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updated 12/29/2006 10:58:52 AM ET 2006-12-29T15:58:52

A court has ordered the popular Chinese Web portal Sohu.com to pay damages for distributing Hollywood movies online without permission, a U.S. film industry group said Friday.

The Beijing court ordered a subsidiary of Nasdaq-listed Sohu.com Inc. to pay $140,000 in damages and publish an acknowledgment of its wrongdoing, the Motion Picture Association said.

A Sohu spokeswoman, Zhang Xin, said the company was aware of the ruling but had no comment on it.

China is regarded as the world's leading source of illegally copied movies, software and other goods, despite repeated government promises to stamp out the underground industry.

Sohu distributed the films in 2004-05 through a subscription download service on its Web site, the MPA said in a statement. It said titles included "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and "S.W.A.T."

"The ruling supports our collective resolve to vigorously protect the rights of our member companies to the full extent of the law," Mike Ellis, a senior vice president of the MPA, said in a statement.

The MPA has 35 more lawsuits over complaints of film piracy pending in Chinese courts, according to the statement.

The MPA is the international arm of the Motion Picture Association of America. Its member companies are Buena Vista International Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp., Sony Pictures Releasing International Corp., Twentieth Century Fox International Corp., Universal International Films Inc., and Warner Bros. Pictures International.

The MPA says film piracy in China is believed to have cost American studios US$244 million in lost box office revenues last year.

The group says Chinese regulators are encouraging a market for pirated movies by restricting foreign imports to only a few dozen titles per year for theatrical release.

The MPA statement noted that five of the 10 movies cited in its lawsuit against Sohu were not released theatrically in China.

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