Body sues 200 to 300 individual infringers.

The MPAA today (Nov. 16) began suing people who it alleges are illegally downloading motion pictures off peer-to-peer networks, a tactic the movie industry hopes will protect it from the rampant piracy that has damaged the recording industry.

The civil suits against individual infringers cover copyright violations on major P2P networks and seek damages and injunctive relief, the MPAA says. Sources said the suits number between 200 and 300 and were filed in different venues across the country.

"The motion picture industry must pursue legal proceedings against people who are stealing our movies on the Internet," says MPAA president/CEO Dan Glickman. "The future of our industry, and of the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports, must be protected from this kind of outright theft using all available means."

Under the Copyright Act, an individual can be liable for as much as $30,000 for each motion picture illegally traded over the Internet, and as much as $150,000 per motion picture if such infringement is proven to be willful.

In addition to the lawsuits, the MPAA announced a pair of additional anti-piracy initiatives. In one, the MPAA will make available free software to help people determine what music and movie files and P2P applications are on their computers.

The free program identifies movie and music titles stored on a computer, along with any installed peer-to-peer file-swapping programs. Information generated by the program would be made available only to the program's user, and would not be shared with or reported to the MPAA or any other body. Armed with the program's findings, a computer user can remove infringing movies or music files, and remove any P2P applications.

"Our ultimate goal is to help consumers locate the resources and information they need to make appropriate decisions about using and trading illegal files," says Glickman. "Many parents are concerned about what their children have downloaded and where they've downloaded it from. They will find this tool to be an excellent resource. "

Meanwhile, the Video Software Dealers Assn. says it will bring the MPAA's anti-piracy ad campaign, "Rated I: Inappropriate for All Ages," to approximately 10,000 video stores nationwide. Beginning in December, those stores will play anti-piracy trailers on in-store monitors and display anti-piracy posters and counter cards.

"Video retailers are threatened with significant losses from illegal online file trading of movies and bootleg copies sold on the streets," VSDA president Bo Andersen says. "A key element of the strategy to confront this growing threat to our industry is to educate the public and change the culture from one of lawlessness to one of respect for the work and property of others. With their neighborhood locations and strong customer relationships, video stores are in an excellent position to educate millions of consumers about the problem and consequences of movie piracy."