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Studios Sue Film88.com Over Copyrights

California

July 10, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The major Hollywood film studios filed a copyright infringement lawsuit Tuesday against online movie distributor Film88.com and the Malaysian attorney who allegedly launched the renegade service.

The suit targets Alex Tan, also known as Soo L. Tan, and three entities he allegedly directed: MasterSurf Inc., a company in Agoura Hills; Film88.com, a Web site based in Iran; and Broadband Universal Corp., a company that allegedly operates Film88.com.

The suit seeks more than $30 million in damages related to the unauthorized copying of at least 232 films, including such diverse works as "Sunset Boulevard" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Film88.com enabled consumers to watch hundreds of hit movies and classic TV programs online in near-VHS quality, charging $1 for unlimited viewings over a three-day period.

But the site didn't obtain the studios' permission to offer the movies, nor did it pay for them, although it claims to have offered 30% of its revenue as compensation.

Although some of the Film88.com Web pages were based in Iran, its servers (the computers that stored and played movies through the Net) were in Holland.

A few days after the site launched, its Internet service provider in Holland disconnected the servers at the request of the Motion Picture Assn. Later, a Dutch judge granted the MPA's request to seize Film88.com's servers.

The lawsuit says Film88.com was Tan's second attempt to profit from the studios' films. Previously, the lawsuit alleges, Tan operated "a virtually identical piratical system" called Movie88.com in Taiwan, which authorities in that country shut down in February.

In addition to imposing financial penalties and confiscating all of Film88.com's profit, the lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction barring Tan and the associated companies from violating the studios' copyrights.

"Defendants' past conduct makes it clear they will resurrect their infringing service by, for example, changing the Internet address of their Web site and relocating some or all of their operations to computers located in yet another country," the lawsuit says.

Tan, MasterSurf and Broadband Universal could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit may not be the only legal problems faced by Tan. Mark Litvack, the MPA's director of legal affairs and worldwide anti-piracy efforts, said the association continues to discuss its options with the governments of Taiwan and Malaysia.

"To the extent that Mr. Tan thinks this is a game and he's playing with other people's chips, it's our intention to teach him that he's not," Litvack said.

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