Interview: S.E. Tan

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S.E. Tan says 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."

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 steppingstone. 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."

Tan says he's not looking for a legal battle. "We don't like arguments," he says. "We want to make this project successful. Someone has to do something to bring this forward (broadcasting video on the Web) because after so many years no one has done anything except the XXX sites."

Tan says is losing money right now, but he won't get into too many specifics. He says they pay $228 per month for each of their 40 to 50 T1 lines. The site currently has "a few hundred thousand" users and delivers between 2,000 and 3,000 movies a day, usually at a cost of $1 per showing — shorts and animation cost 50c, new releases go for $2. He wouldn't reveal the extent of investment required to start, but said the servers alone had cost millions of dollars.

How do they put their movies online? operatives use Real Producer software to convert DVDs into Real Player files, which are then loaded onto the site's servers in Taipei and elsewhere. He claims the movies are bought, borrowed or rented. The only guiding principle is popularity and his reading of the law.

"If it is a movie that can be played and people will like it, and it is not against Taiwanese law, we'll put it on the site."

What about breaking international copyright laws?

"There is no way the U.S. is going to interfere with the law in Taiwan."

The site provides only streaming video, but hackers are constantly trying to download the films. "We try not to let people download movies because downloading takes up a higher amount of bandwidth," says Tan. "Also, we don't want people to download the movies and sell them on the street. That's what happened in Taiwan with Napster — all the college students started selling CDs on the street of songs they downloaded off the internet. We don't want people to do that with our movies. We want to broadcast them so people can watch them."

But isn't effectively pirating movies?

"We have spent three months studying the law in Taiwan, talking to all the authorities we can get," says Tan. "According to the law, if a movie is not released in Taiwan within 30 days of its release elsewhere, it is no longer protected by Taiwan's copyright law."

Would he ever purchase broadcast rights for films on the site?

"As long as we are operating under the laws of the Republic of China (Taiwan), we don't need to go to other companies," says Tan. "This is not like Napster because people cannot download the movies. We just want people to be able to watch movies online. These Internet movies do not compare to the quality you see in the cinema or the theater. We are not trying to get business from Hollywood. I don't like watching movies online. If I like a movie that I see on the site, I'll go buy the DVD and bring it home and watch it on my own super sound system. You watch it online, and if the movie is good you go back to the theater to enjoy it in the theater or you go buy the DVD. In fact, by making it easier and more convenient for people to see these movies, we are promoting these Hollywood movies and not getting a single cent from the companies. They are just yelling at us."

Tan says the Motion Picture Association of America sent an email through its web site listing their concerns. "They are very kind people, very nice, very sincere," says Tan of the MPAA. "They said something like, 'There are a few movies on your server that are in violation of law 106 something-something of America.' But what's the law of the United States got to do with Taiwan?"

Does fear competition?

"We are not the only ones doing this," says Tan. "Maybe our collection is more complete compared to others. We think there should be more sites like It would be better for everyone. If you were the MPAA, wouldn't you want to set up your own movie site so you can control the quality?"

In fact, Tan hopes to build Internet broadcasting sites for TV networks. "A few TV stations have approached us, but we can't name who they are until we finalize the agreements. They want to talk to us about broadcasting on our site — TV stations from Australia and Europe. I think is a good example of what we will see in the future. Don't you?"