The Richmond, B.C. owner of one of the Internet's most popular sites for downloading everything from music to porn is pre-emptively asking the Supreme Court of British Columbia to rule on whether he is violating the Copyright Act.

Gary Fung, 25, runs the search engine for BitTorrent files, which are commonly used to download and upload virtually every type of copyrighted material, including music, movies, computer software and e-books.

The site currently links to more than 1.5 million files online, such as the latest chart-topping CDs, video games, DVDs and even movies currently in theatres. regularly cracks the Top 200 list of the web's most popular sites, according to analysts at

"It serves a need that had not been served before, especially with the emergence of BitTorrent becoming a dominant (downloading) protocol," Fung said of the site's popularity.

Lawsuit launched

Fung has been named in a lawsuit launched in 2006 by the Motion Picture Association of America.

After receiving letters last May from the Canadian Recording Industry Association demanding he take down links to copyrighted material, Fung decided he would ask the courts to rule on whether his site breaks Canadian law.

"We filed the court documents because we were threatened by CRIA. Essentially they're saying that all we do is infringe on their clients' copyrights," he said.

The letters Fung received argued his site is "responsible for causing, authorizing and contributing to a staggering amount of illegal music downloading, uploading and file sharing."

The letters also state Fung could be responsible for copyright infringement damages of up to $20,000 per song.

But Fung insists his search-engine website doesn't break any laws since it simply links to copyrighted material online but doesn't host any of it. He notes that Google can also be easily used to find BitTorrent files.

"IsoHunt does not consider that its operations ... infringe or violate in any way the Copyright Act and therefore seeks the protection of ... (the B.C. court) in the form of declaratory relief in relation to clarification of its legal rights in respect of its operation," Fung states in his petition to the court. has a policy of taking down links to files when contacted by copyright owners and has removed more than 50,000 links since 2004, Fung said.

It's similar to the policy that was imposed upon the makers of the Napster downloading software when they were sued for copyright infringement, Fung said.

He added that he invited CRIA to send in requests to remove links but the association "has refused to do that."

CRIA said it would not comment on the case.

Michael Geist, a copyright expert at the University of Ottawa, said's take-down policy is similar to what most BitTorrent download sites do in an attempt to avoid legal action.

"Many, many sites argue that there's simply too much content posted (on their sites) to actively monitor so they're entitled to presume their service is being used lawfully" until a copyright holder complains, he said.

"And that's when their potential liability kicks in if they take no steps to address it."

Wide effects

The case could have a broad impact and affect a variety of Canadian websites, and not just BitTorrent download sites, Geist said.

"The interesting question is how will the court characterize (Fung's arguments), because the broader legal implications for copyright and for many parties -- search engines and the like -- could be affected by the outcome of this case."

Fung said he might have to take down his site if the B.C. court case goes against him. Donations from the site's users and advertising revenue are paying his legal bills, he said.

"If we lost the case, it'd depend on what the judgment is. If it involves damages we can't pay, then I'll have to shut down the site," he said.

With a report from The Canadian Press