Inside Move: MPAA suiting up

Pic piracy fight gets personal

Hollywood studios have seen the future, and it looks a lot like 2001 in the music biz.

The studios fear that movie file-swapping will reach the epidemic proportions that have contributed to the music biz’s declining fortunes. Now film execs plan to follow their music counterparts into the courtroom — but some in Hollywood doubt whether this is the logical next step.

Three years ago, Napster and other song-swappers opened the door to illegal downloading of music files. The RIAA is still doing damage control, unleashing more than 300 lawsuits in the last year against individual music swappers in an attempt to rein in illegal downloads and send a warning message.

Their efforts have been upheld by U.S. courts, but similar pursuits by the Canadian Recording Industry Assn. hit a major roadblock last week when a Canuck judge ruled that music file-shared on the Internet is, in fact, legal there.

Still, Hollywood studios aren’t waiting for pic downloaders to get a toehold as advances in technology make movie file-swapping easier. After a March 29 meeting, the seven MPAA members (including a reluctant Disney) are mulling suits vs. individuals who are swapping films online.

Because professional pirates are getting so slick — and prevalent — some wonder if the studios are putting their energies in the right direction.

And there are PR considerations. The MPAA’s current anti-piracy message, as seen in bigscreen PSAs — “Your piracy is hurting the little guys” — currently draws hoots of derision from teens and twentysomethings. A legal get-tough policy may escalate their scorn to anger — and increase their disregard of the law.

Hollywood will have to be careful to counter the image of Hollywood cops busting a dorm room of some “harmless” kid.

Record labels have witnessed a 26 % decline in CD sales in the past four years and Hollywood wants to avoid that fate.

“They’ve tried everything,” one knowledgeable insider says. “The studios don’t want to look back three years down the line and say we should have been more aggressive.”

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