Mirroring the recording industry's efforts against illegal online music swapping, the Motion Picture Association of America has declared war on the increasing number of pirates who engage in illegal movie and video trading.
The MPAA--the organization that represents the studios--has developed special software to search the Web and file-sharing networks and identify copyrighted movies. So far, the MPAA has issued more than 100,000 legal notices to Internet service providers ordering them to take "immediate action" against Netizens unlawfully downloading films.
As a result, ISPs not wanting to be on the business end of an MPAA lawsuit have either forced users to halt downloading big files or, in many cases, have cut off offenders' access altogether. MPAA chief Jack Valenti says the crackdown was justified.
"According to Viant, a Boston-based consulting film, some 400,000 to 600,000 films are illegally downloaded every day. The protection of creative works in the digital environment is an issue of great importance, not solely to Hollywood, but to consumers who desire online movies at a fair and reasonable price," Valenti tells E! Online. "We are anxious to provide such services but it is imperative that some basic security exists to provide protection for high valuable digital works in the online environment."
Larger than the average MP3 song file, movie files tend to average more than 600 megabytes and take at least eight hours to download--a weakness the MPAA and studios hope to exploit.
For instance, AOL Time Warner--whose subsidiaries include the Warner Bros. studio and Warner Music Group--is clamping down on movie piracy through its AOL Time Warner Cable, which provides high-speed broadband access. The cable division has begun identifying and blocking those users on its service who transfer huge amounts of data.
Of course, the losers in this whole gambit may be those people trading large digital files of their own creations and not pirating the latest copy of The Matrix or A.I..
But that hardly seems to bother Time Warner, whose reps claim the company adopted the plan to halt the hogging of bandwidth , and not necessarily to crack down on pirating.
"We are not blocking the use of any applications or access to any Websites," Mark Harrad, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable, explains to the Associated Press. "But we are doing various things to manage bandwidth better and to interfere with people who are in violation of [their] service agreements."
There have been some casualties in the early goings, however.
InternetMovies.com, a movie news Website based in Hawaii, is suing the MPAA after it was forced to temporarily shut down after receiving legal threats accusing it of digital piracy.
"All of us at InternetMovies.com are sorry, MPAA, that you are going through hard times with movie piracy on the Internet, but harassing this Website does not make you any better. We talk about good things too, like ways to solve your problems and non-infringing movie sites," the site's publisher writes on its home page.
Meanwhile, the recording and film industries are also taking their fight to Congress.
This week, Representative Howard Berman introduced a bill that would give entertainment companies the ability to fight online pirates with an array of high-tech weapons, including fake files, blocking software and programs that can search and delete copyrighted material on a downloader's hard drive. (The California Democrat is the House's single largest recipient of political donations from the entertainment industry, according to the Associated Press.)
A similar beat-pirates-at-their-own-game strategy was used by Universal's Interscope Records last month. Worried about a proliferation of bootlegged copies of Eminem's new album, The Eminem Show, the label flooded music-swapping sites with song files that contained incomplete tracks. It became difficult for online traders to tell the differences between the bogus files and the real deal.
Such tactics will also help battle overseas' pirates, who have an easier time escaping U.S. and international copyright police.
For now, however, the low-tech approach seems to be working for the MPAA. According to Ken Jacobsen, the group's senior vice president of worldwide antipiracy, most users have complied with the cease-and-desist letters, and almost all ISPs have cooperated in the investigation, not only because they fear the wrath of the MPAA's cadre of attorneys, but they also want users to stop hogging bandwidth.
But Jacobsen acknowledges that if the MPAA and movie studios don't act quickly to get a handle on the piracy problem now, it could spiral out of their control to the point where billions in revenue off their copyright works could be lost.
"Our industry," he tells the Associated Press, "could be damaged as much as the music industry."