Movie Industry Suing Hundreds Of Alleged Online Pirates

First round of litigation is scheduled for November 16.

A year after the recording industry opened fire on illegal file-sharers with hundreds of lawsuits, the movie industry has followed its lead.

The Motion Picture Industry Association of America announced Thursday (November 4) that it intends to file copyright-infringement lawsuits against users who unlawfully trade movie files over the Internet. The first round of lawsuits is scheduled to be filed November 16.

Under the Copyright Act, a person found liable for copyright infringement can face fines as high as $30,000 for each movie illegally copied or distributed over the Internet, and as much as $150,000 per film if the infringement is proven to be willful.

The MPAA, an organization representing the seven major film studios, estimates that downloaded movie files from peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as Kazaa, eDonkey, Limewire and DirectConnect are a major source of bootleg DVD piracy, which costs the industry more than $3.5 billion a year.

"Illegal movie trafficking represents the greatest threat to the economic basis of movie-making in its 110-year history," MPAA President and CEO Dan Glickman said. "People who have been stealing our movies believe they are anonymous on the Internet and wouldn't be held responsible for their actions. They are wrong. We know who they are, and we'll go after them, as these suits will prove."

Actually, the studio group doesn't know exactly who they are — yet. Like the litigation used by the recording industry, the MPAA must file anonymous John Doe lawsuits until the users' identities are disclosed by their Internet service providers pending a judge's approval. Since the RIAA fired off its first round of lawsuits in September 2003, more than 4,000 suits have been filed.

The MPAA lawsuits are the logical next step in copyright holders' battle with online pirates. Just a few years ago, many users didn't have the ability to efficiently download video files, but as users' technology and bandwidth have improved, the practice is becoming more common. Although downloading video games is still in its relative infancy, a widespread crackdown on that front isn't likely to be far off.

The MPAA hinted in June that this day might come by introducing an advertising campaign in major newspapers and movie theaters that warned illegal downloaders of the penalties they faced. The RIAA embarked on a similar awareness campaign last summer. A new round of MPAA advertising, announcing that "Lawsuits begin this week," will surface the week of November 15.

The lawsuits coincide with the federal government's increased vigilance with respect to piracy. Last month, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced plans to open five new anti-piracy offices across the country. And in late September, a bill supported by the MPAA and RIAA passed in the House of Representatives that could spell jail time for users who share more than 1,000 copyrighted files (see "Downloading Illegally? House Says You Should Go To Jail"). The bill still needs to pass in the Senate.

As an alternative to illegal file-sharing, the MPAA suggests using legitimate online movie services such as MovieLink, CinemaNow and Moviebeam.