Titan Media Sues Online Piracy Ring

Joanne Cachapero
SAN FRANCISCO — Gay production company Titan Media filed suit against a Desert Hot Springs, Calif., man and 21 unnamed defendants for copyright infringement.

Gilbert Michael Gonzales and others allegedly were running an online piracy ring, utilizing free hosting websites including Blogspot.com, Ning.com and RapidShare.com to infringe on more than 45 of Titan’s movie titles.

“What people do is they upload the files to Rapid Share’s servers and then they get a link, a URL,” Titan Media attorney Gill Sperlein told XBIZ. “Then they go to the free blog spaces and trade all of these links, so that people looking for free files can figure out where to go and then they download them.”

Filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week, the suit alleges that Gonzales, who used the onscreen name “MikeyG,” operated numerous anonymous and pseudo-anonymous blogs for trafficking of stolen gay adult films.

As many as six different blogs were operated under various usernames and hosted across several free blog-hosting providers. Three of the link-posting blogs were hosted on the Google-owned property Blogspot.com, with the final pirate blog being hosted on social networking provider Ning.com.

Titan also has identified 21 unnamed individuals that posted links to pirated Titan content and listed them as John Doe defendants in the suit. The company is in the process of subpoenaing several Internet service providers in order to uncover the actual identities of these individuals.

Titan estimates the ring may have been responsible for more than 100,000 illegal downloads of its pirated property.

After the suit was filed, sites on Blogspot.com and Ning.com affiliated with the pirate ring were shut down, and numerous links to Titan material hosted on RapidShare.com were disabled.

According to Sperlein, this type of content piracy represents a new form that differs from typical peer-to-peer file sharing that occurs on torrent sites and between individual users.

“Because the hosting is free, they upload full content, high-quality, so that once it’s downloaded, it plays as clearly as a DVD would on your computer,” Sperlein said.

“With peer-to-peer stuff, files are often sent in lower resolution or screen size, or maybe just 10 or 15 minutes of a particular movie. These are the whole thing — everything — even the disc that has nothing but extras and interviews and included that, so they get the whole thing.”

Titan Media Vice President Keith Webb pointed out also that because the pirates are “ripping” or uploading the content straight from discs, digital rights management is ineffective in preventing this type of piracy.

For the last five years, Titan has held an aggressive anti-piracy policy and has filed and won more than 40 copyright infringement lawsuits for the online theft of its properties. In 2006, Titan sent 318,000 cease-and-desist orders to individuals and various entities allegedly infringing on their content. In the same year, the company estimated losses of revenue due to pirated content to be approximately $30 million.

“The message we are sending is that you can run, but you cannot hide,” Webb said. “Mr. Gonzalez thought he could hide behind anonymous blogs and postings, but he was seriously mistaken. People need to realize that nothing they do online is anonymous. Every single posting, upload, download or page view is tracked and recorded, and can eventually be traced back to the individual. "Mr. Gonzales taunted us in his online blog postings to try and catch him and shut him down, so we did. If you steal Titan Media property we will identify you and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”

Sperlein said that Titan, in efforts to monitor infringement of its content, utilizes several companies with web-spidering abilities to search the numerous sites using keywords. The company also has formed an informal but extensive network of in-house employees, volunteers, loyal customers and informants who monitor sites and report infringed content to the company.

Smaller production companies that lack the resources to aggressively prosecute online pirates, but who discover their content being infringed on a pirate site that also offers Titan property, will often report to Titan in the hopes that the company will prosecute, Sperlein said. That way, the smaller companies sometimes benefit when Titan pursues the pirates.

“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, boxcovers out, mailing lists updated — piracy can’t be at the top of the list,” Sperlein said.

“But unfortunately, people don’t really see the effects in black-and-white; we know that there are probably 10 pirated versions [of Titan content] for every version that we sell. So, if we could get a handle and get that down to half of that, it could mean a great deal to us, even though our sales are holding solid, whereas other people are losing a lot of sales to piracy.”