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Internet Movie Site Is On, Then Off Again

June 08, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The third time definitely was not the charm for Film88.com, a renegade online film site offering hit movies on demand for $1.

Already shut down twice, the service reemerged for a few hours Friday only to have its computers in Holland seized by representatives of the major Hollywood studios. The seizure came at the behest of a Dutch judge acting on a request from the Motion Picture Assn., the studios' international trade group.

The company, which previously operated as Movie88.com, has lost more than 20 expensive computer servers to seizures. In February, Movie88.com was knocked offline and its servers seized by Taiwanese authorities, whose investigation is continuing.

Film88.com enabled consumers to watch hundreds of hit movies and classic TV programs online in near-VHS quality, charging $1 a viewing. The video equivalent of an Internet jukebox, it was far easier to use than other unauthorized outlets of downloadable movies on the Net.

The company didn't obtain the studios' permission to offer the movies. Nor did it pay for them, although a spokesman said the company planned to split its profit with the films' owners.

After getting shut down in Taiwan, the company launched Film88.com this week in Iran--mainly because Iran doesn't recognize foreign copyrights. But it put its digital libraries of movies on computers in Holland, using the Dutch Internet service provider TrueServer to connect at high speed to the Net.

On Thursday, TrueServer cut off Film88.com's Internet connection after the Motion Picture Assn. complained that its members' films were being pirated. The site went back up in a limited capacity Friday, prompting the MPA to obtain a court order to seize Film88.com's computers, said Mark Litvack, the association's director of legal affairs and worldwide anti-piracy efforts.

Film88 wasn't represented in the Dutch court, Litvack said.

"TrueServer stepped back in and worked again with us to assist in stopping the piracy," Litvack said. "They are a legitimate business who have acted in an upright manner."

Executives at Film88, who have defended their actions as providing a new revenue stream for studios, could not be reached for comment.

The Web site pledged to be back in business in a few days after "our new lines ... take place."

Said Litvack, "This is a true pirate who has indicated that even with criminal seizures and ISPs shutting him down, he will attempt to continually violate the law. And violate our members' copyright. That is not something we will idly stand by and watch occur, be that in the Netherlands or elsewhere."

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