High Court Rejects InternetMovies.com Appeal

Matt O'Conner
KAHULUI, Hawaii — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined hearing the case of a website owner whose business was shut down by a cease-and-desist order based on suspected piracy despite the fact that no piracy actually occurred.

In 2001, the Motion Picture Association of America accused InternetMovies.com of making pirated copies of copyright-protected movies available for download.

The site was immediately taken offline by its hosting service based solely on this allegation under the “notice and takedown” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The site’s owner, Michael Rossi, subsequently filed suit against the MPAA asserting that the unfounded allegation and shutdown of InternetMovie.com damaged his business and his reputation.

InternetMovies.com was eventually allowed to resume operation, but Rossi said he wanted the MPAA held accountable for the harm it had caused.

At the heart of the case was the MPAA’s claim, under penalty of perjury, that Rossi had made available for download a pre-release version of “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” a charge that the organization later admitted had no merit.

The MPAA also confessed to misrepresenting headlines from InternetMovies.com advertising in its cease-and-desist request to make it appear as though the site was offering free downloads of full-length motion pictures.

In fact, said Rossi, even a cursory investigation of his site would have shown that no movies were available for download. The site, he contended, was nothing more than an online magazine with film reviews.

“All I was doing was reporting news about movies online,” Rossi said. “This now proves there are no freedom of speech or due process rights on the Internet for the common person.”

Nevertheless, the MPAA prevailed in district and circuit court, with both courts citing that they believed the MPAA made its piracy claim in good faith and was, therefore, protected under the DMCA against prosecution.

Rossi said the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case invites a “shoot now, ask later” atmosphere in which copyright holders can shut down websites simply by saying they believe copyright violations have occurred.

“I don’t believe asking the Supreme Court to make the good faith belief objective was too much to ask for,” Rossi said. “But, unfortunately, they see copyrights as being more important than constitutional rights.”