By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) - Citing lost box office sales that are "impossible to calculate," a California federal judge has issued an order to stop the operators of several websites from distributing stolen copies of the upcoming film "The Expendables 3."
The movie, distributed by Lions Gate Films, is scheduled to be released on Friday, but a pirated DVD-quality copy already had been downloaded more than 2.2 million times as of Aug. 1, according to court filings.
In granting a preliminary injunction to Lions Gate, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow said in a ruling in Los Angeles last Friday that the defendants "deprived both Lions Gate and many others of revenue that will be impossible to calculate because there is no way of knowing how many people would have paid to see the film" if it weren't for the copyright infringement.
Lions Gate sued the operators of six websites that did not respond to requests to remove the film from their content. The operators are listed as John Does in the complaint, as their identities are not yet known.
The sites include Limetorrents, which the complaint said used the peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol BitTorrent to distribute the film between computer users. Other entities allowed people to download or watch the film directly, according to the complaint.
The judge also ordered an asset freeze on all accounts associated with the sites.
The film is part of a lucrative franchise, with the first two "Expendables" installments grossing more than $575 million worldwide. They feature Hollywood action stars including Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Lions Gate said in court filings that all the pirated copies of the film originate from a single, high-quality digital file that had been stolen.
The company said it learned of the piracy on July 24, and that within days the film was available on hundreds of websites.
As of Monday, Limetorrents appeared to no longer post links to the film. A representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorneys for Lions Gate could not immediately be reached. A company spokesman declined to comment.
The case is Lions Gate Films Inc v. John Does 1-10 inclusive, d/b/a limetorrents.com, billionuploads.com, hulkfile.eu, played.to, swankshare.com, and dotsemper.com et al, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division. No. 14-cv-06033.
(Reporting By Andrew Chung; Editing by Ted Botha and Paul Simao)