June 6, 2002 4:20 PM PDT

MPA shuts down video site Film88.com

Hollywood dodged a second bullet in a burgeoning battle over online film distribution Thursday, quickly shutting down an Iran-based Web site that had sold access to copyrighted films over the Internet for $1 apiece.

Tehran-based Film88.com registered its Web site in April, and the company had briefly operated a video-on-demand site renting a long list of Hollywood hits such as "Star Wars" for viewing on PCs. Though Film88.com was being operated from a country with unfriendly U.S. relations, its content ran from servers based in the Netherlands. The MPA, the international arm of the Motion Picture Association of America, worked with its Internet service provider in the Netherlands to turn the site off. ISPs in the Netherlands recognize international intellectual-property laws.

Film88 is at least the second Internet video-on-demand site to spring up in recent months. The MPA in February worked with the Taiwanese authorities and its hosted ISP to get rid of Movie88.com, which also streamed feature films to consumer desktops for $1 each. This year the association, which represents seven major Hollywood studios, has sent 40,000 letters to ISPs hosting what it deems rogue operators, compared with 50,000 letters for all of last year.

"It was a blatant pirate site," said Mark Litvack, vice president and director of worldwide legal affairs for anti-piracy for the MPA. "We worked with the ISP in the Netherlands, who did what the overwhelming majority of ISPs do, and prevented piracy from continuing on their service."

The association sent a letter in the last day to Netherlands-based ISP TrueServer, and the site went dark some time Thursday, European time, Litvack said. TrueServer and Film88 could not be immediately reached for comment. But according to a note on Film88, the site is down because of technical problems.

The Film88 site says it will be back, according to its site. "We will be back online soonest (SIC) possible. Regards, Film88."

While only short-lived, Film88 underscores the growing threat of cross-border Internet video distribution for movie studios. It also may suggest a ray of hope for movie studios determined to shut down unauthorized operators in foreign countries. Countries that do not recognize copyright laws in many cases have only rudimentary communications infrastructure, making it difficult to host high-grade services locally.

International relations appeared to be a sticky matter in enforcing U.S. laws with a site based in Iran, which President Bush cordoned off into an "Axis of Evil" in his State of the Union address this year. The MPA's Litvack said he has not worked with an ISP on anti-piracy measures in Iran to date.

However, because Film88 streamed movies from servers based in the Netherlands, the MPA found a way to prevent pirating of its members' content.

"The ISP worked quickly with us, and we're appreciative of their actions here. It shows the importance of international cooperation and respect for the law," Litvack said.

Film88 operated on a video-store model, letting people stream movies for three days in return for a payment of $1 to $1.50. The movies, which included top releases such as "The Scorpion King," could not be saved to a hard drive or downloaded.

Glenn Pitcher, a system administrator who previously worked for content delivery company Akamai, said that it's common in the streaming media business to distribute content among various servers to enhance performance and delivery to users. He said that an Iran-based company would be a likely candidate for using alternative ISPs.

"The reason they went to the Netherlands is because it would be nearly impossible to deliver streaming media out of Iran just because the Internet connectivity in most of the poor Middle Eastern countries is not very good."

 

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