Hollywood's major movie studios started production on their latest epic today, a remake of the recording industry's aggressive legal campaign to stop the illegal trading of copyrighted works on the Internet. The lawsuits, filed against hundreds of people suspected of trading movies online, are a first for the studios and are paired with an ambitious public education effort aimed at curtailing online piracy before it makes a significant dent in the film industry's bottom line.
The lawsuits, which could seek up to $150,000 in damages for each film illegally copied, are the first of their kind to be filed by the movie industry. Motion Picture Association of America President Dan Glickman first signaled the lawsuits two weeks ago when he said that the studios would sue approximately 200 people suspected of illegally trading movies online.
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"The future of our industry, and of the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports, must be protected from this kind of outright theft using all available means," Glickman said in a release issued today.
The lawsuits were filed in federal courts across the country by Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, Universal, Fox, Paramount and Sony, said MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor. Taylor declined to say exactly how many suits the studios filed or where they filed them.
As in the case with the anti-piracy campaign launched last year by the Recording Industry Association of America, the movie studios are filing the suits without knowing the names of the suspected pirates. Instead, the studios filed "John Doe" suits that cite unique Internet addresses. Once a judge takes the cases, the studios will subpoena the Internet service providers associated with the addresses to obtain the names of their owners.
RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol called the studio action a "common-sense, prudent step."
"While we have all sought to educate fans about the laws and the impact of illegal downloading, education alone is not the answer," Bainwol said in a statement released today. "Deterrence is an essential piece of the larger strategy."
The lawsuits are unpopular among civil liberties advocates, who have urged alternate solutions to Internet piracy.
"I wish they would think more about how they're going to sell movies than how they're going to sue people," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties group that wants the entertainment industry to develop alternate business models to suit the needs of 21st-century technology.
Philip Corwin, a partner at Washington lobbying firm Butera and Andrews and the senior lobbyist for the company that owns the Kazaa file-sharing service, called the lawsuits "disappointing."