Over two years since notorious cyberlocker Megaupload was shut down on January 19, 2012, Hollywood today has gone on the legal offensive. Disney, 20th Century Fox Film, Paramount Pictures, Universal, Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. today filed a mega-lawsuit against the site and its principals in federal court in Virginia (read it here). Alleging that the site infringed upon “thousands of plaintiffs’ copyrighted works,” the studios and the MPAA are seeking million in damages from the profits Megaupload made off their copyrighted material or “the maximum statutory damages, in the amount of $150,000 per infringement,” as the 21-page complaint says. All of which means potential billions and billions.
“Infringing content on Megaupload.com and its affiliates was available in at least 20 languages, targeting a broad global audience. According to the government’s indictment, the site reported more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and cost U.S. copyright owners more than half a billion dollars,” said the MPAA’s SEVP and Global General Counsel Steven Fabrizio today. “Megaupload — and sites like it that are built on stolen works — damage the consumer experience online and undermine the creators who don’t get compensated for their work,” he added. This case starts up as the Department of Justice case against Megaupload and its New Zealand-based founder Kim DotCom, who is among the defendants here, languishes in the courts. Since … Read More »
Looks like not everyone in Hollywood is on the same page when it comes to combating copyright infringement. Specifically, the Writers Guild of America West thinks that the multimillion-dollar damages the Motion Picture Association of America wants extracted from file-sharing sites “has little additional deterrent effect” and “high statutory penalties are not only often unreasonable but unpayable.” The strong comments from the WGAW comes in a submission the guild made on January 17 (read it here) to the Commerce Department on its paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy. Citing that “television and film are controlled by a handful of media companies who decide what content consumers have access to,” the guild’s remarks are a clear slap to the MPAA and the studios from the representatives of more than 8,000 frontline content creators.
Related: WGA Sets Feb. 3 As Start Of New Contract Talks With Producers
No surprise the MPAA does not agree with that POV. “The deterrence provided by the current range of statutory damages is of vital importance to MPAA’s members and other copyright owners, especially in the online environment,” says the studio lobbying group in its own submission (read it here).
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The Hollywood lobby group responded to a request from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative for names of countries that it should consider including in its list of “notorious markets” to penalize for failing to crack down on piracy. The MPAA’s collection had a lot of familiar targets including Ukraine, Canada, China, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, and India. But it added several others for providing havens for copyright-infringing peer-to-peer networks, Bit Torrent portals, download and streaming hubs, linking websites and newsgroups, and physical markets pirates. The “rogue overseas marketplaces,” MPAA chief Chrisopher Dodd says, “undermine the people who work hard to create the movies and TV shows audiences love, and jeopardize the billions of dollars they contribute to the U.S. economy.” The group’s letter specifically cites Australia’s Caribbean Gardens & Markets, the country’s “largest undercover market” that routinely sells pirated DVDs. “State and federal police have shown no interest in enforcing [copyright infringement laws] despite multiple entreaties from rights holders.” There’s a similar situation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where the city’s “largest and most famous shopping market” — Mercado Popular de Uruguaiana — “contains more than 1,500 kiosks, many of which sell counterfeit optical discs.” Northern Ireland’s Jonesborough Market has “historically strong ties to paramilitary groups” and operators “sell an array of counterfeit products, including pirated optical discs.” And for Mexico the MPAA cites just a few of “the nearly 90 well-known markets” controlled by organized criminals that “specialize in pirate and … Read More »
Nearly two years and a half years after first filing their suit on behalf of several studios, the MPAA today scored a victory against file-sharing service Hotfile. A federal court in Florida has found the site and its boss Anton Titov liable for copyright infringement. Today is the first time a U.S. court has ruled that such cyberlocker sites can be held directly liable for their practices. “This decision sends a clear signal that businesses like Hotfile that are built on a foundation of stolen works will be held accountable for the damage they do both to the hardworking people in the creative industries and to a secure, legitimate Internet”, MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd in a statement today. “We applaud the court for recognizing that Hotfile was not simply a storage locker, but an entire business model built on mass distribution of stolen content.” With claims of “ill-gotten gains” and a list of hundreds of the thousands of TV shows and films that Hotfile had allegedly infringed, the original 2011 complaint had Disney Enterprises, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal City Studios Productions, Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros as its plaintiffs. As others have done, the stateside-based Hotfile tried to use the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a defense — although ultimately unsuccessfully. Today’s full decision from Judge Kathleen Williams won’t be made public for two weeks until confidential and propriety details are redacted. However, lawyers for both sides were allowed to review the opinion before its gist was revealed. Read More »
The highest-grossing movie of all time is again the subject of a copyright legal battle. Artist William Roger Dean filed a complaint against James Cameron and 20th Century Fox on Thursday seeking more than $50 million in damages over Avatar. Unlike past Avatar plaintiffs, Dean has an established pedigree. He is a well known artist who has created album covers for such big-selling bands as Yes and Asia and exhibited his fantasy landscapes and other work around the world. In fact, it is the ubiquity of his work, as well as a movie proposal based on it that he took at the 2005 Cannes Film Fest, that has Dean convinced the look of the 2009 3D sci-fi film were derived from his images. “The similarities of each such work are substantial, continuing, and direct so as to rule out any accidental copying or similarity in scenes common to the genre. The infringing portions of Avatar are so similar to Plaintiffs Works that Defendants and others employed in the preparation of the film must have had access to the Plaintiffs Works,” says his 17-page complaint (read it here) filed June 27 in U.S District Court in New York. The filing cites numerous specific examples from the world of Pandora to the foliage and creatures that populate it where Dean sees his own work. Along with copyright infringement, Dean also is claiming contributory infringement, breach of implied contact, unfair competition and unjust enrichment.
