Authorities have raided a San Diego Web publisher and seized thousands of digital images that Playboy Enterprises says it owns.
Federal marshals, accompanied by two attorneys from Playboy, conducted the raid yesterday on Five Senses Productions and copied images stored on three computers owned by Francesco Sanfilippo. After the duplicates were made, the images were erased from the computers.
The action against Five Senses and Sanfilippo is the latest in a series of legal actions Playboy has initiated to protect its copyrighted images from unauthorized use on the Internet.
Sanfilippo operates Five Senses, a subscription-based service that filters Usenet newsgroups. Launched in December, Five Senses charges a $5 monthly fee to about 1,000 subscribers, who then get access to adult entertainment images.
Sanfilippo said in an interview today that he pulled 4,000 to 5,000 images from the Net each day and that he had no way of knowing which belonged to Playboy. He admitted that Playboy warned him in both December and January to remove specific images on his site. He says he complied.
"Playboy failed to inform me that some other images on my Web site were violating copyright," he said today. "These images were retrieved from public newsgroups over the Net. I didn't do any of the actual scannings; I don't even own a scanner. The copyright symbol wasn't on any of the images, so I didn't really know where it came from."
But Playboy says Sanfilippo knew what he was doing.
"Once warned, he would take the pictures down for a while, then rename the images and the index and put the same images back up," Playboy spokeswoman Rebecca Theim said today. "He was also selling CD-ROMs with our images. Many of the pictures were well-known Playboy images, such as those of Pamela Anderson."
Playboy is cracking down on suspected piracy of copyrighted property because it is launching a new subscription-based service in the next few weeks, which is in beta now. The raid was carried out after Playboy had obtained a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction from federal Judge Irma E. Gonzalez.
"Whether they were scanned from a magazine by someone else or he physically scanned them is not the issue. He was selling copyrighted material from his site that he was warned not to do," Theim added. "We will never let other people use our copyrights [without authorization], whether they are for sale or not."
Sanfilippo says he was told that he will get back any seized images that did not belong to Playboy. As for now, he plans to stay in business.
"If I'm supposedly an infringer, then the person who runs the newsgroups server is an infringer. So that would make every single ISP an infringer," Sanfilippo said. "Why aren?t they going after them?"
Playboy will ask for a permanent injunction against Five Senses at a hearing is scheduled next Friday, to stop the business from using its images in the future. Playboy has not determined whether it will take further action against Sanfilippo.