Beyond Hollywood's Reach

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Want to watch the recent Sandra Bullock comedy Miss Congeniality online? All it costs is $1. Just visit, pony up your Visa or MasterCard, and the movie is there for the viewing--along with enough other dollar-a-picture titles (Batman, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) to fill a medium-size Blockbuster. Though the quality is beyond awful--unwatchable might be a better description--the site is the best indication yet of how close Hollywood is to getting truly burned by the Internet.

The Motion Picture Association of America wants Movie88 taken down. The problem is that no one knows exactly where it is. Most indicators point to Taiwan, though the Taiwanese police maintain it appears to be in Virginia.


S.E. Tan says, which offers streaming video of recent and classic Hollywood movies for about $1, is his brainchild. He's the Chief Technology Officer of Eternity Italy Limited, a "virtual company" registered in the Virgin Islands to avoid paying taxes. "It is not like a traditional business," says Tan. "We don't have an office and an address. As long as we have people and computers, we can do it."

What can't do is tell you much more about himself — partly because what he's doing is illegal under U.S. copyright law. Tan gives his age as "early thirties" and won't discuss his resume. He is ethnically Chinese, he says, but won't divulge his nationality. Although his servers are mostly based in Taiwan to take advantage of a loophole he claims to have found in that country's copyright laws, he flatly denies that he's Taiwanese.

Why he started

Fed up with years of empty promises about WebTV and the like, Tan and his colleagues started their site to jumpstart Internet broadcasting. "The main reason this content is held back is because of profit," explains Tan. "Someone has to do something; we're not going to wait. We had to start the ball rolling. I believe ( is a good stepping-stone. We can force Hollywood and the movies studios and TV stations to do something (about putting more content on the web)."

"Bill Gates was talking about doing WebTV a long time ago. But it never happened. Why? Because the companies refuse to release the rights."

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Through the website that handles Movie88's credit-card transactions, TIME was able to track down a man who calls himself S.E. Tan, who claims to have started the site to force Hollywood to distribute movies worldwide via the Net. "The main reason this content is held back is because of profit," says Tan. Hollywood's desire to protect movies from hackers is why Britney Spears' new opus, for example, isn't online today. Greed, he says, is standing in the way of progress. "Someone has to do something. We had to start the ball rolling."

Tan says he is the chief technology officer of Eternity Italy Ltd., a "virtual company" registered in the British Virgin Islands ("because it is tax free"), which is the holding company for Movie88. "We don't have an office and an address," he says. "As long as we have people and computers, we can do it." Reached via a Malaysian cell-phone number, Tan says he's an ethnic Chinese in his early 30s who travels a lot and created his vast movie collection by copying DVDs. "I can get great movies in L.A.," he says. "Hollywood Video, Blockbuster. 20/20 has a very good, very complete collection." His site loses money, he claims, though as many as 3,000 films a day are sold on it. The problem is the cost of his Internet connection and his employees.

At least his legal costs aren't an issue. "There is no way the U.S. is going to interfere with law in Taiwan," he predicts. Besides, Taiwan's Internet copyright laws are virtually nonexistent, experts there say. "Several articles under the criminal law lay down penalties for crimes via Internet such as money laundering and counterfeits," explains Chen Mei-ling, at Taiwan's Ministry of Justice. "Other than that, we have no laws."

The way Tan sees it, is doing Hollywood a favor. "These Internet movies do not compare with the quality you see in the cinema," he says. "You watch it online, and if the movie is good, you go to the theater or go buy the DVD. We are promoting these Hollywood movies and not getting a single cent from the companies. They are just yelling at us." The ingrates.