Plug pulled on site selling $1 movies

Taiwanese Web site Movie88.com says its Internet service provider has blocked it without warning, describing the act as "equivalent to execution without trial."

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
An ambitious overseas effort to create an online video-on-demand service without the permission of the Hollywood film studios disappeared from the Net early Tuesday morning.

Movie88.com, a Taiwanese Web site that offered access to a huge library of films for just $1 each, had drawn Hollywood's ire after reaching the world's attention in early February. Although the site's owners claimed they were complying with Taiwanese copyright law, copyright-holders' groups quickly dubbed it a "pirate" site.

According to the Motion Picture Association (MPA), an international trade group representing the interests of the film industry, Taiwanese authorities helped shut the site down.

"We are grateful to the Taiwanese authorities for their swift action in shutting down Movie88.com," MPA Chief Executive Officer Jack Valenti said in a statement. "Internet piracy is a crime with a global reach affecting every creator and copyright owner, consumer and the economy. We cannot afford to regard this form of piracy casually."

According to an e-mail sent by the site early Tuesday morning, the service was blocked without warning by its Taiwanese Internet service provider, HiNet.

"This is equivalent to execution without trial and an absolute abuse by the ISP," Movie88's operators said in the e-mail, which was sent to several journalists. "As a result, thousands of registered users who have paid some money to rent movies are stranded."

HiNet could not immediately be reached for comment.

Movie88 had posed an unexpected threat to studios' own video-on-demand services such as Movielink and Movies.com, which are still months away from commercial service.

The Taiwanese site was run on a video-store model, allowing people to "rent" access to movies for three days in return for a payment of just $1. The movies, which were streamed to a computer in RealNetworks' video format, could not easily be saved to a hard drive or downloaded.

In its e-mail, the company said it had not been approached by Taiwanese authorities and had never been served any court documents. Instead, ISP HiNet simply shut off access to its site, Movie88 said.

"We are now doing whatever we can to restore our access and protest against the outrageous act of HiNet," the company wrote. "This must not be a precedent. Even if there are issues about our content, we must be given a fair trial. Our registered users must not be made to suffer."

The film industry, along with the record and software industries, often approaches ISPs directly with concerns about subscribers' Web sites or other Internet activity. All three industries have had considerable success in convincing ISPs to close Internet accounts or limit access to sites that offer copyrighted material online.