MPAA to begin suing students for trading movies online



Students who swap bootleg movies online may soon receive summonses from the Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA President and CEO Dan Glickman said Thursday.

The MPAA plans to file its first of an estimated 200 lawsuits Nov. 16 against students and other individuals suspected of trading illegal copies of movies over the Internet, Glickman told reporters in a conference call from Los Angeles. He said the lawsuits will seek orders to stop file-trading and to collect monetary damages.

Under the U.S. Copyright Act, the MPAA can seek damages of up to $30,000 for each movie distributed online, or up to $150,000 if the defendants are convicted of willful copyright infringement.

“This is not an easy decision to make, but we fear the changing technology of broadband,” said Glickman, who served in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet as secretary of agriculture. “Piracy left unpunished has the great potential of really inhibiting new works of art — we need to do a much better job of talking with college students all across the country.”

The MPAA’s lawsuits will address intellectual property issues similar to some 6,000 suits the Recording Industry Association of America has filed against individual file-sharers since September 2003. Students at universities in 34 states have been named defendants in RIAA lawsuits, but University Information Security Officer Morrow Long said Yale students are not among them.

Long said the RIAA has sent Yale several Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices and general complaints, but has not sued any students. He said the University’s internal reporting system, accessible via Yale’s Web site, is manageable and has uncovered few serious transgressions.

“We still handle them manually because we only get one or two a day,” Long said. “We look up the IP address, and it’s usually a student. We send them an e-mail explaining what they need to do, and we send a receipt to the recording company to let them know when the material has been removed, though we don’t tell them the student’s name — it’s basically a blind procedure.”

A first offense is brought to the attention of the student’s residential college dean and master, but a second complaint requires their signatures on a letter from the student declaring the removal of the infringing material, Long said. A third offense would result in the termination of the student’s network privileges, but there has only been one such offender since the policy was instituted, he said.

While the RIAA lawsuits have provided precedents for the MPAA’s new campaign, the music industry suffered a setback last month when U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe ruled that alleged file-sharers must be notified of any charges against them and of their legal rights before their Internet service provider gives any of their personal information to the recording industry.

Aden Fine, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, hailed Rufe’s ruling as a positive step for individual rights, but said the judgment is only a binding precedent in the Eastern Pennsylvania district. Still, Fine said privacy advocates hope to extend the ruling to other jurisdictions and other media.

“Hopefully the movie industry will follow the same process,” Fine said. “The very same issues are going to be raised in both contexts. Whether it’s someone downloading music or movies, their individual rights need to be protected.”

Despite the ruling, the RIAA announced last week it had filed 213 new lawsuits against individual defendants and 750 new “John Doe” litigations that would require information gathered via subpoenas.

MPAA General Counsel Simon Barsky said the privacy of file-sharers, who have committed criminal offenses, should bear little weight.

“When you’re illegally trafficking movies on the Internet, you’re not anonymous,” Barsky said.

But Yale students need not worry about the University handing their names over to the industries, Long said.

“We haven’t given up identities based on IP addresses,” he said. “We’re fairly careful to guard students’ privacy.”

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