LOS ANGELES — Hollywood studios said Thursday they will file hundreds of lawsuits later this month against individuals who swap pirated copies of movies over the Internet.
The move is a reversal of the studios’ earlier reluctance to follow the aggressive legal path taken by the music industry.
Internet piracy of movies is not nearly as rampant as in the music industry, in large part because movie files are huge and can take hours to download, in contrast to less than a minute in most cases for songs.
But Dan Glickman, the new head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the lawsuits were necessary now, before high-speed Internet access makes downloading pirated copies of movies easier.
“This was not an easy decision, but it must be done now before illegal online file sharing of movies spins out of control,” Glickman said Thursday.
The MPAA claims the U.S. movie industry loses more than $3 billion annually in potential global revenue because of physical piracy, or bogus copies of videos and DVDs of its films.
Videotaped copies of films in theaters often are digitized or burned off DVDs and then distributed on file-sharing networks accessed with software programs like eDonkey, Kazaa and Grokster.
Glickman did not say how many lawsuits would be filed, although sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said several hundred individuals would be named in the first round. Glickman said the legal campaign would be ongoing.
The lawsuits would seek civil penalties of as much as $30,000 per download and as much as $150,000 if the infringement is proven to be willful.
Some critics of the music industry’s legal efforts question whether they are effective. They also question the negative backlash that comes from suing people who may have downloaded one or two songs.
“The recording industry lawsuits don’t appear to have reduced file sharing to any meaningful degree,” said Fred von Lohmann, a senior intellectual property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The lawsuits will be accompanied by an ad campaign featuring a photo of a finger on a computer mouse and the obscured screen names of people the MPAA says are breaking the law.
“Is this you?” the ad reads. “If you think you can get away with illegally trafficking in movies, think again.”
The MPAA, which represents the seven major film studios, has tried several methods over the past few years to stem illegal downloading, including ads that play in theaters emphasizing how piracy hurts set painters, directors, electricians and others who earn their living in the movie industry.