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Hollywood ruling sends piracy chill through Google

Disney and Warner set mice on the elephant in the room

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Hollywood is going after advertising companies who help fund pirate websites, and has now won a landmark victory.

Two Hollywood studios, Disney and Warner Brothers won $400,000 damages in a legal settlement case with Triton Media for contributory copyright infringement and inducement to infringe.

Triton was placing advertising services for a number of sites including free-tv-video-online.info, supernovatube.com and watch-movies.net that stream or link to unlicensed content. A Federal judge also barred Triton from deal with the sites.

The case follows an earlier victory for Hollywood against Supernovatube's operator Mohy Mir. Mir now describes himself as a self-employed SEO consultant. Triton's business is historically radio advertising.

The question, asks the Hollywood Reporter, is: "Does the MPAA have the stomach to pick a fight with the elephants in the room or will it aim to pick the cherries of low-hanging fruit from companies like Triton?" And the biggest elephant in the room is Google.

The MPAA's critics point out that that Hollywood's studios have far greater resources than many web marketing companies. But many filmmakers are independents - essentially individuals who find themselves battling an indifferent behemoth.

The WSJ reported how over a two year period, two illegal download sites grossed over $1.1m in web advertising - returning nothing to the creators. $809,000 of revenue came via Google.

"Why is it so hard to make the decision not to enter into business partnerships with sites whose business model is obvious infringement of the works of U.S. creators?" asked Patrick Ross of the Copyright Alliance. "Why do you continue to place ads on these sites, participating in a duping of consumers into thinking they are following the law when instead they are helping to fund international criminal ventures?"

The David vs Goliath battle was dramatically highlighted by indie moviemaker Ellen Seidler who directed the lesbian romantic comedy And Then Came Lola, who describes the extent of advertisers' involvement with the sites - and the time-consuming game of whack-a-mole to take them down.

"Everyone makes money in this equation - except the filmmaker," she notes. There's more on her blog PopUpPirates.

In 2007 Google said it would screen keywords commonly used by pirate sites (such as "bootleg"). But does it screen the purchasers? When Google launched its music search service in India last week, it showed it can filter and block illegal links. You don't have to be a PhD to guess what you'll find at warerzs.net - a typical pirate site that runs Google ads.

Seidler also takes a swipe at Hollywood for not taking up cudgels on behalf of the independents.

"The MPAA and other major organizations who are supposedly working very hard to combat piracy would be better served to really promote the idea that piracy is not just damaging executives at the offices at Disney but it's really damaging all of the people who make their livelihood day in and day out doing catering or makeup or set design," she said in an interview earlier this year. ®

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