Taking a cue from recording companies, Hollywood movie studios are preparing to file copyright infringement lawsuits against computer users they say are illegally distributing movies online, a source familiar with the studios' plans said.
The lawsuits will target movie fans who share digitized versions of films over peer-to-peer networks, with the first wave of litigation planned for as early yesterday, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Like the recording industry, which began suing individual music file-sharers last year, the movie studios plan an ongoing litigation campaign, the source said Wednesday.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the major film studios, declined to comment Wednesday. But the organization issued a release saying MPAA president and chief executive Dan Glickman would be making "a major announcement regarding illegal file sharing of motion pictures on peer-to-peer networks" early yesterday.
Studio executives, legislators, filmmakers and union leaders, among others, were scheduled to participate in the news conference, according to the MPAA statement.
The movie studios were still finalizing how many lawsuits would make up their initial filing, but it would probably be around 200 or so, the source said.
Videotaped copies of films in theaters often are digitized or burned off DVDs and then distributed on file-sharing networks that can be accessed with software programs like eDonkey, Kazaa and Grokster.
In the past, the MPAA has said its members were reluctant to take legal action against individual file-sharers. But Glickman, who took over the MPAA in September, has made fighting movie piracy top priority.
The MPAA claims the US movie industry loses more than US$3 billion annually in potential global revenue because of physical piracy, or bogus copies of videos and DVDs of its films.
The MPAA doesn't give an estimate for how much online piracy costs the industry annually, but claims the health of the industry is at stake as the copying and distribution of movies online continues to grow unabated.
While the lawsuit campaign may thwart some computer users from downloading movies online, it's not likely to make much of a dent on file-sharing, according to Fred von Lohmann, a senior intellectual property attorney. Von Lohmann represented software distributor StreamCast in a copyright infringement case against film and recording companies earlier this year.
"This won't do any good," von Lohmann said.
"The recording industry lawsuits don't appear to have reduced file-sharing to any meaningful degree," he said.