RapidShare Partners With Warner Bros., Plans to Launch Movie Download Site

RapidShare.com, the controversial one-click file hoster, is working on a movie site with plans to eventually include paid downloads of major Hollywood blockbusters. The Switzerland-based company is testing the waters with a beta site dubbed RapidMovies that currently includes a few dozen trailers. Perhaps more remarkable than the test site itself is RapidShare’s first high-profile content partner: Warner Bros. supplied almost all of the trailers.

RapidShare has been enjoying a somewhat contentious relationship with the entertainment industry. The company is currently battling German music rights holders in court, and judges have so far sided with the music industry. The startup has been having more luck with video game companies and has been distributing game trailers and patches through a dedicated gaming portal called RapidGames. It’s now hoping other movie studios will eventually come around as well.

The company recently soft-launched RapidMovies without any announcement, and has been slowly adding German and English trailers to the site. Users must have a premium account to play the streams, but can download trailers for free like any other file hosted on RapidShare. A company spokesperson excused any kinks by stating that the site is really just part of an initial test phase. Warner Bros. didn’t respond to requests for comment about its plans for future cooperation with the one-click hoster.

RapidShare has big plans for its RapidMovies platform. The company told me it’s working on a payment system to allow the sale of movie downloads. It already has a billing relationship with a large number of users who pay to get better download speeds and upload privileges. The company also recently started to sell prepaid cards through select retailers in Germany, and it actually has a rewards program in place which could potentially be used to trade credits earned for attracting new users for movie downloads.

The company is best known for offering one-click file hosting to end users, and critics have long argued that the primary use for the site is the unauthorized distribution of music, movies and software. German music rights group GEMA sued RapidShare in 2007, and a Hamburg-based court recently ordered the company to remove 5,000 songs from its servers and make sure those titles wouldn’t get uploaded again. However, RapidShare is appealing that decision. It maintains that it’s merely operating as a file hoster, and as such can’t be held responsible for its users’ actions. The company also started to cooperate with rights holders and is now offering a take-down interface to a select number of rights holders.

Legal or not, the demand for files hosted on RapidShare is impressive: The company announced earlier this year that it’s now utilizing 500-Gigabit bandwidth to serve hundreds of millions of files. Alexa.com currently lists RapidShare.com as the 25th most popular site in the world.

It remains to be seen whether popularity and partners like Warner Bros. are enough to make paid movie downloads work for RapidShare. Usenet file hoster Guba.com began to sell Warner Bros. content in 2006, only to quickly fade into irrelevance after it failed to attract an audience willing to pay for Hollywood fare.