Feds, studios join forces against piracy

Officials seize domain names of sites offering movies

Hollywood studio and industry executives have joined with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S, Attorney for the Southern District of New York to launch Operation in our Sites, an initiative aimed at stopping Internet counterfeiting and piracy.

During a news conference Wednesday on a soundstage at Disney Studios, the feds announced that they have kicked off the effort by seizing nine Internet domain names of websites offering first-run movies, often within hours of their release.

ICE investigators and the Department of Homeland Security also have seized assets from 15 banks, PayPal and advertising accounts and moved on four residential search warrants in four states.

The seized domain names are tvshack.net, movies-links.tv, filespump.com, now-movies.com, planetmoviez.com, thepiratecity.org and zml.com.

Undercover agents downloaded newly released movies from the sites to determine they were offering stolen content.

Also seized were the domain names and website content of ninjavideo.net and ninjathis.net, which generated revenue from ads and donations.

Alan Bergman, president of the Walt Disney Studios, told attendees that this is no small matter to Hollywood.

"Enforcing these laws is critical and allows these companies to continue their investment" in the production of movies and television shows," he said.

And it is not just a problem for the entertainment industry, added John Morton, assistant secretary of ICE.

"Internet crooks are undermining the U.S. economy on a grand scale," said Morton, calling the new coalition of private and public partners "a long-term effort to turn the corner on these thieves."

Morton and other speakers made clear that piracy has a devastating effect on the entertainment industry. "Every time you download, you hurt American workers in the film and television industry, not just fat cats in the corporate suites. The traffic to these sites is growing at an alarming rate," he said.

Mike Robinson, senior vp of the MPAA, said that as broadband proliferates, so does piracy. He said already peer-to-peer traffic, much of it moving content illegally, already represents 39% of all the Internet traffic worldwide. He said the problems are growing rapidly, with an increase of 45% in the last quarter of 2009 alone.

Robinson said while they are fighting pirates, they also continue efforts to aide those building and operating legitimate sites to distribute their content.

Frederick Huntsberry, COO of Paramount Pictures, called Wednesday's announcement "vastly important, yet only the tip of the iceberg" in terms of the efforts needed.

Huntsberry said show business is "threatened to its very core by the onslaught of piracy."

He said the biggest new threat is the use of cyber lockers, where visitors can come in and grab content to use in a way that is very hard to track and very easy to use.

He also said consumers need to know that when they go to illegal sites, they not only support organized crime and criminals of all kinds, but also open themselves to danger from spyware, identify theft and those who would go into their computers and steal their files.

Kathy Garmezy, associate executive director at the DGA, said, "Internet theft is not a victimless crime. In reality it has a very real impact and is a direct threat on the ability of hundreds of thousands to make a living."

Garmezy said one of the biggest effects is on the aftermarket use of movies and TV which generate the residuals which fund 70% of the DGA pension. "Our members are dependent on this downstream revenue as they go from job to job," she said.

Asked how this initiative was different for the past, Morton said this time it is not case by case, or for a limited time. It is a broad effort that will continue over time. "We face a whole new class of violators and we will be back at it over and over," said Morton.

"There are thousands of these sites. This is just a first step."
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