Videotaping In Cinemas Likely To Be Federal
Congress Proposes Camcording Legislation
by Jonathan Yarowsky
NATO Washington Counsel
In this column, we have recently updated
you on the increasingly urgent debate in Congress over
how best to reduce online piracy of intellectual property
like music and movies. While a number of pieces of digital
rights-related legislation are pending before both the
House and Senate, there continues to be wide disagreement
on the best means of protecting creative content online,
consumers’ fair-use rights and the ability of the
consumer electronics industry to continue to develop technological
innovations. In the midst of this larger debate, some in
Congress are looking to curtail another piracy practice
in the offline world – the recording of motion pictures
inside movie theatres.
Offenders Pay $2,500 Fine
In California Cinemas
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California on Sept. 25 became the fourth U.S.
state to outlaw the operation of camcorders within a cinema.
Taping off a cinema screen
will become a criminal violation as of Jan. 1,
thanks to a bill signed by Gov. Gray Davis.
Under the law, taping with
a camcorder is a misdemeanor offense punishable
by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
The law covers any and all other recording devices
that may be utilized in the future.
The digital recording of movies
before or after their initial theatrical release is one
of the most pressing piracy problems now facing the industry.
Movies captured by digital camcorders under cover of a
darkened theatre venue are routinely sent to countries
in Asia and Eastern Europe, where high-quality DVDs are
made and sold on the streets often even before the movies
have been released in the United States. Pirated movie
files also regularly appear on Internet sites like Kazaa
and other “peer-to-peer” networks within hours
of a premiere, or even before, if pirates successfully
record films in early screenings.
Here are a few daunting statistics: According
to the Motion Picture Association of America, 93 percent
of pirated product
that is first available to the public online begins as
a camcorder copy. Raids in the United States have uncovered
250,000 pirated optical disks in the first six months
of 2003, compared to 7,000 in the same period of 2002.
estimated 80 source labs in the United States, which
are the major suppliers of pirated camcorder-copied product,
have been investigated in the first half of 2003, a 200-percent
increase over the same period in 2002. There are currently
16 active camcorder piracy investigations being conducted
in the United States.
In response to the growing concern of the
motion picture industry, some members of Congress are looking
this improper activity a federal crime. Rep. John Conyers
(D-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee,
has introduced the “Author, Consumer, and Computer
Owner Protection and Security Act of 2003,” or the “ACCOPS
Act” (H.R. 2572), which makes it a federal offense
to camcord a movie in a theatre without authorization.
This provision appears to have widespread support, and
we expect it may be added to other pending legislation
that is designed to protect content online. We continue
to closely monitor this measure as it moves through the
legislative process in the House. In addition, Rep. Gregory
Meeks (D-N.Y.) indicated earlier this year that he intends
to introduce legislation similar to the Conyers’ bill,
which would be modeled on a New York state statute making
it a state crime to operate a recording device in a movie
theatre without permission. At the time of this writing,
the legislation has not yet been introduced.
The exhibition industry has a vested interest
in ensuring that creative content is protected. As interested
of Congress are aware, NATO members take very seriously
the fact that piracy can begin in movie theatres and
will do their part to prevent such piracy.