Q&A: isoHunt founder says P2P can help create post-piracy world

Gary Fung founded BitTorrent search engine isoHunt.com in 2003 when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. With Pirate Bay's ups and downs, isoHunt is now the second most popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing site today behind Mininova, and ranked in the top 250 Web sites in the world by both Alexa and Quantcast.

Fung talked with Computerworld about how isoHunt has evaded legal trouble so far, why he holds out hope of working together with Hollywood and the music industry, and how he's launched a new P2P site for just that purpose.

How did you start isoHunt? I was studying engineering and physics at UBC when I started isoHunt. I just wanted to learn some new programming.

Were you an active file-sharer? Not really. Frankly, I wasn't even using Napster back then. But I saw how potentially disruptive P2P was to the entertainment industry and content distribution in general. There was a gap in terms of a good search engine for file-sharing networks. Google was getting big back then, but wasn't yet on top. Neither Pirate Bay nor MiniNova were around yet.

How is isoHunt different from them? The Pirate Bay gathered the torrents that point to files and hosted them on its own servers on something called a BitTorrent tracker. A tracker is like a traffic cop for content: it tells a downloader who else has the content you're looking for.

Pirate Bay also categorized torrents for easier browsing. Both BitTorrent trackers and categorization are touchy issues, legally. Because the law is all about intent, whether you are intentionally leading people to copyright infringement.

isoHunt is a search engine, which most of the others are not. We go out and index the torrents on other BitTorrent trackers, including MiniNova, LegalTorrent.com and others: sites with Creative Commons-licensed music, as well as BitTorrent sites with just Linux and open-source software.

As a search engine, we don't host torrents, nor do we edit or categorize them. We just link back to the sites hosting the torrents, as well as cache a copy of those torrents.

Google does the same thing. If you go to Google and type in a TV show's name and add "filetype:torrent" you will see torrents, too.

I don't think isoHunt would be better as a directory. You saw the competition between directories versus search engines: Yahoo versus Google. We all know how that went.

isoHunt's Gary Fung.
isoHunt's Gary Fung likens P2P file-sharing technology to the once-almost-banned VCR.
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