Film Group Asks Court to Stop Arrests of Theater Owners Over Piracy

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Theater owners in India are being wrongfully arrested when movies are illegally recorded on their premises, a film group claims. In a plea to the Madras High Court, the Film Exhibitors Association said that following complaints about illegal camcording, owners are being arrested by the police, without a proper inquiry taking place.

While Hollywood has its own problems with movie piracy, the position in India is arguably more pressing.

Many of the country’s top movie titles are immediately pirated and placed online, much to the disappointment of film companies nationwide. Aggressive site-blocking appears to have little effect so, in association with the authorities, the problem is being tackled at the source.

Many leaks happen when individuals or groups illegally record movies in cinemas, which is often simply a case of finding a screen and pointing a camcorder or phone towards it. In tandem, there are concerns that in some cases, theater owners themselves may be part of the piracy conspiracy. That, however, is leading to what appears to be overzealous policing.

When movies are shown, it’s common for watermarks to be embedded in the performance, which allows content security companies to trace where recordings take place. Armed with this information, copyright holders are then filing complaints against theater owners, who are reportedly being arrested by police, in the absence of evidence they’re even involved.

This has led to a plea to the Madras High Court by the Film Exhibitors Association (FEA), requesting that police are restrained from making arrests without evidence that theater owners are directly involved with unauthorized ‘camming’ of theatrical performances.

“The film producers were filing complaints against theater owners falsely accusing the latter as being responsible for such piracy and the resulting losses caused to the film producers,” the Times of India reports, citing the FEA.

“Police were arresting or attempting to arrest the theater owners merely on the basis of such complaints, without any inquiry. This makes the theater owner to run from pillar to post to obtain appropriate bail or anticipatory bail. The theater owners cannot be made responsible for all cases of piracy.”

The FEA added that it’s impossible to search all members of an audience for hidden cameras, whether they’re present in phones, pens, or even spectacles. Public prosecutor A Natarajan countered, telling the court that calls for a blanket ban on arrests can’t be entertained and should be denied.

With that, Justice Puspha Sathyanarayana issued an interim direction, ordering the Tamil Nadu Home Secretary and the Director General of Police to organize a meeting of affected stakeholders (film companies, distributors, exhibitors) to try and reach an amicable solution.

The case was adjourned until November 28, 2018.

In an effort to reduce camcorder piracy, last month the Tamil Nadu Theater Owners Association laid down a strict set of rules designed to prevent pirates from recording the latest movies and uploading them to the Internet.

All cinemas in the southern state of Tamil Nadu were told to saturate their entire sites with CCTV cameras, including projection rooms and customer seating areas plus parking and entrance areas. It is not yet clear whether that has happened or if the measures are having any effect.


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