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MPAA warnings hit the big screen

The Motion Picture Association of America launches a series of TV ads and movie trailers informing people about the dangers of violating copyright laws.

Warnings about downloading movies are coming soon to a theater near you.

In an unprecedented campaign urging people not to copy movies, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is launching a series of TV ads and movie trailers as well as a Web site warning of the dangers of violating copyright laws.

The MPAA is increasingly worried that its movies will be swapped via the Internet among millions of people who haven't paid for copies, as software tools and faster broadband connections make it easier to do so. As a result, the industry is stepping up its efforts to warn and crack down on people who might be interested in swapping movies online.

"It is incumbent upon our industry to teach people that copyright theft is not a victimless crime," Peter Chernin, chairman of MPAA member the Fox Group, said in a statement. "We feel very strongly about the need to communicate that piracy has the power to cost real people real jobs and that illegally downloading movies is a blow to creativity, not corporate might."

The association's new Web site, RespectCopyrights.org, warns that people who download movies online are not only breaking the law and threatening the livelihood of thousands of workers in the industry, but they're also opening their computers up to vulnerabilities and cheating themselves with low-quality copies of films.

The MPAA said that 35 network and cable outlets will begin airing public service campaigns July 24. The association said the networks each donated 30 seconds for a spot in the first prime-time break. The movie trailers will debut at more than 5,000 theaters in the United States on July 25.

In addition, the MPAA said it has partnered with the Junior Achievement Organization to try to reach students in the fifth through ninth grades and educate them about copyright laws.

The MPAA's move follows similar efforts by the Recording Industry Association of America, which last fall launched a campaign featuring major recording artists who compared swapping music files online with shoplifting. Since then, the RIAA has sued some students who operated Napster-like services over their school networks. And last month, the RIAA began to gather evidence to prepare lawsuits against people who trade music files online. So far, the group has sent hundreds of subpoenas to Internet service providers, seeking to identify people it suspects of trading songs. The group's efforts have come under fire from some civil liberties groups as being overly harsh and potentially ensnaring innocent people without putting a dent in file swapping.

At least one study found that file swapping has declined since the RIAA announced its plans to sue file swappers, but operators of file-swapping networks have disputed those figures, saying their traffic has actually grown or remained steady and that the July 4 holiday may have affected the findings.