The US state of Washington has sued the owners of Movieland.com, alleging that the company used spyware to strong-arm users into signing up for its paid movie download service.
Consumers who dowloaded Movieland.com's free three-day trial software would eventually be hit with frequent pop-up adverts informing them that they were legally obliged to purchase the product, said Paula Selis, an assistant attorney general with the state. The tactics forced some consumers to give in and pay between $20 and $100 (about £10 to £54) for the service, she said.
Washington State, and other organisations such as the US Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau have received thousands of consumer complaints about Movieland.com, dating back to the end of 2005, Selis added. "We sued them because we were getting complaints from consumers who felt they were being harassed and held over a barrel for payments that they didn't agree to make," she said.
The suit was filed yesterday in Seattle. It charges Movieland.com's parent company, Digital Enterprises, with violating the state's antispyware and consumer protection laws. Two company officials are also named in the suit: Easton Herd, and Andrew Garroni, both of Los Angeles.
Garroni and Herd's companies operated a number of video download services, including Moviepass.tv and Popcorn.net, the Washington Attorney General's office said.
Though the company's free trial software does advise users that they will be obliged to purchase a monthly licence if they do not cancel, this notice does not sufficiently explain what will happen if the software is installed, Selis said.
Movieland.com's website offers downloads saying, "No Spyware", "Virus Free" and "No Extra Charge".
The company did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
Movieland.com is the second company to be sued under Washington's 2005 Computer Spyware Act. In January the Attorney General's office sued Secure Computer, alleging that its Spyware Cleaner software failed to work as advertised. That litigation is ongoing, Selis said.