To the music industry, the enemy's name is Napster; to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the current scourge is Scour.com.
Last week, Napster won an eleventh hour reprieve from an injunction that would have shut it down - the case will be heard in late September - but two other cases are wending their way through US courts, both with important ramifications for the motion picture industry.
In the first case, which is awaiting a New York judge's verdict, the MPAA is suing the publisher of an on-line magazine devoted to computer hacking for posting instructions on how to crack encryption code for DVDs. It's the first test of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to "offer to the public" a method of transgressing copyright-protected product.
The second case, in which the MPAA is co-plaintiff with Napster-nemesis the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), concerns Scour.com, an LA-based Internet service using file-sharing technology similar to Napster's that allows the exchange of both audio and video files. The preliminary hearing will be held August 16, also in New York.
The MPAA's Mark Litvack, vice president and legal director for worldwide anti-piracy explains: "The technology itself is not the threat. The way it's used by Scour is the threat. It's a threat of great magnitude in the future. For the music industry, it is an immediate threat because music files are much smaller. The limitation now is bandwidth."
As high-speed Internet connections become commonplace, the problem will grow exponentially for the film industry. Litvack declined to estimate to what extent. Scour did not return Screen International's calls.
US civil rights watchers are concerned that industry associations like the MPAA, in their zeal to protect their members' copyright, are pressing for judgements and thus may set precedents and spur legislation that go beyond redress to infringe on the rights of citizens.
"There's a big difference between studios protecting major-budget movies from being duplicated and the situation of emerging filmmakers who are trying to get their work out there," says Peter Broderick, head of Nextwave Films, a company of the Independent Film Channel.
Napster, he points out, also helps bands break out. "From the standpoint of people who are early in their careers [file-sharing] is obviously going to help. You have to weigh the issues on both sides. The studios and the MPAA have lots of people working on these issues and get legislation written a certain way and so sometimes issues get framed in a certain way."