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Reeling in pic pirates

MPAA outlines plan to sue film file-sharers

A correction was made to this article on Nov. 5, 2004.

Declaring piracy “the greatest threat to the economic basis of movie-making in its 110 year-history,” MPAA topper Dan Glickman officially declared Thursday that the member studios would soon begin filing lawsuits against those who illegally trade movies online.

Announcement came at a press conference at UCLA where Glickman was joined by reps from the guilds and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office.

Glickman wouldn’t reveal how many alleged pirates will be targeted in the first round of lawsuits but said they’ll begin in late November and that, as with the RIAA, more suits will continue.

Industrywide support

Among those expressing support for the decision were the DGA, WGA, SAG, IATSE, Video Software Dealers Assn., Schwarzenegger and the Independent Film and Television Alliance.

Press conference marked the first major public move by Glickman, who took the MPAA’s reins from Jack Valenti just eight weeks ago.

“Generally speaking, the decision had been made when I came on board,” he told Daily Variety after the event. “I re-evaluated the direction, though, and did a lot of work on this.”

Posting intent

Event featured several new posters the MPAA will use as part of its antipiracy campaign. They present a more threatening tone than previous ads, warning pirates, “You can click, but you can’t hide.”

Org emphasized it will continue its education efforts and outreach to universities to generate support for the antipiracy agenda among students and the general public.

With very few lawsuits likely to be filed in proportion to the number of people illegally downloading movies, Glickman admitted the new strategy is intended primarily to draw attention to the problem.

“The longer-term question is the awareness of the suits,” he said when asked about the success of the RIAA’s lawsuits. “They have had an impact among young people.”

Internal studies have shown the RIAA’s lawsuits have generated significant increases in the number of people aware online piracy is illegal, although there’s no evidence it has decreased activity on P2P networks.

No physical plan

While the primary threat studios face now is from physical piracy, MPAA believes online piracy will quickly grow to become a large problem and that the Internet is used in some cases to transmit files that end up as bootleg DVDs.

Experts questioned, however, whether cracking down on file-swapping would make a dent in the physical piracy problem, which the MPAA estimates costs its members $3.5 billion per year.

“Ultimately, you’ll never be able to stop people from sending one piece of information from a theater in New York to a pirate in China,” said Carter Laren, senior software architect at content protection technology company Cryptography Research.

Digital backdrop

Announcement was made at the same time the Billboard Digital Entertainment Conference was taking place at UCLA. Present for the event were several representatives from the peer-to-peer industry, who expressed discouragement that studios had decided to sue illegal downloaders rather than provide legal content over P2P.

“This is a disappointment,” said Marty Lafferty, CEO of the trade org Distributed Computing Industry Assn. “I wish the studios would work with us to provide consumers positive alternatives.”

Killer apps

Several companies are showing off applications at the conference that they believe will allow studios or labels to sell legitimate content over P2P networks — a move major entertainment companies have thus far resisted.

Glickman took pains to note, however, that he hopes to improve the MPAA’s relations with the technology community by reaching out in a number of ways. Indeed, he will attend this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

“Change is happening and there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” he said.

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