This week Hollywood-funded anti-piracy group FACT revealed that the Film Distributors Association had handed out cash rewards to more than a dozen cinema workers who managed to sniff out so-called movie ‘cammers’ in UK cinemas. But despite every case being reported to the police – some involving Skyfall and The Hobbit – authorities could do little in response. Not a single cammer was charged or prosecuted.
Despite significant success in recent years clamping down on camcorder piracy, Hollywood still feels that the phenomenon poses a serious risk to their business. The somewhat grainy footage – often accompanied by awful sound – tends to leak online, attracting tens of thousands of downloaders looking to get an early glimpse at a much anticipated movie.
In a U.S. theater you need appendages of steel (or perhaps psychiatric help) to risk recording the video or sound of a Hollywood movie. Those caught, such as the individuals behind the IMAGiNE group, are treated extremely harshly indeed and years in prison can be the outcome.
While after-the-fact punishments are somewhat of a deterrent, the studios prefer to tackle the problem before it begins. To this end they encourage theater workers to remove any possible recording devices from movie-goers. Cell phones are sometimes temporarily confiscated and the use of night vision goggles to track down suspects during the show is becoming more common, particularly at premieres.
This week Hollywood revealed the latest results of an incentive scheme in the UK whereby cinema workers are rewarded for catching movie cammers and reporting them to the police.
“The rewards scheme is part of a wide-ranging theatrical protection programme, funded by UK film distributors via Film Distributors’ Association (FDA) since 2006,” FACT announced.
“It also provides vital extra resources for the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) to support cinema exhibitors’ staff training; an on-going supply of night vision devices to help cinema staff deter recording attempts in situ; and an education campaign including school resources on copyright.”
According to FACT, the campaign has been 100% successful.
“The impact of this programme may be measured by the fact that no pirated recordings were sourced to a UK cinema release in 2012,” the anti-piracy group reveals.
While that is indeed a great result, there are some interesting details that shine more light on the overall picture.
FACT says that during the fall/winter season, 13 cinema workers intercepted unauthorized cammings of the movies Skyfall, Ted, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit. Of the total 12 incidents, six related to recordings of the movie Skyfall.
Cinema workers are encouraged to report every instance of camming to the police but to say that proved fruitful would be taking things a little too far.
Out of the dozen incidents just two led to suspects being arrested. FACT reports that the pair were later cautioned (slapped on the wrists by police and told to behave in future) and that three exclusion orders and one prohibited access order were issued.
So in stark contrast to punishments in the United States, of twelve UK camming cases just four individuals were banned from cinemas and zero people were prosecuted. So why the weak response?
The problem is legislation. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 can not be used against a cammer unless there is proof that the recording was part of a commercial operation or that there was intent to later upload it. If someone is caught recording a film and claims to be doing so in order to watch it at home, nothing can be done.
The difficulties are further highlighted in an industry document obtained by TorrentFreak which details 50 camming incidents in UK cinemas during 2008. Police attended calls from staff on just two occasions, one of which resulted in a couple being cautioned. In the majority of cases people observed camming were approached by staff but simply left the building. Any attempt to hold a suspect could lead to accusations of unlawful detention.
So for now cinema workers are being incentivized to become voluntary members of Hollywood’s unofficial police force, monitoring for suspicious activity and interrupting the problem at its source.
In 2012 they were 100% successful which if studio figures are correct must have saved the UK cinema industry around £100m. For this great achievement 13 cinema workers were paid rewards of up to £700 each.