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Hollywood movie studios launched new legal action Tuesday against operators of sites that help connect people to movies on three major peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.
In the United States and the United Kingdom, the Motion Picture Association of America, the main lobbying arm of U.S. film studios, filed civil lawsuits against more than 100 operators of BitTorrent "tracker" servers that point to locations where digital files of movies, music and other content can be found.
The MPAA also targeted operators of servers for the eDonkey and Direct Connect networks. The group's actions include criminal complaints and cease-and-desist orders issued to ISPs on four continents. Acting in cooperation with the MPAA, French law enforcement authorities took related action Monday, and actions by authorities in Finland and the Netherlands followed Tuesday.
BitTorrent, eDonkey and Direct Connect allow millions of internet users to share copies of movies, music, software and games. The services don't host the files themselves; instead, they point users to other users who have the files available for sharing. In BitTorrent's case, users tap tracker sites that keep dynamic lists of where files are stored and available for download. The MPAA is trying to cripple BitTorrent and its peers by suing people who host the tracker servers. Because of its efficiency in helping users handle very large files -- such as digital copies of feature-length films -- BitTorrent has attracted the enmity of Hollywood.
"We believe the internet will be a powerful tool for the legitimate use of content," said MPAA head Dan Glickman. "Our actions today are aimed solely at those who have knowingly chosen to use the net for illegal activity."
MPAA anti-piracy chief John Malcolm said the trade organization's actions were not aimed at criminalizing P2P technology itself, citing "legal torrent" services that specialize in public-domain material as examples of the technology's non-infringing potential.
Malcolm described the operators of the targeted servers as "traffic cops connecting those who wish to steal a movie with those who have a copy of it."
"These people are parasites leeching off the creativity of others," said Malcolm. "They generate ad revenues by way of pop-up ads (and) banner ads, and they solicit online donations."
Previously, the MPAA had filed hundreds of suits against individual downloaders. The new actions against server operators come just days after the Supreme Court agreed to take up the landmark MGM v. Grokster file-sharing case. MPAA representatives said the timing of Tuesday's news was unrelated.
In August, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that peer-to-peer companies cannot be held responsible for intellectual property infringement that may take place on their networks, because the technologies can be used for legitimate, non-infringing purposes.
After urgent requests from the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America and a class of 27,0000 songwriters and musicians, the high court agreed last week to decide the case on appeal.
The original architecture of the defunct Napster network relied on a central index that kept track of which user had which file, to help would-be downloaders find the content they sought on other members' computers. The recording industry argued that the "indexing server" Napster maintained made the company responsible for acts of infringement committed by users.
Other P2P networks do not depend on a central repository. This difference is one of the reasons the courts have not yet banned such decentralized networks as Grokster and StreamCast Networks.
An earlier iteration of the eDonkey network relied on Napster-style central indexes that are the subject of the MPAA's new legal efforts. But on the more recent editions of the service, matchmaking happens on individual users' computers -- with no one server in charge of managing traffic.
BitTorrent also operates without a central index. With BitTorrent, a user who wants to share a movie must first use the BitTorrent software to prepare a "torrent" file that contains identifying information about that digital movie, along with the address of a tracker server that directs upload and download traffic related to the movie file. The user then distributes this torrent file by placing it on a website, e-mailing it to others or posting it in a chat room.
Each torrent file contains data about where to find a tracker server, which manages activity related to a particular file. Trackers are often run by the party that posted the original file in the first place, but can also be run by anyone else in the network. Without the tracker server, no uploads or downloads of that movie file can take place. These servers do not host the files themselves, but they enable users who want a file to obtain it.
The MPAA's legal actions are aimed at people who operate tracker servers, not individual downloaders of BitTorrent content.
Critics argue that people hosting trackers may not be aware of exactly what data flows through it. If the tracker server operator doesn't know what's happening inside the box, it may not be possible to hold the operator liable under current law.
All three services included in Tuesday's round of legal action -- BitTorrent, eDonkey and Direct Connect -- have been in the MPAA's sights for some time. As the popularity of eDonkey and BitTorrent boomed in recent months, the trade group escalated its attempts to compel ISPs to take action against activities within their domains long before Tuesday's announcements.
MPAA representatives said Tuesday the organization had no plans to pursue legal action against BitTorrent creator Bram Cohe
- "Hollywood Wants BitTorrent Dead," Xeni Jardin, WiredNews.com http://www.wired.com, December 14, 2004, http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,66034,00.html