Hollywood's major movie studios filed a new round of lawsuits across the United States on Thursday against people who trade illegally copied films and TV shows on the Internet.
The civil suits against unnamed "John Doe" defendants seek up to $150,000 per downloaded digital file and come as the U.S. film industry prepares for its annual Oscar telecast in Hollywood where awards for top films and stars are given out.
The studios, represented by the Motion Picture Association of America, took the opportunity of the Oscars to again press the case that the illegal copying of films and their black-market distribution on the Internet is costing them millions of dollars a year in lost revenue.
The studios claim they lose $3.5 billion worldwide in annual revenues from sales of illegally copied movies on video and DVD formats in street bazaars and black markets.
The studios argue that the lost revenue means fewer artists will work to create movies or TV shows. Traditionally the films that are rewarded by Oscar voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are those that take thematic and commercial risks.
"When rampant online theft occurs, these films become that much harder to finance...we cannot and will not let that happen," MPAA Chief Executive Dan Glickman said in a telephone conference call with reporters.
MPAA officials said "several" of the Oscar nominated films had illegal copies on the Internet that could be downloaded, but they named only comedy "Sideways," which is nominated for best picture.
"Sideways" is a low-budget movie but was considered a financially risky one for its backers at Fox Searchlight because of its offbeat subject matter. Fox Searchlight is a division of News Corp Ltd's Twentieth Century Fox movie studio.
MPAA officials declined to say how many suits it had filed or whether the illegal copies were made by video camera taping in theaters or by copying videos or DVDs that are given away by the studios this time of year to win Oscar votes.
Earlier this month, the MPAA filed lawsuits against computer networks utilizing a software technology known as BitTorrent, but these new suits were against end users, or people who actually downloaded the films.