MPAA to sue for movie file sharing

by Jessica Chen | 11/11/04 6:00am

Dartmouth students who share movies over the Internet now have a reason to exercise the same caution trading films as they do music files. Next Tuesday, the Motion Picture Association of America will begin filing lawsuits against those who illegally share movies online.

In doing so, the movie industry is set to follow in the footsteps of the Recording Industry Association of America, which has sued over 6,000 individuals, including many college students, since September 2003. Ninety of the suits have been settled for an average of $3,000 each.

The MPAA's threat of lawsuits, which could fine violators up to $150,000 for each willful infringement of the copyright law, has the College worried. Students received a BlitzMail message from Provost Barry Scherr warning them against movie file sharing, and College General Counsel Bob Donin said he expects serious fallout if the MPAA files suits as aggressively as the RIAA has done.

"Based on that, you could consider what might happen if the movie industry takes a similar approach," Donin said.

Although no criminal suits have yet been filed, illegal file sharers can also be subject to government prosecution in addition to the MPAA suits. If convicted, offenders can receive up to a three-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. In August, the federal Justice Department stepped into the arena, raiding five homes throughout the country and confiscating computers, software and other related equipment.

There have been no civil suits filed to date against Dartmouth students for sharing either movie or music files, Donin said, although Computing Services receives about 25 "take-down" notices from various industries each month, requesting users on the Dartmouth network to cease illegal file sharing.

Dartmouth students who host servers for illegal file sharing face similar ramifications to those who share illegal files. Dartmouth has already had to instruct several students to discontinue using their servers to distribute copyrighted material, Donin said.

Although the movie industry has so far attempted to stay away from lawsuits, MPAA President and CEO Dan Glickman said in a Nov. 4 news conference in Los Angeles that it has no other way to prevent illegal activity.

"Illegal movie trafficking represents the greatest threat to the economic basis of movie-making in its 110-year history," he said at the conference. "This was not an easy decision, but it must be done now before illegal online file sharing of movies spins out of control."

Kiewit Computing Services has also put "rate limiting" in place on the Dartmouth network, which caps individual use of the network in order to maintain enough bandwidth for all other users, said Robert Johnson of Network Services.

During peak hours, the rate limiting deters online file sharing on campus, although when the network is not busy, users can share files easily.

"We ensure the critical information gets through," Johnson said, "so when network traffic gets crowded, activities such as file sharing would drop down in priority."

Network Services did not want to completely block online file transfers, since there are many instances for legitimate file sharing, Johnson said.

The MPAA works with a company specializing in tracking illegal file sharing online to determine which Internet protocol addresses -- distinct identifications for any computer connected to the Internet -- have been sharing files illegally.

This company then connects to popular peer-to-peer networks, and searches for movies owned by members of the MPAA that are being shared by a particular user. The company is then able to determine the IP address of the user using a commercial software program. MPAA attorneys can then legally attain users names through their Internet service providers and may choose to file lawsuits against these individuals.

The MPAA website now provides several legal movie download alternatives, including CinemaNow.com, MovieFlix and Movielink.com.

Donin urged students to take advantage of these alternatives.

"I would encourage people to consider legal methods for downloading music and movies," he said.