How Do You Catch a Movie Pirate?

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Movie studios are looking for new tactics against illegal file-sharing and other copyright infringement, from hiring young, tech-savvy turncoats to taking legal action against digital pirates and the search engines they use. The increasingly aggressive moves reflect the growing severity of the industry's global problem: Piracy is so commonplace in Spain that soon it may not make financial sense to sell DVDs there at all.

The latest move is all too familiar for the music industry's own travails: sue the downloaders. Over 20,000 movie downloaders have been sued over the past few weeks by US Copyright Group, a DC legal firm that is actively seeking out companies that want to sue. The firm is drumming up business with an aggressive pitch to movie copyright holders, stating on its website: "We are here to recover losses for copyright holders and to stop film piracy. We are here to SAVE CINEMA."

The Motion Picture Association of America has expressed interest in US Copyright Group's approach, but hasn't signed on yet. A recent history lesson suggests why: The Recording Industry Association of America sued thousands of people before abandoning the wave of lawsuits in 2008. The campaign was an unambiguous public relations disaster, illicit music downloads continue apace, and the industry has continued to struggle.

One alternative to suing individuals is taking action against the companies that facilitate downloading. The MPAA just landed another victory against Isohunt, one of the world's leading search engines for torrents, files that are used to share both legal and illegal content. A U.S. judge just ordered Isohunt to remove all infringing content from its site; the site's administrator said that would effectively force him to shut it down.

The problem is that fighting filesharing sites is a massive game of Whack-a-Mole: Bash one and three more pop up. Again the history lesson is telling: After the music industry smashed Napster, dozens and then hundreds of smaller services took its place.

The final recent tactic is to hire spies. On Monday, TorrentFreak, a Web site which covers torrents, reported on a a new job listing from Warner Brothers for an "IT literate" anti-piracy intern in the UK. According to the posting, duties will include:

Monitoring local Internet forums and IRC for pirated WB and NBCU content and in order to gather information on pirate sites, pirate groups and other pirate activities; finding new and maintaining existing accounts on private sites; scanning for links to hosted pirated WB and NBCU content and using tools to issue takedown requests

The yearlong internship comes with a $26,500 salary, but it's a risky job, as Gizmodo points out. If your identity is uncovered, "you have, literally, the entire, worldwide community of pirates pissed at you."

That's the downside to catching pirates -- sometimes they catch you first.

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Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.
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