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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Studios Sue Over Movie File Sharing

3 Jul, 2001 By: Seth Goldstein

Hollywood has had a look at the future and doesn't like what it sees.

Late last month six studios — Disney, MGM, Paramount, Sony, 20th Century Fox and Universal — took legal action in a California federal court to shut down a Napster-like service called Aimster that they say greatly simplifies the task of downloading movies. Time Warner filed a separate complaint in federal court in New York.

Aimster is also under attack from the Recording Industry Association of America, which is trying to stop music file-sharing.

Movie and music plaintiffs argue copyrights are being infringed — blatantly — and are seeking $150,000 per infringed title and a court order prohibiting further movie file sharing. The Aimster peer-to-peer file access system "makes it easy" to download and swap movies "free of charge," according to the California brief filed by the Washington law firm of Williams and Connolly and Jan Norman, an attorney for the Motion Picture Association of America in Encino, Calif.

Hollywood's problem is that Aimster and online ventures like it are harder to kill than crabgrass. In a report entitled "The Copyright Crusade," just issued by consultancy Viant in New York, chief technology officer Andrew Frank estimates that 300,000 to 500,000 feature-length movies are being traded across Internet channels daily. What Frank calls "cryptographically distributed databases" present "a new kind of challenge to copyright owners.

"Like Aimster, they're decentralized, they can prevent identification of their sources and users and they can be built from existing content and infrastructure," Frank says.

The studio complaint alleges defendant John Deep and companies Above Peer and Buddy USA "have adopted encryption technology" to shield infringing activity while keeping customers anonymous. Even significant trafficking remains "largely undetectable," the brief claims, encouraging still more participants unworried about disclosure. Deep was unavailable for comment by press time.

Aimster doesn't lack for business. Deep is quoted as saying the service had 2.5 million registered users in December and 4.2 million in May and that 1 million people a month are downloading Aimster software. That appears to be the hardest task. Once online, "all that users need to do is select the files they want and download to the hard drive." Acquiring files from other users is no more difficult.

Home video is already being affected, the brief maintains. "Aimster users are also illegally distributing copies of plaintiffs' motion pictures that have been released on digital video disc," it states. More likely are on the way, judging from this query posted on the Aimster bulletin board: "I am new to this site and am looking for movies. I have several on DVD to swap (200+)."

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