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Leaked Schwarzenegger ad draws legal fire

A parody site showcases Japanese commercials starring such names as Leonardo DiCaprio, Meg Ryan, Demi Moore and Sean Connery--but is drawing legal heat.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
3 min read
If you've ever wanted to see Arnold Schwarzenegger crated and shipped out of the country, now is your chance.

The Hollywood megastar is not generally known for endorsements, but he gamely plays the role of a boxed entertainment export in a commercial in Japan. He also dons a fake mustache and a wig to portray a reporter and "funky guy" in the production, which was not meant for release in the United States.

But it has slipped onto the Web.

Hollywood superstars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Meg Ryan, Demi Moore and Sean Connery can now be seen pitching products in Japanese commercials on Gaijin a Go Go Cafe. Produced by Canadian Web design firm Zero One Design, the parody site has streaming videos of TV commercials featuring film stars hawking Mazdas, Suntory Whiskey and beauty cream.

"These stars are doing insanely cheesy commercials in Japan and making big bucks over there," said David Alexander, a partner at Zero One Design. "We thought it would be interesting to put it on the site and let anyone look at them."

But kitsch value sometimes does not win friends with corporations.

Yesterday, attorneys for satellite TV company DirecTV sent Zero One Design a cease-and-desist letter asking them to take down the made-for-Japan commercial featuring Schwarzenegger, claiming the site infringes DirecTV's trademark and Schwarzenegger's intellectual property rights.

Attorneys for Japanese advertising giant Dentsu, which produced the commercial, also sent the trio a cease-and-desist letter claiming copyright violation.

Zero One Designs has until Aug. 10 to remove the video stream. The companies did not detail what actions they plan to take.

The legal action underscores the ongoing conflict between copyright protection and the publishing power of the Internet. The Net is rife with Web sites allowing surfers to download amateur videos or listen to audio files. But offering professional artistic works on the Internet has opened a new can of worms.

A string of high-profile lawsuits has recently gathered international attention, with traditional entertainment companies taking legal action to bar the digital distribution of copyrighted works on the Web.

The most famous example is the ongoing battle between the recording industry and the Napster file-sharing service. Napster has become a runaway phenomenon, letting members who download the software search for audio files of songs from other people's hard drives. The recording industry considers Napster a distributor of pirated songs and has fought aggressively to shut down the service.

Hollywood has also stepped into the ring. Two weeks ago, the Motion Picture Association of America slapped start-up Scour.net with a lawsuit alleging that the Web site has contributed to massive violations of the movie studios' copyrights. Like Napster, Scour lets its members open their hard drives to trade files. But unlike Napster, Scour lets people trade movies and other multimedia files.

Hollywood has also targeted smaller Web companies that it has deemed harmful to its copyrights. Earlier this year, it succeeded in shutting down iCraveTV, a Canadian Web company that had broadcast TV programming over the Internet.

More recently, the motion picture industry charged that RecordTV.com, which records TV shows and plays them back on the Web, has violated copyrights. The movie industry cited numerous examples of programs that were recorded, including "James Bond" movies and TV shows such as "Cheers" and "Frasier."

As lawsuits mount, the broadcast industry is lobbying hard in Washington to Napster special report keep Web companies from being given the right to rebroadcast TV programs. Companies such as Yahoo and America Online have kept lawmakers from blocking them entirely from this right, but the battle on Capitol Hill is still raging.

Zero One Design's founders say they are not trying to violate any copyrighted materials. Instead, they're just trying to show what cannot be seen in North America. Gaijin a Go Go Cafe does not charge a fee for its video streams. It also includes links to Amazon.com, where readers can purchase legitimate DVDs and videos featuring the stars in the ads.

Zero One Design's Alexander, who taught in Japan for two years, said he and his partners are not trying to turn this into a business.

Added co-founder Jonathan Lathigee, who worked as a dishwasher at Red Lobster in Japan, "We're just typical Gen X-ers who got together to do multimedia stuff."