What's the Link?

It's like the International Movie Database," says Roi Sorezki about MoviesPlanet.com. Sorezki first established the site in 2002 and about a month ago, MoviesPlanet got a facelift and began operating as a social network, an information database and - the big innovation - a tremendous database of links to television programs and films.

The widely reported court case against The Pirate Bay in Sweden, due for a verdict next month, has rekindled interest in file-sharing. Along with veteran and popular software programs like BitTorrent and eMule, recent years have witnessed the rise of new direct download sites like RapidShare or MegaUpload.

The American television networks, too, have understood that the Internet has to be taken seriously, and have linked up with sites like Hulu and Sling.com, which offer American viewers free access to watch the latest episodes of ongoing series.

However, these sites are blocked to viewers outside the U.S, who have to wait for the series to be screened on local television or buy an additional hard disc to store the episodes they have already downloaded.

Anyone who has not yet won the Green Card lottery uses sites like TVshack and megavideo.com, which stream films, sometimes at full length. Streaming allows you to view episodes online without having to download them.

The set-up of Sorezki's site is similar. "Once you enter the profile of an actor or a series, you have at your disposal all the world's information on the subject," he explains. "In addition, there is a button called Watch Online - which, in the spirit of Web 2.0, allows users to add and edit links themselves: to trailers, interviews with the actors, episodes and entire films. In 99 percent of cases, users sit there like fanatics and upload streaming. Films shown in the cinema quickly find their way on to the Internet, a development updated on the site. We add and erase links all the time, but it is impossible to keep track of this."

Just a minute - haven't you played some little trick here?

Sorezki: "No, I didn't play any trick, because links are legal. I don't even offer links to torrents. I only offer links to Web sites. And it's not even me offering them, but the users. You can call this a trick, but there are other sites that offer full and legal viewing."

Sorezki stresses that his site's activity is legal and that if he receives complaints about a particular content, he immediately removes the link. "However, in most cases it is in the sites' interest that we link to them," he clarifies.

Dr. Nimrod Kozlovski, an expert on law and technology, says Sorezki is right - but not entirely so.

In the past, he says, sites that offered links only were fully protected. However, in recent years courts have become more stringent in their requirements.

"If the site goes beyond giving a platform for posting links and also carries out analyses, features a catalog of the contents or adds pictures and additional information, which it presents on its homepage - this weakens the claim that the site does not know the content. If it refers to a film site even after learning that the content is illegal, the defense will not hold," he says. "This defense is intended for sites like YouTube, featuring huge numbers of films and no one knows exactly what they are. There is also a question about the source of the links. If a site directs you to another site that offers links to its viewers to 'Come see the newest films at the cinema' and continues to link to that site even after learning that its content is illegal, the defense will not hold for it."

Sorezki says in response that, "I have not declared war, I will continue to act within the legal framework. If a studio wants me to remove an item for which it owns the copyright, I will remove it, including the link to entire episodes. And if a certain site asks that I block it, I will do that, too. But I am not prepared to block links to a network that does not ask me to remove it. And I promise you that even then, surfers will continue their cheeky practice and simply embed the films from elsewhere."