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Hollywood studios sue computer server operators

Hollywood movie studios have sued scores of operators of computer servers that help relay digital movie files across online file-sharing networks. The copyright infringement suits expand on a new U.S. film industry initiative whose first targets were individual file-swappers, the Associated Press reported.

The defendants this time run servers that use BitTorrent, now the program of choice for online sharers of large files. The file-sharing technology offered by BitTorrent can slash the amount of time it takes to download a large digital file by allowing users to grab pieces of the file from hundreds of other users at once.

Unlike the widely used Kazaa file-sharing service, which connects individual users, or “peers,” to each other directly, BitTorrent is hierarchical, relying on a handful of tech-savvy users to direct traffic on the networks.

The suits target computer servers that index movies for BitTorrent users, but the MPAA is eyeing similar action against other servers as well. Sites like BitTorrent steadily gained in popularity after the recording industry last year began targeting users of Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster and other established file-sharing software.

The suits follow the same logic employed when the recording industry sued the original Napster file-sharing network. The creators of that software used a central computer server to keep and update an index of what music files were being made available by computer users on the network.

Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, suggests the lawsuits will backfire. Another potential wrinkle is that many of the computer servers are offshore, outside the scope of U.S. copyright law.

Hollywood movie studios contend that the unauthorized trading of films online has the potential to threaten their industry, particularly as faster Internet access in homes makes the large movie files easier to download.

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