November 4, 2004 2:38 PM PST

Hollywood lawsuits to strike Net pirates

update Hollywood studios are about to take the long-anticipated step of firing a barrage of lawsuits at some of the most prolific Internet pirates, echoing the legal strategy that the recording industry already has used with limited success.

The civil lawsuits, which will be filed against individual movie file-swappers starting Nov. 16, represent a kind of legal escalation for an industry that fears its films eventually may be shared on the Internet as widely as songs are today.

"Illegal movie trafficking represents the greatest threat to the economic basis of moviemaking in its 110-year history," Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement released Thursday after a press conference in Los Angeles.

In a follow-up telephone interview, Glickman said he was not prepared to divulge which file-swapping networks would be targeted in the first round of lawsuits. Literature the MPAA distributed lists Kazaa, eDonkey and Gnutella as examples of networks where "illegal digital copies of our member companies' motion pictures" are being traded.

Glickman also would not say whether movie downloaders would be sued, or only those people who make movies available in their shared folders. "We are targeting folks who illegally traffic in these materials," he said. "I'm not going to be more specific."

Until now, the MPAA's member companies were content with a campaign that pressured universities to curb peer-to-peer piracy, sought new laws from Congress, targeted operators of peer-to-peer networks with civil lawsuits, and tried to convince members of the public to visit the RespectCopyrights.org Web site.

But the MPAA's initial legal strategy ran aground in August when a federal appeals court ruled that peer-to-peer network operators such as Grokster and StreamCast Networks--which runs Morpheus--could not be held liable for what individual users do. That landmark decision, coupled with the rapid adoption of broadband connections, appears to have prompted the MPAA to target individual users.

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