Titan Battles Thieves
Its most effective weapon has been a legal barrage that has savvy pirates thinking twice before they infringe on Titan content for peer-to-peer sharing, illegal DVD replication or posting on free hosting sites.
"If you steal Titan Media property we will identify you and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," Titan Media Vice President Keith Webb said.
Titan sent 318,000 cease-and-desist orders in 2006 to individuals and various companies allegedly infringing on their content. In the same year, the company estimated losses of revenue, due to pirated content, to be approximately $30 million.
In the last five years, Titan has won more than 40 anti-piracy lawsuits with a no-holds-barred policy of going after individual infringers, but also larger entities including Larry Flynt Publications (LFP), peer-to-peer server Kazaa.com, file-sharing network Veoh.com, as well as Pornotube operator AEBN and XTube's Webnovas Technologies.
"We've done a lot to protect our content and our sales are being protected," Titan Media attorney Gill Sperlein said. "But on the other hand, if they're still getting other content for free, it's difficult for us to sell our content to the same customers. They'd prefer our content because it's the best quality out there — but if we're competing with free, it's hard."
Waging a War
The latest war waged by Titan is a lawsuit filed at the end of September against Gilbert Michael Gonzales of Desert Hot Springs, Calif., and 21 unnamed John Doe defendants.
Gonzales, who went by various online pseudonyms including "MikeyG," was allegedly the ringleader of an online pirate operation that utilized free hosting services like Blogspot.com, Ning.com and RapidShare.com. According to court documents, more than 45 Titan titles had been infringed by the ring, and the company estimates more than 100,000 illegal downloads of its movies from the operation.
"What Rapid Share does, is they allow people to host material on their servers for free," Sperlein said. "What they don't do is any kind of indexing of the material, so you can't go to Rapid Share and do a search for 'Titan Media' or 'gay porn' or 'music' or anything else. There's no way of finding stuff there unless you have the direct link that is issued when you upload material to their servers.
"So, then, what people do is they upload the files to Rapid Share's servers, get a link — a URL — and then they go to the free blog spaces and trade all of these links, so that people looking for free files can figure where to go and download them," he said.
Titan is currently in the process of identifying the 21 John Doe defendants by subpoenaing various Internet service providers to get the information. According to Sperlein, the pirate ring was international in scope, with unnamed defendants in San Francisco, Germany, France and England.
As soon as Titan filed suit, the blog sites on Blogspot and Ning were shut down and shortly followed the removal of dozens of links to Titan properties listed on Rapid Share. But though the ring was shut down swiftly and effectively merely by filing suit, both Webb and Sperlein said that the way in which the pirates ran their operation raises concerns for all content producers.
Unlike the pirated material available on torrent sites, which is typically reduced to shortened, low-quality video clips, the technology behind free hosting service Rapid Share allows pirates to upload entire movies with behind-the-scene footage and extras, straight from a disc.
"In this case and in most of the stuff that we're finding in online piracy, [digital rights management] is not really going to help because most of the illegal files are ripped from DVDs," Webb said.
Webb pointed out also that while Blogspot and Rapid Share bear no legal culpability for pirated material hosted on their sites, the combination of the two services make an effective platform for pirates to infringe on copyrighted material. And, he added, the blog sites benefit financially from increased traffic for their paying advertisers, while Rapid Share sells a premium service with faster downloads for approximately $14 a month.
"That's what's happening with these file-posting services like Rapid Share and Mega Uploader; these sites are in the Top 100 most-trafficked sites on the Internet and all they do is host files," Webb said.
"When the legality of one system is tested [as in the case of torrent sites], another system springs up to go around those parameters," Sperlein said. "So what it's done is made it difficult for a copyright-holder like Titan to go after the websites that are assisting in the piracy. It's difficult to go after Rapid Share because they don't know what's on there; they don't review the content. They're just a hosting site and people could be using it for any number of things."
Sperlein explained also, that this method of piracy enables content pirates to add another layer of diversion, making it more difficult for content producers to recognize if their properties are being stolen. In the case of Gonzales and his cohorts, they used code names to refer to Titan on the blogs, in order to thwart the company's efforts at using web spiders to locate posted links by searching for keywords.
Seeing the Effects
But, according to Sperlein, the company is starting to see more pirate blogs and sites that have disclaimers stating that they will not be trafficking in Titan content or content from other producers they know are likely to take legal action. After five years of diligently prosecuting infringers, their efforts have paid off in terms of reducing lost revenue — but not without a mounting a massive, never-ending campaign that takes the pirates down one-by-one.
"Piracy is not anonymous and just as the [Motion Picture Association of America] is going after any of the individual infringements on the peer-to-peer networks; we're going to go after individuals who trade movies in this fashion," Sperlein said.
"We do use a company that has Internet-spidering capabilities. They monitor a number of different locations for us. They have the capability of monitoring eBay, these blog [sites], P2P networks — anywhere this is happening they have the ability to go in and look for infringing links or infringing material," he said.
Titan utilizes also an extensive network of in-house employees, loyal customers, volunteers and sometimes even other content producers, to access information about the location of infringed Titan material.
"Having done this for over five years now, people know that we're interested in getting information," Sperlein said. "Some of the companies that might not be able to afford in-house counsel or don't have the wherewithal or don't know what to do — they'll contact us and say, 'Hey, do you know about this site where everybody's stuff is getting infringed?' And if our stuff is there, they know that we'll go after them, so they get the benefit."
Despite efforts by Titan, both Sperlein and Webb said that other content producers need to organize to increase pressure on pirates. In most cases, Titan is able to persuade infringers to take down pirated content with a cease-and-desist letter, but the pirates continue to trade in properties from other studios, knowing that they can get away with it.
Overall, the effect on sales across the board may be a major factor in the continuing slump in DVD sales, which has a trickle-down effect as content producers cut back on productions or feel forced to undersell their content in order to remain competitive in the declining market.
"This is an industry made up of small businesses and people have to prioritize, and when people are trying to get their production schedules complete, box-covers out, mailing lists updated, piracy can't be at the top of the list," Sperlein said.
"But unfortunately they don't really see the effects in black-and-white — we know that there are probably 10 pirated versions for every version that we sell. So, if we could get a handle and cut that down to half of that, it could mean a great deal to us."
"If [infringers] got enough cease-and-desists from enough studios and they knew that a lot of people were watching them, they might be more reluctant," Sperlein said. "We would love to see somebody else start to take action, so there is greater deterrent — because they're not just infringing ours, they're infringing everybody's."