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MPAA sounds lawsuit alarm

Org cues up suits to fight bootleggers

Here come the lawsuits.

Ending months of speculation, the Motion Picture Assn. of America is set to announce today that it will follow the music industry’s lead and start filing civil suits against individual movie downloaders.

Several sources said the suits will be announced at an antipiracy news conference MPAA topper Dan Glickman is leading today at UCLA.

MPAA reps wouldn’t comment on their plans, but sources indicated the initial round of lawsuits could number in the hundreds.

Joining Glickman will be officials from major studios and the guilds, along with educators, filmmakers and a representative of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office.

Move comes less than three months after the departure of longtime MPAA chief Jack Valenti, who was said to have resisted making lawsuits aimed at consumers his last act.

The strategy has been a hot topic within MPAA for months, however, and was the subject of several high-level meetings among Valenti and the studio chiefs before Valenti’s final curtain call (Daily Variety, April 1).

Ad campaign

The studio org began softening up consumers in June with a series of ads in major newspapers and theaters warning of substantial financial penalties for downloading without permission.

Working in concert with law enforcement authorities, the film biz has already started to crack down on pirates. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently came to Los Angeles to reveal a federal government initiative to crack down on piracy. Its provisions include increased enforcement and proposals for legislation the MPAA has been pushing (Daily Variety, Oct. 12).

Suing individuals is sure to be a controversial move that will raise the ire of civil liberties activists and other members of the public. The Recording Industry Assn. of America has sued more than 4,000 people so far and has succeeded in raising awareness about the legal perils of downloading.

Suits may not work

But recent studies show that activity on peer-to-peer networks has not significantly declined.

“Lawsuits against file-sharers don’t appear to do any good,” said Fred Von Lohmann, a staff attorney at cyber-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And movie studios are fantastically successful right now. There’s no evidence that file-sharing is hurting their bottom line.”

The first round of RIAA suits last year drew some particularly bad press when several of the targets were revealed to be young children.

The MPAA estimates that bootleg DVD piracy costs the industry more than $3.5 billion a year and claims much of it is transmitted via P2P networks.

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