The major Hollywood studios today said they are escalating their fight against online piracy by pursuing civil and criminal legal actions against the operators of computer servers that help transmit illegally copied movie files across the Internet.
More than 100 people were targeted in an international campaign launched this week, according to officials from the Motion Picture Association of America. The MPAA said that people who download copyrighted movie files were not the targets of its latest legal actions. Instead, the group is targeting individuals who provide key infrastructure services for a new class of sophisticated file-sharing programs developed by three companies -- BitTorrent, eDonkey and Direct Connect.
Representatives of the three companies targeted by the MPAA action could not be reached for comment.
The file-sharing technology offered by BitTorrent and eDonkey can slash the amount of time it takes to download a large digital file by allowing users to grab pieces of the file from hundreds of other users at once. Unlike the widely used Kazaa file-sharing service, which connects individual users, or "peers," to each other directly, the three services targeted in the MPAA sweep are more hierarchical, relying on a handful of tech-savvy users to direct traffic on the networks.
Those users download special software to act "servers" (eDonkey), "trackers" (BitTorrent) or "hubs" (Direct Connect) on the networks, pointing other users in the right direction when they look for a song or movie file.
In many cases, those server operators turn a profit by running advertisements on affiliated web sites or soliciting donations from users to keep the directories going, said John Malcolm, the MPAA official in charge of anti-piracy programs.
"These are particularly tech-savvy people. They have downloaded a special software that the end users don't have and don't need," Malcolm said.
The MPAA, which outlined its actions at a Washington press conference on Tuesday, did not release a lot details about its actions, saying only that individuals on four continents were targeted and that criminal authorities in three European countries -- Finland, France and The Netherlands -- were involved.
Mike Godwin the legal director of Washington-based Public Knowledge, said the real value of the lawsuits for the MPAA may just be in sending the message that they're aware of BitTorrent and related technologies.
"Even if the defendants they've identified fold their tents, or disappear, or end up being judgment-proof because they're in Slovenia or somewhere, the MPAA will still succeed in sending the message that they think BitTorrent file swapping is wrong," Godwin said.