Studios win in Beijing DVD suit

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BEIJING -- Six Hollywood studios won $24,400 in a 2-year-old piracy lawsuit against a Beijing DVD shop for selling counterfeits of 13 films including "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "I Robot," state media reported Wednesday.

The award -- which comes against the backdrop of a recent U.S. complaint about China for piracy at the World Trade Organization -- fell far short of the $307,500 asked for by plaintiffs Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Disney.

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court ordered the Beijing Cherry Blossom Star Culture Co. and its affiliated DVD shop to pay the studios 195,000 yuan ($24,400), the official Xinhua News Agency said.

"We are disappointed at the size of the awards, which amount to a negligible cost of doing business for these criminals," Frank Rittman, the MPA's legal council for Asia, said.

Illegal discs of first-run Hollywood movies often are sold here for less than $1 each and the MPA estimates that 93% of all movies sold on disc in China are counterfeits.

The ruling is the fourth time the Chinese court ruled against Chinese DVD pirates in the past six months. The MPA won damages in March against a shop in Beijing, and in December against shops in Shanghai and Beijing that sold pirated DVDs.

The latest case stemmed from the 2005 purchase of pirated discs of 13 studio films by agents of their Beijing offices at the Lihua Zhisheng DVD store including "Before Sunset." In addition to damages, the studios asked that Cherry Blossom Star Culture Co. issue a public apology and be issued a court order restraining its shop from future sale of pirated DVDs.

Xinhua reported that the Cherry Blossom Star Culture Co. argued it was not directly involved in selling pirated DVDs but admitted affiliation with the Lihua Zhisheng DVD shop, which had already stopped selling pirated DVDs.

Cherry Blossom Star said it was willing to make a public apology, but argued it had no means to pay the 2.46 million yuan sought in compensation, Xinhua said.

The court ordered the DVD shop to stop selling pirated DVDs and pay each studio 15,000 yuan ($1,900) in compensation for each of the 13 pirated movies. The court did not order the company to apologize. A court official declined to comment when reached by telephone.

Rittman, who is based in Singapore, said the MPA and its member companies would continue to pursue civil claims against selected targets.

"We rely on the Chinese government to pursue criminal cases against identified pirates, and we believe that a shift from administrative to judicial penalties would significantly improve the deterrent effect of enforcement efforts."

Last month, China's high court halved the number of illegal discs a pirate needed to be caught with to face stiff jail time as opposed to an administrative fine.

Reacting to the latest judgment, Sharon Mann, chief IPR lawyer at the Beijing office of U.S. firm Dewey Ballantine, said, "I think it is big news."
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