By Astrid Wendlandt and William Emmanuel
The producer of "The World According to Bush" has taken legal action against Google for distributing the film for free, becoming the latest media company to seek compensation for lost business on the Internet.
French production house Flach Film said on Thursday it had issued a writ against the U.S. Internet search engine and its French arm, Google France, for copyright infringement before a Paris commercial court.
"The World According to Bush" is a two-hour film investigating President George W. Bush's administration and the Bush family, including its connections with the Bin Laden family.
In a statement, Flach Film also warned that a legal Internet video market could not develop if such practices were allowed.
"Flach Film requests the court to sentence Google to provide compensation for the loss resulting from these illegal acts," Flach said, adding that it alleged Google had "not acted as a simple host but as a fully responsible publisher."
A spokeswoman for Google France confirmed it had received a complaint from Flach Film after which Google had removed links to the film from its sites.
"Our terms and conditions specify that users (Internet surfers) don't have permission to use videos which they don't own the rights to," she said.
While online social networking and file-sharing sites such as YouTube and MySpace enjoy strong popularity, they are also dogged by media companies seeking compensation for downloading of their films, music and videos.
Flach said its film was accessible for free on Google Video France through a simple click, as a stream or a download, and according to Google's own sources, had had in excess of 43,000 hits in "a very short period."
"We made estimates of the prejudice, and it goes well beyond 500,000 euros ($648,700). The film has been downloaded about 50,000 times, and it has certainly been copied afterwards," Jean-Francois Lepetit, producer of the film, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Earlier this month, Google closed its $1.65 billion acquisition of top online video-sharing site YouTube.
At the time, Google said one-eighth of the equity, or roughly $200 million, would be held in escrow as security on certain unspecified indemnification obligations.
On November 7, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt denied that his company had set aside $500 million to settle copyright claims by media companies as part of its deal to acquire YouTube.
The legal action against Google comes after Universal Music Group, the world's largest music company which is part of Vivendi, last week filed a suit against MySpace for infringing copyrights of thousands of its artists' works.
The lawsuit accuses News Corp.'s MySpace of allowing users to upload videos illegally and taking part in the infringement by re-formatting the videos to be played back or sent to others. MySpace has said its procedures for removing illegal downloads live up to laws protecting digital rights.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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