Hollywood Sues To Halt Online TV Piracy

A group of 12 major Hollywood studios is asking a federal court to stop RecordTV.com from transmitting movies and TV shows over the Internet without acquiring distribution rights.

RecordTV.com, which enabled visitors to use its Web site as a VCR to record programs for viewing at a later time, immediately shut down its service pending resolution of the dispute.

The studios are suing the Los Angeles-based company and its owner, David Simon, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that RecordTV copies and displays TV programs and movies on its Web site without authorization from the copyright owners.

The studios are seeking an injunction to stop RecordTV from distributing their works over the Internet without a license. The suit is the second such action led by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) on behalf of the studios.

‘Stolen Property’

“David Simon, willingly and knowingly, has built a business based on offering its customers access to valuable stolen property,” MPAA President Jack Valenti said. “One hundred percent of the profits are made from offering popular television programs and movies that RecordTV has obtained no right to copy or display or has any part in distributing.”

Valenti added, “We have absolute confidence in the facts of this matter and stand ready to present our case as soon as the court deems appropriate.”

The suit charges Simon and RecordTV with copyright infringement, trademark infringement, unfair competition and violation of cable television laws. “In this case, the defendants have publicly admitted that they are aware of plaintiffs’ rights under copyright law but refuse to respect them unless ordered to do so by a court of law,” the MPAA said.

The studio plaintiffs are Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.; Disney Enterprises, Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.; Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.; CPT Holdings, Inc. and its Columbia Pictures Television, Inc.; TriStar Television, Inc. and TriStar Pictures, Inc.; ELP Communications; Paramount Pictures Corp.; Universal City Studios, Inc.; and Time Warner Entertainment Co. L.P.

Policing Free Space

The studios settled a similar suit in February against Canadian company iCraveTV.com, which has stopped its service while it tries to obtain a clarification of Canadian law to support its position. iCraveTV.com maintains that it has the right to distribute TV programs under Canadian law because U.S. copyrights are not valid there.

The studios’ complaints against RecordTV.com and iCraveTV.com are similar in nature to the record industry’s ongoing battle with such companies as Napster and MP3.com, which provide software and services that enable people to store and exchange digital music tracks over the Internet.

The crux of both disputes is whether material that can be distributed over the Internet should be controlled by the people who originally created that material. In the open-source community, where Napster has won some support, the prevailing argument is that the concept of copyright is no longer compatible with today’s technology.

However, copyright holders argue that technology is available that allows distribution of digital media over the Internet while also ensuring that those who own the intellectual property rights are compensated.

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