Popular BitTorrent search engine Isohunt has been ordered to take all copyright infringing links down - and a US company is chasing an estimated 20,000 US resident users of the site for alleged file sharing.

Following the UK ruling against binary Usenet provider Newzbin this week, the news has broken that IsoHunt's founder Gary Fung has been ordered to cleanse the site of all BitTorrent files which link to infringing content - which is to say, most of IsoHunt.

According to a write-up over on Ars Technica, the ruling - handed down by US District Judge Stephen Wilson - follows years of legal wrangling between Fung and the court system following complaints of copyright infringement by the Motion Picture Association of America. The order to remove links to infringing content comes after Fung attempted the "we're just another search engine" defence - which sadly didn't go down well with the judge, who sided with the MPAA's response that IsoHunt is a search engine dedicated to finding and downloading copyright content illicitly.

The ruling will likely result in Fung being forced to close IsoHunt's doors for good - although plans to introduce an IsoHunt Lite which the courts might not find so offensive are in the works, with a beta version available now.

While that's bad news for users of the site, there's worse to come for them: the US Copyright Group - which describes itself as "an ad hoc coalition of independent film producers" - has taken a leaf out of the books of several UK law firms and started sending threatening letters to US residents accusing them of sharing copyright content via peer-to-peer networks.

According to BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow, the group is currently proceeding through the courts in an attempt to force ISPs to hand over details on around 20,000 customers accused of illicit file sharing - with another 30,000 requests waiting in the wings.

The move by the US Copyright Group echos that made by UK law firm Davenport Lyons back in 2008, which saw the company sending threatening letters demanding money to users it believed were sharing copyright content online - a tactic which earned it the ire of consumer rights organisation Which?, and something the company is now distancing itself from. Sadly, it appears that more organisations are willing to pick up the baton of what many are calling 'speculative invoicing.'

Are you surprised to see courts taking a dim view of services like IsoHunt? Are you worried that you might be receiving a letter from the US Copyright Group? Can you think of a better way of ensuring that rights holders are compensated for their efforts than the threat of legal action against file sharers? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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