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MPAA Targets Movie Downloaders

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) plans to begin filing copyright theft lawsuits Nov. 16 against users of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks who illegally trade movies over the file-swapping networks.

According to the MPAA, the civil suits will seek damages and injunctive relief. Under the Copyright Act, statutory damages reach up to $30,000 for each separate motion picture illegally copied or distributed over the Internet and as much as $150,000 per picture if the infringement is proven to be willful.

"Filing suit against movie thieves is our latest step in a wide-ranging, multi-pronged, anti-piracy effort, but far from our first," MPAA President and CEO Dan Glickman said at a Los Angeles press conference. "File traders must realize that bad things happen when you steal copyrighted material. These lawsuits are just one of those bad things."

The MPAA said the average number of infringing movie titles traded daily in the United States through P2P networks ranges from 115,000 to 148,000 downloads. The film industry's data says the average downloaded film is 1.35 gigabytes and takes 12 to 18 hours to download. Newer technology, the MPAA claims, can reduce that time to three to six hours.

By contrast, the average music file is three megabytes and can be downloaded from P2P networks in a matter of seconds. Since September 2003, the music industry has been aggressively suing song file-swappers, filing more than 5,000 legal actions.

"The great disparity in time it takes to download a movie as opposed to a song has been one reason the motion picture industry has not yet been as decimated as the recording industry," the MPAA said in a statement. "That distinction is rapidly vanishing. We are taking these actions to try and prevent this illegal activity from becoming mainstream behavior."

Digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge immediately questioned the MPAA's actions, issuing a statement that said the organization "firmly believes that simply bringing lawsuits against individual infringers will not solve the problem of infringing activity over P2P networks."

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said her group acknowledges the potential threat that large-scale, unauthorized file trading of movies may pose, but, "First and foremost, it is crucial that the motion picture industry develop new business models that treat the low cost, ubiquity and speed of the Internet as an opportunity, not a threat."

In its information released today, the MPAA specifically warned P2P networks KaZaa, eDonkey and Gnutella .

"Although lawsuits have not yet been filed against people who illegally make movies available on P2P networks, our outside counsel is collecting evidence regarding individuals who use the Internet to trade illegal digital copies of our member companies' motion pictures," the MPAA statement said.

The MPAA said it is compiling evidence against P2P movie pirates by using an unidentified company to track film theft over the Internet. The company connects to various P2P networks and searches for users offering one or more MPAA member movies. Once the company identifies a P2P user offering movies, it obtains the the user's IP address. When available, the company also captures the user's screen name and examines the user's publicly available directory for other infringing works.

"This is a basic question of what is fair and right. We wish there was a perfect solution. We wish that everything was for free and nobody had to pay anyone," Gil Cates, an official with the Directors Guild of America, said in a statement. "But that is not the world in which films can be made."

In a statement released by the MPAA, Edward Gac, a University of Colorado law professor, said, "Internet theft is like tax evasion. The only way to stop it is to forcefully deter with real legal consequences. Few people cheat on their taxes because they are afraid of being caught and prosecuted."