The Motion Picture Association of America said Thursday that it will start filing civil suits against individuals illegally swapping movie files over the Internet.
Beginning Nov. 16, it will seek damages and injunctive relief under the Copyright Act. Damages could be as much as $150,000 per film if the violation is found to be "willful."
The music industry took the same route in trying to stop the illegal music downloads that have "decimated" that industry.
Saying that the group is not targeting legal downloads or digital distribution, which it says it recognizes as the "wave of the future," new MPAA President Dan Glickman said the industry "cannot allow illegal trafficking to derail legitimate new technologies." Glickman said that people currently "stealing our movies believe they are anonymous... they are wrong. We know who they are, and we will go after them, as these suits will prove."
Just last week, Bob Wright, the dean of network chiefs, one of the industry's highest profile spokesmen, who oversees the NBC Universal studio among many other businesses, put the issue of digital piracy at the top of his agenda.
He labeled unrestricted digital copying as a threat to a $1.25 trillion business--television, movies, publishing and software--"whose capital is composed almost entirely of intellectual property," as well as the sectors that support those industries or depend on them.
Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, which advocates fair-use copying rights, did not oppose the move, saying the group "acknowledges the potential threat that large scale unauthorized file trading of movies may pose, and has encouraged the motion picture industry to protect its copyrights by pursuing strategically targeted, appropriate legal action against actual infringers, particularly in the case of pre-release films."
But she also said lawsuits won't solve the problem, arguing for "limited, self-help measures, and balanced public education."
Glickman announced the suits at the UCLA film school. He has a big ally of the governor of that state, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently signed into law a bill making it illegal to trade movies over the 'net without identifying the trader's e-mail address.