If a case now before the British Columbia Supreme Court goes against the plaintiff, that’s a real possibility, according to legal experts watching the situation.

A small BC search engine operator, ISOHunt Inc., has taken the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) to court to get an answer, once and for all, to the question of whether its search engine activities are legal or not.

ISOHunt, which boasts more than 20 million regular users, indexes and searches media files of all kinds that can be traded via BitTorrent peer-to-peer networks.

ISOHunt claims it does not store any of the files, many of which are copyrighted, nor does it work directly with any of the people offering the files for download. It’s just a search service.

But CRIA says ISOHunt is liable for the breaches of copyright constituted by the BitTorrent downloads that people perform based on the company’s search results. But ISOHunt contends that any search engine can do what its engine does.

“Anybody can. Do it yourself,” ISOHunt lawyer Arthur Grant told The Ottawa Citizen newspaper. “ISOHunt is a search engine and it operates no differently than Google. The difference is, Google searches every file type under the sun.”

And that’s where it gets interesting. If ISOHunt loses its case, a case might be made to outlaw all search engines in Canada. Observers say that’s unlikely but note that the courts have been known to surprise us with rulings in the past based less on practicality and fairness than on a strict interpretation of the law.

Those involved with the case who are talking at all are predicting a long, drawn-out battle.

ISOHunt, incidentally, is already in a court battle with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPA) over similar copyright infringement claims.

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