The MPAA has announced lawsuits against the operators of P2P index servers, such as BitTorrent trackers, according to a Wired News story by Xeni Jardin.
A BitTorrent tracker keeps track of who is downloading and/or uploading a particular file, and makes this information available to others who want to find the file. The suits will presumably allege that the person running the tracker knew that the people downloading the file were infringing, and knew that the tracker was facilitating those illegal downloads, and yet the person ran the tracker anyway.
Previously, copyright owners had considered suing the operators of Kazaa supernodes, which also provide index information. As I wrote previously, suing supernode operators would have been a bad idea, because ordinary user machines silently volunteer to be supernodes, often without their owner’s knowledge. It’s one thing to sue somebody for setting up an index for a given file; it’s another thing entirely to sue somebody who didn’t even know that his machine was providing index information.
The good news is that we seem to be avoiding the worst-case scenario, which is a blanket lawsuit trying to shut down BitTorrent entirely. Such a suit would be unwarranted, as there is nothing about BitTorrent’s design that seems aimed to facilitate infringement. BitTorrent is designed to allow efficient distribution of large files. If that by itself were enough to get somebody sued, then things would be pretty bad.
Of course, it’s hard to see how one could sue BitTorrent. How do you sue a communications protocol? You can sue the person who designed the protocol, but the protocol itself can’t be undesigned. Nor can the technical community unlearn the lessons it has learned.