Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has decided to take music and movie pirates to court.

However, these probably aren’t the type of thieves you’re thinking of.

While most music theft these days occurs online via peer-to-peer file-sharing websites, the Los Angeles Police Department and city prosecutors have identified another type of racket that they said is hurting entertainment rights holders: the illegal sale of content stored on computer memory cards.

“Music piracy undermines one of L.A.’s signature industries, robbing our workforce of precious jobs, depriving our city of needed tax revenue and frustrating artists’ creativity,” Feuer said in a statement issued by his office last week. “My office is committed to aggressively rein in this serious crime.”

Filed by Deputy City Attorney Kevin A. Gilligan on Dec. 19, the case is being called the first-ever civil enforcement action for memory-card piracy by a prosecutor in the United States.

The defendant is 29-year-old Leopoldo Lara, who is accused of selling pirated and counterfeit music, movies and video games burned onto CDs and DVDs since 2003. More recently, he is alleged to have begun selling stolen content on portable memory devices from his base of operations in downtown’s Fashion District. Memory cards can store hundreds, or even thousands, of songs and movies – far more than can be stored on either a CD or DVD.

Lara has allegedly sold, or intended to sell, nearly 12,000 counterfeit and pirated items with an estimated retail value in excess of $280,000, according to the statement from Feuer’s office.

Prosecutors are seeking a stay-away order that will bar Lara from the Fashion District as well as an injunction to prohibit future counterfeit sales, plus possible fines.

A city attorney spokesman told the Business Journal that no criminal charges are being sought against Lara, but other perpetrators could face civil suits in the near future.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as our office is concerned,” said Frank Mateljan III, deputy director of community engagement and outreach for the City Attorney’s Office. “We need to send a strong message that we’re evolving with the counterfeiters.”

Mateljan said prosecutors have worked closely with the rights holders in this case, though they are not parties to the suit.

Erik Syverson, an intellectual property attorney and partner in the digital media practice group at Raines Feldman in Beverly Hills, said prosecutors are likely hoping to make an example of Lara.

“The bottom line is that most prosecutions and actions like this are trying to send a message and have a deterrent effect,” said Syverson. “Countering counterfeiting is a whack-a-mole game to a certain extent.”

Syverson added that the increased monitoring of online piracy could be forcing thieves back to old-fashioned, bootlegged goods.

“Maybe that’s the most interesting part of this,” he said. “Maybe people are moving to the old-school, pre-Internet infringement mode.”

Gilligan’s position is paid for partly by grant funds from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

This federal money has been used to fund other criminal and civil abatement lawsuits filed by the City Attorney’s Office against sellers of counterfeit goods.

Zooming Overseas

LegalZoom.com Inc. said last week that it has been approved to provide legal services with lawyers in the United Kingdom.

The Glendale legal document company will operate LegalZoom Legal Services Ltd. as an alternative business structure and has already launched a website for the U.K. market.

Craig Holt, a co-founder of a network of local law firms in the United Kingdom, was named to head up LegalZoom Legal Services.

LegalZoom co-founder Edward Hartman said that the U.K. expansion will allow the company to work more closely with attorneys.

“Lawyers are a key ingredient of any legal solution, and licensing as an (alternative business structure) is a natural building block of LegalZoom’s future,” Hartman said in a statement last week.

The most high-profile provider of legal forms on the Internet, LegalZoom was co-founded in 2001 by three Internet entrepreneurs and Roberto Shapiro, a prominent L.A. attorney.

It focused originally on wills, but has since expanded to rental agreements, invoices and even dog-walking contracts. Now it sells more than 160 different documents to individuals, families and small businesses.

Rebooting

PodcastOne, an audio programming studio in Beverly Hills, has hired Kris Smith as its chief technology officer. The company, launched by Westwood One founder and chairman emeritus Norm Pattiz in 2010, produces 200 celebrity podcasts. Its hosts include comedian Adam Carolla, actor and professional wrestler Steve Austin and former reality television star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi.

Staff reporter Omar Shamout can be reached at oshamout@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 263. San Fernando Valley Business Journal Staff reporter Mark Madler contributed to this column.

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