that is what they do not want to take the time to do. So they will gladly sack everyone else in their path. Which is what quite a few of us stand against. The way the laws are set up now, is they are Supposed to make sure something is infringing, then send down a request for just that. Not do a Viacom mass takedown of stupidity, not try to get TorrentSpy to spy on their users. Whichever judge ordered TS so spy on its users is a pretty stupid one. Dualboot (#25) hit the nail on the head pretty well about why what the MPAA is asking is stupid.

As for #16, if you couldn’t find it, maybe you should seed it so others can find it.

bshock (profile) says:

Ethical MPAA? Is this a joke?

I don’t even think the MPAA is ethical enough to provide quality entertainment for me. As far as I’m concerned, they represent the illogical extreme of capitalism, the idea that everyone should pay them for nothing (or perhaps worse than nothing).

How do you compare the ethics of two organizations these days? I’d start by finding out how much money is riding on each organization. The higher the sum, the more likely the organization will commit unethical (or outright illegal) acts to protect that sum.

Me and my shadow says:

So for all those that feel that the MPAA was justified in their actions lemme ask you this…

If someone rapes a family member or friend of yours and plainly committed a crime are you within your right to go out and kill that person? Or lets not go to that extreme. Are you able to fill out a legal document that says it’s okay to hunt this guy down and beat the piss out of him or physically do anything to him period? No… it’s not for you to decide how this person should pay his debt to society… It’s not even for you to hunt him down. You give your description of the perp and let the police find them and a judge convict them…

2 wrongs NEVER make a right

dualboot says:

Re: Re:

Identity theft IS theft, because they quite often clear your accounts of money you already earned, as well as essentially either steal the products that were purchased under another identity, or steal the money in the form of running up someone else’s credit card debt to get the items (depending on whether your dispute is successful, and the store loses the merchandise without being paid). That’s much different than copyright infringement (which I still think is wrong… just in a different way)

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