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MPAA sues Hotfile, battle for cloud begins

The MPAA files suit against a locker service accused of acting as a clearinghouse for pirated films. This is the first time the film industry has sued a cloud film service.

For the first time, a group of Hollywood film studios has filed a copyright lawsuit against a cyberlocker.

File-hosting service Hotfile has made a business out of offering a stash box for people to store their pirated movies, the Motion Picture Association of America claims in its suit against Hotfile.

"In less than two years, Hotfile has become one of the 100 most trafficked sites in the world," the MPAA said in a press release issued today. "That is a direct result of the massive digital theft that Hotfile promotes."

According to the MPAA, Hotfile is operated by Florida resident Anton Titov, who was not immediately available for comment.

A growing number of digital-locker services have come under fire lately by copyright owners. Liberty Media Holdings, an adult-film studio, last month also filed a copyright suit against Hotfile. On the music side, EMI, the smallest of the four record labels, is suing, a digital locker specializing in the storage of songs.

The cyberlockers are an alternative to BitTorrent file-sharing services and are growing in popularity. With these services, there's no need to download any software. A user logs on to a locker service and watches whatever films or TV shows are stored there.

The MPAA was careful to make the distinction that not all cyberlockers are unlawful. That's important because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbor protects Internet service providers as long as they obey some rules. The trade group for the top film studios said Hotfile doesn't come close to qualifying for safe harbor protection.

The service "openly discourages use of its system for personal storage," the MPAA wrote. "Hotfile's business model encourages...users to upload files containing illegal copies of motion pictures and TV shows to its servers and to third-party sites."

According to the MPAA's suit, Hotfile is no free-information advocate. This is straight-up piracy for profit, the trade group said. Hotfile collects revenues by charging a monthly fee.

Correction 2:17 p.m. PT: This story incorrectly identified the company that filed a copyright complaint against Hotfile last month. Liberty Media Holdings is the correct name.