Chinese courts madetwo separate judgements against copyright infringers over the Christmasholidays, reflecting the increasing pressure that the country is under tocombat its high levels of piracy.

On December 27, aBeijing court ruled that Beijing Sohu Internet Information Service Co, asubsidiary of NASDAQ-listed web portal, was guilty of copyrightinfringement when it posted digital files of movies on for downloadingwithout consent of the copyright owners.

The company wasordered to pay damages of $138,850 (RMB1.09m) and to publish an acknowledgementof its infringements along with a pledge to refrain from future infringements.

The fiveplaintiffs were all Motion Picture Association (MPA) members and titles postedfor download included Dawn Of The Dead, The Day After Tomorrow, Harry PotterAnd The Prisoner Of Azkaban, The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and S.W.A.T.

The movies wereoffered to registered users of a monthly subscription download service operatedin 2004 and 2005. Five of the ten movies named in the lawsuit had never beenexhibited theatrically in China.

In the secondcase, a court in Shanghai ruled against a DVD retail outlet that had beenselling pirated movies, Shanghai Di Kai AV Products Company, which is locatedin the city's central business district.

The court orderedthe store to stop selling pirated products and to pay the six plaintiffs - alsoall MPA member companies - damages and costs of $22,746 (RMB177,752). The storewas also ordered to pay a fine of $6,398 (RMB50,000).

In a statement,MPA senior vice president and regional director, Asia Pacific, Mike Ellis saidthe organisation believes that China's piracy problems are directly related to'the lack of market access accorded to foreign films'.

'The maintenanceof the theatrical exhibition quota, combined with the frequent imposition of'blackouts' on the theatrical release of foreign films, and the restrictions onhome video distributors compared with pirate retailers, give movie pirates atremendous market advantage,' Ellis said.

'Market access isa prerequisite for reducing piracy, and piracy affects foreign and domesticmovie producers alike.'