Hollywood have enlisted the help of the FBI and the US secret
service to bring in the heavy legal guns to sink what they see as a new form of piracy
that they claim is changing the face of the movie industry.
The film and television business is gearing up for battle in the same way that the
music industry closed ranks against Napster, the site which allowed users to swap music
online and in doing so, according to the music business, affected the market so
drastically that last year the sales of CDs dropped for the first time in a decade.
Napster lost its court fight with the music establishment last year; now the industry is
seeking to blow some other upstarts out of the water.
Around 11m Americans are now swapping television programmes and films online and are
downloading an estimated 350,000 movies from the internet every day. In response to a
potential loss of billions of dollars, the industry is seeking to use the law to close the
On March 5, in Los Angeles federal district court, the Motion Picture Association of
America, which represents all the main studios, launches the first in a series of actions.
The MPAA suit launched against MusicCity and others for copyright infringement, describes
the services offered as a "21st century piratical bazaar where the unlawful exchange
of protected materials takes place across the vast expanses of the internet".
Those named in the action are MusicCity.com, MusicCity Networks, which runs on the
market-leading Morpheus file-sharing software, Grokster, LTD, and Consumer Empowerment BV,
also known as FastTrack, which operates the KaZaA service. Yesterday a spokeswoman for the
MPAA confirmed that all their legal actions were going ahead.
MusicCity is alleged to have operated a Napster-like service providing users with
movies, television programmes and music, offering such recent films as Legally Blonde,
Planet of the Apes and The Princess Diaries. The entire catalogue of hit TV shows such as
Sex and the City and the Sopranos, which viewers would be able to see only after paying a
monthly subscription to cable channel, HBO, are available online for free. Launched 10
months ago after the demise of Napster, MusicCity's Morpheus software has become the most
popular download on the internet, averaging more than 1m new downloads a week.
The huge explosion in pirate download services is a major embarrassment to the
entertainment industry, which has ploughed more than $4bn in a desperate attempt to
outflank the pirates by building the infrastructure to offer consumers legitimate digital
content online. But these efforts have proved expensive flops, failing to tempt consumers
away from free pirate services.
An independent report for the industry this month revealed the extent to which pirated
films are swirling about cyberspace. Over a five-day period on the KaZaA network, for
example, researchers for OC&C Strategy Consultants found 7,500 copies of The Fast and
the Furious, 3,600 copies of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and 3,100 copies of Fight Club
all available for free download.
To add to the industry's woes, a controversial new device called ReplayTV 4000 allows
users to record their favourite shows in digital format directly from their televisions.
These files can then be sent over the net to other Replay owners, while some users
transferred them onto their PCs and made them available through the pirate services. The
makers of Replay are now in the MPAA's legal firing line.