MPA wins pair of China piracy cases

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BEIJING -- Nasdaq-listed Web portal Sohu.com and a repeat seller of pirated DVDs, Di Kai AV Products Co., have been found guilty of copyright infringement by courts in Beijing and Shanghai, the Motion Picture Assn. said Friday.

Judge Yi Jun of the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court ruled Wednesday that Beijing Sohu Internet Information Service Co. Ltd. must pay 1,085,000 yuan ($138,850) in costs and damages, publish an acknowledgement of its infringements, and pledge to refrain from future piracy, the MPA said in a statement.

The subsidiary of one of China's most popular Web portals, www.sohu.com, was found guilty of posting digital files of such films as "The Day After Tomorrow" and "The Lord of the Rings" without the consent of the copyright owners, five Hollywood studios.

A spokesperson for Beijing-based Sohu declined comment.

In a separate decision on Dec. 22, Shanghai's No. 2 Intermediate People's Court ordered the Di Kai AV Products Co.'s DVD retail outlet in Shanghai, located in the city's central business district, to cease illegal sales of pirated movies and pay 177,752 yuan ($22,746) in costs and damages to six MPA member company plaintiffs.

In addition, the court ordered Di Kai to pay 50,000 yuan ($6,398), for repeatedly flouting Chinese copyright law.

"The Shanghai Di Kai AV Products Co. repeatedly demonstrated contempt for China's laws through its unauthorized and unlawful sale of MPA member company movies," Mike Ellis, MPA senior vp and Asia Pacific regional director, said in a statement. "This ruling by the court supports the government's effort to educate people that respect for copyright is important, and that there is a price to pay for copyright infringement."

Highlighting another problem Hollywood faces in China, five of the 10 films offered for illegal download on Sohu were never exhibited theatrically in China, a fact that amplifies the losses to online piracy since the government in Beijing limits the number of overseas films that may be shown in China's movie theaters each year.

The lawsuit against Sohu, coordinated by the MPA, was filed in August following the MPA's 2004 discovery of several of its member companies' films among the more than 100 titles offered by Sohu under a monthly subscription arrangement.

With approximately 100 million registered users, Sohu.com is one of the three largest Web sites in China.

The MPA and its member companies maintain active litigation programs in many countries. The MPA has concluded more than 15 civil actions in China, all of which were settled or judged in favor of member company plaintiffs, the organization said.

Though all were settled in favor of the MPA members, one recent case highlights the uphill battle the group sometimes faces in China.

Though a defendant in the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court was found guilty of selling pirated DVDs and ordered to pay costs and damages, the court tried the defendant in absentia, making it difficult, if not impossible, court officials said, for the plaintiffs to recoup their losses and the MPA to recoup its costs (HR 12/20).
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