Studios sue Chinese Internet service, cafe

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BEIJING -- Five Hollywood studios are awaiting judgment from a Shanghai court in a series of lawsuits against a Beijing company they allege served illegal copies of movies to Chinese Internet cafes, the Motion Picture Association said Friday.

Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Universal City Studios in September sued Beijing Jeboo Interactive Science and Technology Company and a cyber cafe in Shanghai for theft of titles such as "Click," "Hitch," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest," Frank Rittman, the MPA's regional counsel, said from Singapore.

The MPA is seeking the maximum penalty of 3.3 million yuan ($433,000), representing damages, attorneys' fees, and expenses, Rittman, said.

China had 123 million Internet users as of June 2006, of whom about 37 million go online in Internet cafes, data from CCID, a Chinese Internet research firm shows, Rittman said. Of those who surf in cafes, about 76% use the Internet to watch movies and other streaming audio-visual content.

Jeboo was found to be offering a local area network service to cyber cafes, enabling customers to stream movies over a cup of tea. One Jeboo customer, the Shanghai East Cyber Cafe Tongxin Road Shop Co Ltd., is a co-defendant in the suit, Rittman said.

"These guys were major players," said Rittman, who last year helped the studios win cases in China against a major Web portal, Sohu.com, and against retail DVD sellers found to be moving illegal discs.

Rittman declined to elaborate on the ongoing action, which was filed Sept. 28 in the Shanghai No. 2 court. "We fully expect the legal process to take the right course."
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