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The movie industry has made a big move against so-called “cyberlockers” with a lawsuit filed today in U.S District Court in Florida against Hotfile, said to be one of the top 100 most popular sites in the world, with traffic approaching the level of AOL and CNN.
“Everyday Hotfile is responsible for the theft of thousands of MPAA member companies’ movies and TV shows – including movies still playing in theaters – many of which are stolen repeatedly, thousands of times a day, every single day,” said Daniel Mandil, general counsel & chief content protection officer for the MPAA in a statement.
Cyberlockers are file-hosting websites whose stated purpose is to give users personal storage room for large files. The websites have legitimate uses, such as allowing its customers to back up material, but over the years, they’ve also become an increasingly popular pathway for file-sharers to store and share copyrighted material. The hosts themselves rarely aggregate or index users’ stored material, but other search engines have been popping up that link to infringing content and essentially transform many of these cyberlockers into full-fledged P2P outlets.
As a result, cyberlockers like Hotfile have boomed in popularity, and Hollywood has declared war. In a speech given last year, Paramount Pictures COO Fred Huntsberry declared cyberlockers to be Hollywood’s biggest threat.
The problem with attacking cyberlockers in court has always been that most are domiciled overseas and have decidedly low-tech features, making for a haphazard array of files that go up at will, often proving elusive for copyright holders to attack. Other cyberlockers like Rapidshare have successfully defended themselves in foreign jurisdictions like Germany by arguing they’ve made small but sufficient efforts to respond to takedown demands. Lately, cyberlockers like Rapidshare and MegaUpload have grown confident in their legal victories, hiring Washington lobbyists and threatening to sue for defamation anybody who charges them with promoting piracy.
But Hotfile makes an attractive legal target for the MPAA.
This cyberlocker is operated by Anton Titov, a foreign national residing in Florida and a co-defendant in the MPAA’s latest lawsuit. The defendant has already shown a bit of weakness in prior litigation. Last year, an adult entertainment company, Liberty Media, filed a lawsuit against Hotfile and emerged with a $250,000 settlement, allowing Hotfile the opportunity to reduce the amount owed if the company showed a willingness to behave and cease further content theft.
Today, the MPAA is alleging copyright infringement of hundreds of files, and requesting maximum statutory damages that could amount to a ton of cash. Perhaps just as important as the money, the movie industry is eager to get good case law on the books and send the cyberlocker business a message that they can’t shirk their responsibility to monitor copyright infringement by failing to institute effective takedown or digital fingerprinting protocols; that they can’t look the other way and profit with unclean hands.
Here’s the complaint.
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