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MPAA Sues Alleged Pirates Selling on eBay

6 Mar, 2003 By: Joan Villa

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has filed civil actions against a dozen “repeat offenders” caught selling illegal copies of the latest movies on Internet auction site eBay.

The cases represent an “exploding level” of Web piracy, the MPAA said, and involve more than 50 pre-video titles such as Universal's 8 Mile and Red Dragon, MGM's Die Another Day and Warner's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The action joins nine other cases brought in December — and later settled — by the MPAA and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) of technology companies such as Adobe, Microsoft and Apple, according to MPAA director of worldwide Internet enforcement Tom Temple.

An eBay spokesman told the Wall Street Journal eBay is working with the studios to remove pirated materials from its site.

Although the latest batch of sellers was based in the United States, their videos appear to be camcorder copies taken in movie theaters and smuggled out of Southeast Asia — a region where piracy has been rampant, he said. Although the MPAA has encountered illegal online copies of screener tapes or DVDs originally distributed for Academy Award consideration, these “award screeners” were not the culprit in these cases, he said.

“The sellers that we went up against were in fact selling camcorded, unauthorized, pirated discs,” Temple said. The high-volume offenders had sold multiple items in the past, he said, and were caught as a result of the MPAA's regular monitoring of the Web.

However, as more consumers venture online and visit auction sites, they are growing more aware of the problem and are actively reporting pirated videos to the MPAA's hotline number (1-800-NO-COPYS or hotline@mpaa.org), he added. On eBay, disappointed consumers can also “rate” a seller and list problems that will tip off others to beware of pirated copies, which are generally much lower quality than a DVD, Temple said.

“[Our] actions are directed against sellers of pirated material because they're hurting consumers,” he said. “The numbers are increasing as people are growing more familiar with shopping online, and eBay, too, is a huge and growing business concern. So what we're trying to do is make sure movie piracy is not prolific online.”

For its part, eBay has cooperated with MPAA efforts to stamp out auction piracy the association says has doubled in the past year. The MPAA and BSA suggest buyers be especially cautious of titles that are “too new to be true” or at extremely low prices that might indicate piracy.

“If very recent titles are being sold on an auction or other online retail site, they are most likely pirated,” the association warned.

Also, keep a receipt of the purchase with a confirmation order number, and when videos arrive, check labels and packaging to detect product that is not genuine or lacks original artwork or studio information, the MPAA advised.

Internet mail-order piracy is a serious threat to the computer industry as well, according to the BSA, which estimates software publishers lose $11 billion in worldwide sales each year.

“Consumers of software programs have long been at risk of acquiring pirated products at flea markets and other retail outlets,” said BSA's Bob Kruger, VP of enforcement, in announcing the case filings. ”Now they need to watch out for spam offers and online vendors at otherwise reputable Internet sites such as eBay. The actions we have filed today are aimed at signaling vendors that selling pirated software online is asking for a lawsuit.”

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