Hollywood studios sue China Web site, cafe over piracy

A lawsuit brought by Hollywood studios against Chinese online video provider Jeboo.com and a Shanghai Internet cafe could soon be heard in court

Major Hollywood studios fighting pirates over "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest" and other films illegally made available for download could soon have their day in court.

A lawsuit filed on September 28 will be heard in Shanghai's No. 2. Intermediate Court on November 29, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.

The suit pits Twentieth Century Fox International, Walt Disney International, Universal International, Paramount Pictures and Sony's Columbia Pictures against a Beijing-based online film and television content provider, Jeboo.com, and a Shanghai Internet cafe, said Frank Rittman, Asia-Pacific regional legal counsel of the Motion Picture Association International (MPA), which is coordinating the litigation in China.

A police inspection found Shanghai East Cyber Cafe to be facilitating unlicensed viewing of 13 MPA member films via Jeboo, including "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest," "Click," and "Hitch," according to the MPA. The MPA did not say when the inspection took place.

"Internet cafes are a pretty significant source of piracy in China," said Rittman, citing a June 2006 report by China-based research firm CCIDNet, affiliated with the Ministry of Information Industry. The report said that Internet cafes are the primary point of connection for 29.5 percent of Chinese Internet users, and that 76 percent of those users watch movies at the cafes.

One way that Chinese Internet users can watch movies is using Jeboo's entertainment bar, a software application, Rittman said. "Jeboo is a fairly big player. What they do is provide the entertainment bar to their customers. They're a pretty significant player, and cafes are a significant source of piracy," he said.

The five studios bringing the suit are seeking 3.2 million yuan (AU$492,593) in damages and legal costs, Rittman said, and are seeking to send the message that Internet cafes and content providers "risk litigation if they engage in piracy."

A Jeboo.com representative did not return a telephone call requesting comment on the suit. The Internet cafe could not be reached for comment.

The MPA estimates that major Hollywood studios lost US$2.7 billion in 2005 in sales they would have generated via the box office, home video, and elsewhere if pirated products were not available.

However, a recent paper questioned the MPA's figures, and said that the MPA is pointing the finger at foreign countries, specifically developing nations, for piracy. The U.K., Spain, France, Mexico, and the U.S. are the greatest per-capita culprits for piracy in terms of lost revenue, according to that report.

Some Chinese film fans downloading unauthorized copies of the Ang Lee film "Lust, Caution" this week received a bit of retribution: malware. A Beijing-based antivirus company estimated 15 percent of available online copies of the film were giving users either viruses along with the film, or Trojan horses loaded with dozens of viruses.

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