The Motion Picture Association of America said it filed 286 lawsuits against people around the United States based on information acquired from file-trading sites shut down earlier in the year. Most of those sites were hubs connecting people using the BitTorrent technology, a peer-to-peer application designed for speeding downloads of large files.
The group previously said in February that a Texas court had ordered that the server logs of one big site, called LokiTorrent, be turned over to Hollywood investigators. An MPAA spokeswoman said that none of Thursday's suits were related to that action, however.
Hollywood lawyers are hoping that the fear of exposure will dissuade more people from trying to download movies for free online.
"Internet movie thieves be warned: You have no friends in the online community when you are engaging in copyright theft," MPAA Senior Vice President John Malcom said in a statement.
Studios launched an aggressive new campaign against individual file swappers and peer-to-peer services last December, in particular targeting the BitTorrent hubs that served as jumping-off points for downloading a wide array of software and movies.
Many of the most popular sites, including SuprNova, LokiTorrent and others, have since shut down, either voluntarily or on the heels of lawsuits.
Although it is widely used for piracy, BitTorrent is increasingly being tapped for wholly legitimate applications such as distributing open-source software. Web browser company Opera Software has evenof its Net-surfing software.
BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen has warned in the past that using his technology to distribute material illegally is a "," because the file-swapping tool is not designed to hide the identity of anyone using it.
As with previous lawsuits filed by the MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America, this round of cases is aimed at anonymous "John Does" identified only by their Internet addresses. The defendants' true identities will be sought through a later court process.