Related: James Cameron & Fox Denied Dismissal Of Latest ‘Avatar’ Suit
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The Motion Picture Association of America, lead by former Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, approves of what the Republicans have to say about protecting intellectual property and internet freedom in their party platform. The GOP platform, which was formally approved last night at the party’s convention in Tampa, Florida, strongly advocates internet freedom, especially in terms of deregulation, innovation, competition. The GOP also doesn’t want to “shift control away from the successful multi-stakeholder approach of Internet governance and toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations.” In terms of piracy, the GOP platform states that “punitive measures will be imposed on foreign firms that misappropriate American technology and intellectual property.” Here’s what the MPAA had to say in response:
“The Republican Party platform language strikes a very smart balance: it emphasizes the importance of us doing more as a nation to protect our intellectual property from online theft while underscoring the critical importance of protecting internet freedom. As the party points out, the internet has been for its entire existence a source of innovation, and it is intellectual property that helps drive that innovation. Copyright is the cornerstone of innovation; it allows creators to benefit from what they create. As Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – herself once a Republican elected official – wrote, ‘[I]t should not be forgotten that the Framers intended copyright itself to be the engine of free expression. By establishing a marketable right
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UPDATE, 6:56 PM: Aereo CEO and Founder Chet Kanojia is taking a victory lap following today’s court decision. He says it “shows that when you are on the right side of the law, you can stand up, fight the Goliath and win.” The ruling “should serve as a signal to the public that control and choice are moving back into the hands of the consumer – that’s a powerful statement.”
PREVIOUS, 3:21 PM: U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan ruled today that Aero could continue to do business because the “balance of hardships” didn’t “decidedly” favor its broadcast challengers — and they also “have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits” in their copyright infringement suit. Broadcasters including Disney, CBS, NBCUniversal and Fox accused Aereo of copyright violations even before the service was launched in the New York City area in March. Aereo, which is backed by IAC’s Barry Diller, streams local over-the-air programming to subscribers who pay $12 a month, but doesn’t pay stations a dime. Nathan agreed that broadcasters would be harmed by Aereo, but said the fledgling service also would be harmed with an injunction. “Today’s decision is a loss for the entire creative community,” the plaintiffs said. “While we are disappointed, we will continue to fight to protect our copyrights and expect to prevail on appeal.”
27% Of Australians Admit To Illegal Downloads
Some 27% of Australians persistently or casually download screen content illegally and at a growing rate over the past 12 months, according to new research from the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation, a coalition of film and TV organizations. The report showed 86% of people who download or stream illegally at least once a week admit they do so because it’s free. Incongruously, 71% of the 1,654 adults surveyed acknowledge that piracy is stealing but 76% don’t think they contribute to the problem. Some 50% of respondents agree that Internet Service Providers should take more responsibility to prevent the illegal distribution of movies and TV shows online. — Don Groves
Univision Signs New Deal With FiOS
Univision Communications has reached a comprehensive multiyear agrement with Verizon FiOS to continue carrying the U.S. Spanish-language media leader’s Univision and TeleFutura network feeds and owned-and-operated broadcast stations, the cable network Galavisión. Multichannel News reports the deal also includes Univision’s new cable services sports network Univision Deportes, telenovelas network Univision tlnovelas and FOROtv, a Spanish-language news network. The FiOS agreement also includes plans for multiplatform authentication rights for Univision’s upcoming interactive digital video platform for existing and new networks. The FiOS pact is Univision’s third far-reaching affiliate agreement in 2012. Dish Network and AT&T U-verse reached deals in January and May.
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Sylvester Stallone has been sued by a writer who alleges the hit movie The Expendables copies a script and short story he filed with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2006. Marcus Webb says he then made available to Hollywood studios a script about mercenaries recruited to defeat a dictator named General Garza. Webb alleges in the suit filed in federal court in Manhattan that the screenplay for The Expendables is “strikingly similar and in some places identical” to his The Cordoba Caper. Webb seeks unspecified damages and a court order stopping further infringement by Stallone, his credited co-author David Callaham, Millennium/NuImage Films and Lionsgate. Expendables 2 is slated to open August 17, 2012.
Viacom and Google/YouTube were back in court Tuesday arguing over last year’s federal district court ruling that relieved YouTube and its parent Google of massive copyright infringement charges, Bloomberg reported. Viacom told a panel of three judges in the court of appeals in Manhattan that the lower court should have let a jury hear the case in which YouTube was accused of allowing users to upload videos of Viacom shows South Park and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and other shows as well as movies from Paramount Pictures. Viacom’s attorney said YouTube willfully ignored copyright violations by users posting video clips without authorization. That unauthorized content, Viacom argued, fueled the company’s rapid growth and Google eventually bought YouTube for $1.65 billion. YouTube pointed out that Viacom also had been a suitor and it was only after negotiations broke down and Google made the winning bid that Viacom sent the legally required takedown notices for infringing videos. YouTube’s lawyer told the appellate court panel it removed infringing videos as soon as it was notified by copyright owners. On that basis, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton ruled last year that YouTube was protected from liability under the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The judges appeared skeptical of sending the case back to a jury for trial, PaidContent said, … Read More »
Actor Wes DeSoto has agreed to plead guilty to copyright infringement for leaking an awards screener of Black Swan and other films to file-sharer BitTorrent. DeSoto’s L.A. apartment was raided by FBI agents in April after a MPAA piracy officer tipped the feds that several high-quality copies of feature films had shown up on the site. The bootlegs were review screeners provided through the iTunes store to members of the Screen Actors Guild. The authorities pinpointed DeSoto as the culprit through digital watermarks in the movies, according to an FBI affidavit. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence between 10 to 16 months, but the government is seeking three years of probation and restitution. DeSoto is expected to appear in federal court for sentencing next month.