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Studios hope to prevent a movie 'Napster' from taking hold

February 20, 2001
Web posted at: 6:30 PM EST (2330 GMT)

In this story:

How it's done

Morality case

Student News Archive

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- With new-to-theater movies such as "Hannibal" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" being illegally passed around over the Internet, the movie industry is keeping a close eye on a trend breeding on college campuses -- the illegal downloading of box office and DVD movies.

"There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000 to 400,000 feature-length films being downloaded per day," said Andrew Frank, a technology consultant with Viant, who's researching the trend for movie studio clients.

Frank said the number of movies downloaded has doubled in the last year and a half.

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    CNN's Jason Bellini reports on Internet movie piracy

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    Movie pirating might not yet be ready for prime time -- even over the fastest connection, it typically takes hours to download a full-length film. File-exchange sites like Gnutella and Hotline, which act as matchmakers for people who want to exchange movies and other copyrighted material, aren't nearly as easy to use as the popular music-exchange program Napster.

    These sites operate in a gray area of the law, facilitating "peer to peer connection" for individuals who want to exchange files. That paves the way for the transfer of copyrighted materials, including movies, software and music.

    Ken Jacobsen, a former FBI investigator who heads the Motion Picture Association's anti-piracy division, said the organization has asked the FBI to take action against people who put films on the Net. It has also sent cease-and-desist letters to Internet service providers, including universities, telling them to stop their users' illegal downloading.

    Jacobsen added, however, that going after individuals who share movies is not a priority.

    "We don't approve of what they do, but clearly bringing criminal action against them may be difficult."

    Instead, movie studios are coming up with their own subscriber online content services, which they hope will stem mainstream interest in illegal downloading.

    "We see our studios moving into the digital world," explained Jacobsen. "We fully anticipate that business models will include Internet transmission of our movies."

    How it's done

    Movies downloaded from the Web range in quality from pixilated and jumpy to better-than-VHS. It depends mostly on where the original comes from.

    Newly-released or soon-to-be released movies are sometimes leaked from the studios and then proliferate on the Web. Another method involves using a digital camcorder to make a videotape of the screen in a theater.

    "Normally an employee of the theater company places a high-quality camera in the projection booth," said J.P. Coughlin, 18, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology. "No one is going to walk in front of it, and they also hook up the audio to the amplifier in the theater," he added. "That's one of the biggest finds you can get on the Internet."

    Another method involves taking DVD films, either purchased or rented, converting them on a computer into a downloadable format called Div-X, and saving them onto the hard drive. There they can be traded for more movies, or 'burned' onto a CD.

    Morality case

    To the MPAA the legality and morality at issue is clear.

    "If you think about it from a moral and ethical standpoint, what is the difference between walking into a store and stealing a DVD or videocassette and going up on the Internet and stealing one of our movies," said Jacobsen. "In my mind, there's no difference."

    Motion Picture Association: Anti-Piracy

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