MPAA to start filing movie-swapping lawsuits

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) will begin suing online file-traders this month, pursuing a strategy similar to one employed by the recording industry during the past year.

The MPAA's member companies will begin suing people who have swapped digital movie files starting Nov. 16, the MPAA announced Thursday. The MPAA will find people who distribute movies on peer-to-peer (P-to-P) by identifying them through their IP (Internet Protocol) addresses on those P-to-P services, according to the trade group.

The MPAA did not disclose Thursday how many people it plans to sue this month. The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 6,200 lawsuits against alleged traders of music files since September 2003.

Dan Glickman, the MPAA's president and chief executive officer, called unauthorized file-trading the "greatest threat" to the profits of the movie industry in its 110-year history.

"People who have been stealing our movies believe they are anonymous on the Internet, and wouldn't be held responsible for their actions," Glickman said in a statement. "They are wrong. We know who they are, and we will go after them, as these suits will prove."

The MPAA lined up support from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America. In a statement, he called for people to use the Internet "responsibly and ethically."

The lawsuits to be filed will seek orders to stop file trading and also will ask for monetary damages, according to the MPAA. Under the U.S. Copyright Act, the MPAA can seek damages of up to US$30,000 for each movie distributed, or up to $150,000 if the copyright infringement is proven to be willful.

Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group focusing on intellectual property law, encouraged the MPAA to pursue only "strategically targeted, appropriate legal action."

"Public Knowledge also firmly believes that simply bringing lawsuits against individual infringers will not solve the problem of infringing activity over P-to-P networks," Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said in a statement. "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."

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a civil liberties advocacy group, called on the MPAA to pursue reasonable settlements, to focus only on "egregious" infringers and to step up alternatives to lawsuits, including public education efforts. CDT Associate Director Alan Davidson, in a statement, called the lawsuits "an unfortunate, but appropriate, part of protecting artists in the digital age."

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