Chinese courts have made two separate judgements against copyright infringers over the holiday period, reflecting the increasing pressure that the country is under to combat its high levels of piracy.

On December 27, a Beijing court ruled that Beijing Sohu Internet Information Service Co, a subsidiary of NASDAQ-listed web portal, was guilty of copyright infringement when it posted digital files of movies on for downloading without consent of the copyright owners.

The company was ordered to pay damages of $138,850 (RMB1.09m) and to publish an acknowledgement of its infringement along with a pledge to refrain from similar illegal activities.

The five plaintiffs were all Motion Picture Association (MPA) members. The titles posted for download included Dawn Of The Dead, The Day After Tomorrow, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and S.W.A.T.

The movies were offered to registered users of a monthly subscription download service operated in 2004 and 2005. Five of the 10 films named in the lawsuit had never been exhibited theatrically in China.

In the second case, a court in Shanghai ruled against a DVD retail outlet that had been selling pirated movies, Shanghai Di Kai AV Products Company, which is located in the city's central business district.

The court ordered the store to stop selling pirated products and to pay the six plaintiffs - also MPA member companies - damages and costs of $22,746 (RMB177,752). The store was 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 said the organisation believes that China's piracy problems are directly related to 'the lack of market access accorded to foreign films.'

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

'Market access is a prerequisite for reducing piracy, and piracy affects foreign and domestic movie producers alike.'