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Edward Webb, who runs the popular site LokiTorrent that connects users to free downloadable movies, has several big enemies. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – the biggest of the big – is taking a page from the music industry and suing sites that enable people to swap BitTorrent movie files.

But Webb has a gaggle of friends as well, and he’s reaching out to his Loki community for financial assistance to pay his legal bills. So far, in 10 days, the Loki users have chipped in nearly $40,000 for Webb’s defense fund.

Webb’s approach is unique. Nearly 60 percent of the sites the MPAA has contacted with cease-and-desist letters have decided to voluntarily shut down, and a majority of the remaining destinations are either working to comply with the order or finalizing legal settlements, according to Dean Garfield, vice president and director of legal affairs for the MPAA.

“We’re having a dramatic impact on the network, on the illegal traffic on the network,” says Garfield.

These responses echo what most individuals sued by the RIAA did: faced with the enormous legal costs necessary to fight the entertainment industry, ordinary people decided to stop and settle.

Webb decided to stand up to the MPAA, but knew he didn’t have enough money to fight alone.  So, he put the word out.

“If you’ve ever benefited from this site or file-sharing in general, now is the time to show your support,” he wrote in a message on the home page. “We are looking at a cost of $30K per month in fees. Recent estimates by attorneys are looking at 2-3 times this amount in a full-on battle. Help us fight back and ensure your right to share doesn’t end here.”
Mohamed, a 20-year-old Loki user from Finland who prefers to keep his last name private, says he supports Webb’s efforts.

“I think this is a brave stand in the face of the powerful elite who want to get a share out of everything,” says Mohamed.

With media conglomerates targeting individuals with big dollar lawsuits and technology companies increasingly dictating how people can use hardware and software, digital collectives have started springing up to give voice to users. Call it the Friendster/Firefox phenomenon – tapping into a community of like-minded people to affect change.

Last month, users of the alternative browser Firefox were so moved by the product’s first non-beta release that they bought a full-page ad in The New York Times to congratulate the developers.

“I think you saw a bit of it around the election last year when the campaigns for Dean and Clark launched Friendster-like sites to raise money,” says Jonathan Abrams, CEO of Friendster.

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