Anti-Camcording Law in Action

by on August 2, 2007 · 10 comments

Dave Weigel reports on one of the unintended consequences of the copyright lobby crusade to criminalize anything vaguely connected to piracy. Some college kid wanted to capture a 20-second clip of the movie Transformers and so she brought a camcorder into the theater. Now she’s facing a fine of $2500 under “zero tolerance” anti-camcording laws.

The darknet critique applies to anti-camcording laws as much as it does to the DMCA. Once one copy of a movie leaks onto peer-to-peer networks, it rapidly spreads throughout the darknet. So unless you can get the rate of camcording down to zero, which is essentially impossible, these sorts of laws won’t stop anyone from getting ahold of pirated movies.

On the other hand, they can impose disproportionate penalties college kids who commit the crime of not being sufficiently familiar with the minutia of copyright law to know that taping a 20-second clip of a movie is a federal crime.

  • Adam Thierer

    I agree that if one copy gets online it’s real trouble for the copyright holder. But that doesn’t necessary mean it makes sense to scrap a law that says it’s illegal to record a movie in a cinema. Let’s face it, the vast majority of people who bring a camcorder into a theater are not looking for a simple 20-second clip. They’re looking to pirate the entire flick. (Moreover, if you want a 20-second clip of the movie, you could probably just grab something from the movie trailer online).

    Do you have any alternative enforcement mechanism? Or are you just saying that the industry should give up any effort to enforce copyright laws against someone who brings camcorders into cinemas?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I think it’s perfectly appropriate for the theater to kick out people who are camcording movies. But given that this law isn’t actually going to stop file-sharers from getting ahold of a movie (since there are a number of other ways movies can leak), it seems like a waste of taxpayer money to get the police involved. And if there is going to be a law like this, it certainly should be focused on people who try to record the entire movie, not people like the girl in this case that obviously wasn’t trying to do that.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    If it’s OK to record 20s of a movie, is it OK to translate one page of a Harry Potter book into Chinese? Allow for an exception for short clips, and 360 people could get together on the Internet and record an entire 120-minute movie.

  • Adam Thierer

    By that logic it is also a waste of taxpayer money for law enforcement to go after street vendors selling pirated DVD copies of movies, correct? What then would you say constitutes a reasonable enforcement action that was NOT a waste of taxpayer money? Because there is no doubt that, at some level, law enforcement resources will need to be used to prosecute copyright violations. Unless you believe that ALL law enforcement activities related to copyright are a waste of time and money. Of course, that means that copyright law essentially has no teeth at all and becomes entirely a private enforcement matter.

  • Adam Thierer

    I agree that if one copy gets online it’s real trouble for the copyright holder. But that doesn’t necessary mean it makes sense to scrap a law that says it’s illegal to record a movie in a cinema. Let’s face it, the vast majority of people who bring a camcorder into a theater are not looking for a simple 20-second clip. They’re looking to pirate the entire flick. (Moreover, if you want a 20-second clip of the movie, you could probably just grab something from the movie trailer online).

    Do you have any alternative enforcement mechanism? Or are you just saying that the industry should give up any effort to enforce copyright laws against someone who brings camcorders into cinemas?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Three points. First, I don’t think there should be a special law dealing with selling DVDs on street corners, either. But selling DVDs on street corners is a violation of vanilla copyright law. As far as I can see, camcording movies is not (although sharing the camcorded movie is) and camcording a 20-second clip definitely isn’t.

    Second, copyright law has always drawn distinctions between commercial and non-commercial activities, with officials generally focusing on professional bootleggers and turning a blind eye to casual home copying. I think that principle applies here. If someone is camcording as part of a commercial piracy ring, that’s something the authorities should be concerned with. But in that case, the crime is the piracy, not the camcording per se.

    Finally, the darknet critique doesn’t apply to physical media. If you arrest half the bootleg DVD vendors in a city, you could put a big dent in the number of bootleg DVDs consumers buy. The same isn’t true of peer-to-peer networks. If you reduce the number of people who camcord and upload Transformers from 10 to 5, the number of copies downloaded won’t change a bit, they’ll just all download one of the 5 that were uploaded.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I think it’s perfectly appropriate for the theater to kick out people who are camcording movies. But given that this law isn’t actually going to stop file-sharers from getting ahold of a movie (since there are a number of other ways movies can leak), it seems like a waste of taxpayer money to get the police involved. And if there is going to be a law like this, it certainly should be focused on people who try to record the entire movie, not people like the girl in this case that obviously wasn’t trying to do that.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    If it’s OK to record 20s of a movie, is it OK to translate one page of a Harry Potter book into Chinese? Allow for an exception for short clips, and 360 people could get together on the Internet and record an entire 120-minute movie.

  • Adam Thierer

    By that logic it is also a waste of taxpayer money for law enforcement to go after street vendors selling pirated DVD copies of movies, correct? What then would you say constitutes a reasonable enforcement action that was NOT a waste of taxpayer money? Because there is no doubt that, at some level, law enforcement resources will need to be used to prosecute copyright violations. Unless you believe that ALL law enforcement activities related to copyright are a waste of time and money. Of course, that means that copyright law essentially has no teeth at all and becomes entirely a private enforcement matter.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Three points. First, I don’t think there should be a special law dealing with selling DVDs on street corners, either. But selling DVDs on street corners is a violation of vanilla copyright law. As far as I can see, camcording movies is not (although sharing the camcorded movie is) and camcording a 20-second clip definitely isn’t.

    Second, copyright law has always drawn distinctions between commercial and non-commercial activities, with officials generally focusing on professional bootleggers and turning a blind eye to casual home copying. I think that principle applies here. If someone is camcording as part of a commercial piracy ring, that’s something the authorities should be concerned with. But in that case, the crime is the piracy, not the camcording per se.

    Finally, the darknet critique doesn’t apply to physical media. If you arrest half the bootleg DVD vendors in a city, you could put a big dent in the number of bootleg DVDs consumers buy. The same isn’t true of peer-to-peer networks. If you reduce the number of people who camcord and upload Transformers from 10 to 5, the number of copies downloaded won’t change a bit, they’ll just all download one of the 5 that were uploaded.

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