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Movie download service faces spyware lawsuit

Invasive pop-ups ignite legal rumpus

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Washington State is suing a movie download service over allegations that it used spyware to promote its business.

Movieland.com and its associates allegedly used malware tactics to bombard punters with aggressive pop-up ads that demanded payment for its download service. The lawsuit, brought by Washington State attorney general Rob McKenna, is the second lawsuit filed under the state's Computer Spyware Act.

"The defendants in our suit promote a movie download service through websites including movieland.com that offer consumers a free three-day trial," McKenna said in a statement.

"After the trial period, consumers are inundated with pop-ups that appear at least hourly and subject the consumer to a 40 second payment demand that cannot be closed. These messages are generated by software installed on their computers that cannot be easily removed.

"To stop these aggressive pop-ups, many frustrated consumers ultimately give in to the defendants' unfair tactics and pay anywhere from $19.95 to nearly $100 for the service," he added.

After thousands of punters complained to the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies over movieland.com's sales tactics, the State of Washington began a seven month investigation which led to lawsuits against a number of firms including Digital Enterprises, of West Hills, doing business as Movieland.com; Alchemy Communications, of Los Angeles; AccessMedia Networks, of Los Angeles; and Innovative Networks, of Woodland Hills.

Each is charged with breaching Washington State's Computer Spyware and Consumer Protection Acts. Two Los Angeles-based men - Digital Enterprises boss Easton A Herd and Alchemy's Andrew M Garroni - are also named in Washington's lawsuits.

The defendants could be fined up to $100,000 per violation of the Computer Spyware Act and $2,000 per violation under the Consumer Protection Act if Washington's civil lawsuit finds them liable. They may also have to stump up compensation to aggrieved punters.

The defendants sell a subscription-based entertainment service that offers access to a variety of movie clips (including porno flicks) via websites including movieland.com, moviepass.tv, and popcorn.net. Punters are offered a free, three-day trial offer that requires users to download software. Once this trial period expires, billing software is activated that allegedly bombards punters with invasive pop-up ads demanding payment.

These messages, which read, "Click 'Continue' to purchase your license and stop these reminders", take up much of a user's screen and hinder their ability to work on their PCs.

According to Washington State's investigation, there's no obvious way to minimise or close the Windows (or to remove the software that generates the pop-ups), so users are obliged to sit through a 40 second video featuring a woman making claims that punters are legally obliged to cough-up payment because they "failed to cancel" during the trial period.

"The defendants' claim that users are legally obligated to pay for their service lacks merit because consumers did not provide knowing consent to the installation of the relentless pop-up demands," McKenna said.

"Furthermore, computer owners are not responsible to satisfy contracts that other people, including minors, entered into while using a computer." ®

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