Hollywood studios have expanded their legal assault on online film piracy, saying they will go after anyone who illegally downloads movies from the internet.
Starting on 16 November, the studios will follow the music industry's suit and begin filing copyright infringement lawsuits against people who trade pirated films on the web, the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA) said on Thursday.
The renewed crackdown on copyright theft will target any individual who deals in illegally copied cinema products on file-swapping networks, as well as the pirates themselves.
"People who have been stealing our movies believe they are anonymous on the internet, and wouldn't be held responsible for their actions," said Dan Glickman, the new president of the MPAA, the studios' powerful lobby group.
"They are wrong. We know who they are, and we will go after them, as these suits will prove," he said unveiling the aggressive new move at a press conference in Los Angeles.
Many lawsuits expected
Officials said the expanded targeting of individual file-swappers could generate hundreds of lawsuits a month.
Studios will file suit against individual file-swappers across the United States starting on 16 November, seeking damages and injunctions against suspected offenders who will be traced via their internet addresses.
To get the defendants' real names, the studios must subpoena internet service providers - something the recording industry has also been forced to do in its lawsuits against suspected pirates.
"We know who they are, and we will go after them, as these suits will prove"
Under the US Copyright Act, damages range from $30,000 for each movie illegally copied or distributed over the internet, to $150,000 per film if the infringements are deemed to be willful.
Industry survival endangered
The attack on individual traders in pirated movies comes as the industry battles to balance the huge money-making potential of new technology with the danger it poses to the industry's survival.
The MPAA cited a US government report that indicates counterfeit goods, including pirated movies, cost the US economy up to $250 billion a year.
The group, which represents the seven major Hollywood film studios, estimated that hard copies of pirated movies cost the industry around $3.5 billion annually, a figure that does not take into account the losses from hundreds of thousands of illegal internet downloads swapped each day.
Pirated movies cost the industry
around $3.5 billion annually
Major record labels began suing individual users of file-sharing networks in September 2003 over music downloads in a bid to stem free downloading of artists' work.
That barrage of suits followed a ruling by a judge in Los Angeles under which two popular networks were not liable for the conduct of their users.
Glickman stressed in his speech that the offensive was not aimed at blocking crucial new technology, but was instead intended to target widespread thievery.
"We cannot allow illegal trafficking to derail legitimate new technologies that provide consumers with affordable, convenient access to high-quality movies on the web.
"Trading a digital file of a movie online without paying its owners is no different than walking into a store and shoplifting a DVD," he said.