Recently, at a Regal Cinemas complex in Arlington, VA (Ballston), where I often go myself, a girl was arrested for taping about twenty seconds of the Dreamworks film “Transformers” on a camcorder, near the end. She wanted to show the clip to her little brother. But she didn’t get to see the end. In a few minutes, Arlington police were confiscating her camera and arresting her for “illegally recording a motion picture.” And Regal Cinemas is prosecuting the case, which can lead to a $2500 fine and up to a year in jail.
Actual prosecutions of this nature have been rare, although some states, including Virginia, have such laws (as well as federal criminal copyright violation laws). The theater insists it has a zero-tolerance policy on “piracy” and that its employees have no discretion in deciding what is a below-the-radar-screen infraction.
The story by Daniela Deane is “Out of the Theater; Into the Courtroom: Brief Taping Brings Charges,” page B01 print of The Washington Post, Thursday Aug. 2, 2007. Here is the link:
Although there are lots of stories of pirated DVD’s from China made from illegal camcorder recordings, it’s hard to believe that people really buy them, and that it drives away revenue from studios. I guess it does. I would expect the copies to be of poor quality. More of a threat would be piracy over the Internet with P2P, something already discussed, and a serious issue for parents and teenagers (who have gotten sued suddenly by phone from the RIAA for music piracy, at least) and for colleges with dorms.
Teenagers and sometimes adults have trouble understanding what is "wrong" with all of this. Shia La Beouf really isn't going to lose any royalty income from his part, right? Who is getting hurt? The industry says it is a model problem, like many moral problems. Movies cannot be made and employees cannot be hired if there is not an expectation that consumers will pay a "fair market price" for the product with good faith. But many other issues have this kind of paradigm.
There have been variations of this theme before. Back in the 1960s, sometimes counterfeit phonograph records were sold.
And, although rare, I’ve seen odd behavior by theater chains. Once, late on a Saturday afternoon in September 1992 when I went to see Clive Barker’s “Candyman” at an AMC chain (no longer there) at a Bailey’s Crossroads shopping mall, a woman came into the small auditorium and lectured the audience about talking during the movie, and that people could be evicted. And the theater chain advertised a “no talking” policy at its Union Station property in Washington.
I do think it is a good idea for theaters to block cell phone signals in their auditoriums and spare us turning them off. But, in the meantime, when I ride Metro to the Landmark E-Street downtown, I leave the camera (otherwise used for digital pictures and videos in Washington) home, since it cannot legally be brought into the theater. They haven’t said we can’t bring cell phones in yet, but they are technically capable of piracy.
Also, I’ve seen moderators on TheWB or CWTB message boards (“Goddess of the Internet”) delete posts of topics encouraging piracy and warning participants not to make such postings.
I am two-faced on how I feel about the whole issue. As an artist-in-process myself, I see that piracy threat could affect new filmmakers from getting investor money. On the other, copy protection technology in digital devices could interfere with new filmmakers distributing their own material legally (this sounds a bit like turf protection).
When I went to see "The Bourne Ultimatum" at an AMC last night, the theater was giving away a CD with twelve trailers (at the concession stand). I forgot to pick it up, but it's clear that the studios "give away" clips at their own discretion. (And what about those DVD's that force you to watch the previews, wasting time, first?)