Movie Industry Threatens to Sue File-Sharers

Gretchen Gallen
LOS ANGELES — After blaming Internet piracy for shrinking revenue, the Motion Picture Association of America is following in the footsteps of record companies and threatening peer-to-peer users with copyright infringement.

After years of badgering Congress to take more aggressive action against digital piracy on all fronts, and specifically how it has affected the movie industry's bottom line, the MPAA is reportedly on the verge of waging a lawsuit campaign against Internet users who download copyrighted versions of digitized films over peer-to-peer networks.

The MPAA issued a stern warning to the Internet community Wednesday saying that the first wave of litigation could come as early as the end of the week. The lawsuits will likely target file-sharers known by their IP address and username who frequent P2P programs such as Kazaa, eDonkey and Grokster.

Over the past year, a similar anti-piracy effort waged by the RIAA has resulted in more than 6,200 lawsuits being filed against named and unnamed individuals, not including 762 complaints filed in September.

MPAA President Dan Glickman, Jack Valenti's replacement, is scheduled to make an announcement concerning the pending wave of litigation at UCLA today. Joining Glickman will be educators, studio executives, union leaders, legislators and filmmakers.

According to John G. Malcolm, MPAA's director of worldwide anti-piracy operations, the MPAA and its international counterpart, the Motion Picture Association, operate anti-piracy programs in more than 60 countries.

Within the past year, both organizations along with local law enforcement participated in nearly 32,000 raids and seized more than 52 million pirated movie discs.

But in an appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives in September, Malcolm claimed that the piracy problem is only growing larger and that continued attempts to root out pirates will only prove futile unless government participation increases.

"Despite the best, and often heroic, efforts of our investigators, and despite improvements in some markets, the worldwide piracy problem isn’t getting better; it is getting worse," Malcolm said, adding that the U.S. movie industry loses more than $3 billion annually in potential revenue because of piracy.

Malcolm attributed this unprecedented losses to Internet-based online auction houses, pirate websites, peer-to-peer networks, and the sale of so-called ripper products that strip away encoded copyright protection from legitimate products.

"As you know, the Internet is seamless and borderless," he said. "Sophisticated international encoding groups, often referred to as warez groups, take a perverse pride in being the first to steal copyrighted material, stripping it of its protection, and then distributing it to their members, where it quickly finds its way onto peer-to-peer networks, often within 24 hours."

Malcolm also expressed to lawmakers that as Internet speeds increase, so will piracy. He cited a recent announcement from the California Institute of Technology and its counterparts that they can now send 859 gigabytes of information halfway around the world in less than 17 minutes.

"At that speed, somebody could download a full-length feature film in four seconds," he said.

Recent statistics claim that there are 8.3 million people trading copyrighted material over the Internet.