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

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How big is IsoHunt today? We get 30 million unique visitors a month. And I think we are the largest site in terms of quality and quantity of torrent files in our index.

We use the open-source Lucene software for search. We've done a lot of custom tricks to improve it.

Our index takes up 30 GB on MySQL databases. We program in PHP. PHP has its problems, but it has a lot of history, a lot of libraries, and is very fast. The fact that we have only 14 servers in Toronto is testimony to how fast PHP is.

Counting me, there are 5 employees. There are two systems administrators and two developers and me. I develop and do a whole bunch of other stuff.

And you make money by selling ads? Our ads are mostly general, though some advertisers will try to target younger, technical audiences. So we get some ads for consumer electronics.

I saw an ad for Qwest Communications. Who would've placed that ad? Some ad agency, though there are a lot of different intermediaries. But Qwest should be aware -- and they're not complaining. So you can draw your own conclusion.

Any other big-name advertisers? I'd rather not say, because mentioning it might raise more eyebrows.

Have you turned away a lot of adult advertising? Yes, we try to make our site as clean as possible. We don't do gambling ads, we don't do adult ads, no prescription Viagra ads, which is common for a lot of other [P2P] sites.

We also don't allow pop-up ads, or anything malicious, like ActiveX embedded ads. When we see those being slipped into advertising networks, we try to hunt them down.

We do allow Flash ads, as long they don't do anything super-annoying like flash, shake or start a song without people mousing over or clicking on them.

Is it lucrative enough to justify all of the risk? We have a lot of volume, but our monetization is below average, because, frankly, we face a lot of stigma.

But times are changing. Look at Hulu.com and YouTube, that kind of social and viral video-sharing is where the market is heading.

P2P has a bad name now. But more and more people are using it, and more legitimate content is being shared on it. And more advertisers will become receptive.

isoHunt faces lawsuits from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA). I'd be pretty frightened to go up against their high-paid lawyers. What gives you the guts to do it? Because there's no other choice. Think of the Jammie Thomas case in Minnesota -- that woman got a $1.9 million fine for downloading music. It is quite apparent that if we don't fight, then they would get a default judgment, and a similarly ridiculous number would be thrown at us. So I really don't see any choice but to fight them.

What do your parents think about having such powerful enemies at such a young age? Worried, I suppose, for sure. Otherwise, it's the cost of doing business.

Still, I'm surprised that how long you've been able to resist, considering you're just across the border. Maybe we are lucky, or maybe we are doing something right. We have been fighting lawsuits longer than any other group still standing -- 3 years now. Pirate Bay and TorrentSpy have both been shut down, but our case still hasn't even gone to trial.

I don't know if you can call that victory or not. But I think it makes a difference that we are a search engine like Google. Thus, we have a lot of immunity under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its Safe Harbor provisions. Also, we work with copyright owners to take down infringing content as prescribed by U.S. copyright law.

There are horror stories about malware on P2P sites or in the files themselves. How do you combat that? We mostly rely on user reports. Some of the really shady advertisers try to sneak in malicious ads from time to time. We work with ad networks to locate them.

We can't do anything about viruses or malware in the files being shared. But we do have a fairly good system for users to comment on and rate files. They show up next to the search results. If you see a negative rating, you can guess that it might be a fake file. We can't do those kinds of checks ourselves.

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