- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

Hollywood’s top studios filed another round of lawsuits against bootleggers yesterday, choosing the week before the Academy Awards to boost public awareness of movie piracy.

The Motion Picture Association of America filed the lawsuits, the third round since November, in federal courts, but declined to specify the states where they are located.

Officials from the trade group, which represents studios such as Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, also declined to name the number of people sued, saying those details are not as important as the message that trafficking in bootlegged movies is illegal.

“Whether we sue 100 or 1,000 people, the bottom line is this is not behavior that will be condoned,” said John Malcolm, the association’s senior vice president and anti-piracy director.

Bootlegging costs the studios about $3.5 billion per year, according to the association’s estimates.

The latest lawsuits target people who trade illegal copies of movies through online file-sharing networks, as well as more traditional forms of bootlegging, including people who sneak camcorders into theaters to tape movies off the screen and sell copies on the street.

Association officials said bootlegging hurts the makers of small movies most. The latest lawsuits target people who trafficked in bootleg copies of blockbusters such as “Spider-Man 2,” as well as smaller movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“Every corner of the industry [is] at risk,” said Dan Glickman, the association’s president and chief executive officer.

Under federal copyright law, the association can seek penalties of as much as $30,000 for each movie traded over the Internet and as much as $150,000 if the infringement is proved to be willful.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month on whether Grokster, one of the most popular file-sharing services, can be held liable for the millions of people worldwide who use it to illegally trade music and movies.

It isn’t clear whether the lawsuits have curbed online movie piracy, because those cases represent a negligible percentage of all file swapping, said Eric Garland, chief executive of BigChampagne LLC, a Los Angeles firm that tracks file swapping.

Overwhelmingly, Internet users download music files, which are smaller and easier to manage than cumbersome movie files, he said.

Since the first round of lawsuits in November, several of the “host” or “tracker” servers used to swap movie files have shut down, Mr. Malcolm said.

Like the Recording Industry Association of America, which has encountered a barrage of bad publicity since it began suing people who illegally download music files in 2003, the film industry also has come under fire.

“Suing individuals is a perfectly legitimate thing for them to do, but they need to be figuring out new business models. If this is all they are going to do, it’s ultimately not going to be successful,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a group that fights legislation that it says would stifle technological innovation.

Some studios are experimenting with services that deliver movies to computers via the Internet, but so far, they haven’t caught on.

“We would much prefer to have people spending their money to enjoy movie content legitimately. … We would rather have people spending their money that way instead of spending it on lawyers,” Mr. Malcolm said.

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