MPAA Private Investigators Bust ‘Gravity’ Pirates

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Just two days after the premiere of the Hollywood blockbuster 'Gravity' the studios have chalked up an anti-piracy win. After been spotted by private investigators hired by the MPAA, two men in their late forties were arrested by police Sunday after allegedly camming the movie at a theater in Michigan. But pirates are a swarthy bunch and copies from elsewhere are already turning up online.

rsz_gravity-movie-posterAs Internet speeds and available bandwidth have increased along with a thirst for high quality video on super-large screens, thirst for ‘cammed’ copies of movies has died down somewhat. Nevertheless, there are still those who are prepared to take risks to capture the latest blockbuster.

Opening weekends, where demand for big titles is greatest, has always been a popular time for pirates to try and grab a copy. But for the men recording the Sandra Bullock and George Clooney movie ‘Gravity’ in a Michigan theater last Sunday, things went pretty badly.

Unknown to the men, both from Detroit and aged 48 and 49, they were sharing the theater with private investigators hired by the MPAA. The P.I.s watched the men set up their camera and start recording after using a baseball cap and a towel to cover the device.

As can be seen from the image below, the camera was fitted with a clamp so that it could be attached to an arm rest or possibly the back of a seat.

Camcorder with clamp used by pirates (image: ABC)


So was it pure chance that the investigators were on site? According to John Coghlan, an MPAA investigator from New York in charge of the investigation, the pair were already under surveillance. Thanks to their previous activity and watermarks present in the copies, the MPAA were able to trace them to the exact theater.

“They did several movies before,” Coghlan said.

The men are currently out on bail and may well be coming to the conclusion that going back to the same theater time and again wasn’t the best strategy, especially on opening weekends.

During the last decade recording movies in theaters became a pretty big deal. Hundreds of big movies were recorded and uploaded to the Internet, creating an online feast for movie pirates.

However, after the introduction of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act in 2005, ‘camming’ became an extremely risky act in the United States, with first time offenders facing up to three years in jail and six years for those who don’t get the message first time round.

Of course, United States legislation has little bearing on pirates determined to record movies in other countries and in respect of Gravity this is appears to have happened this past weekend.

Copies are now surfacing online which have Russian and Spanish audio, so all that remains is for someone to record the English audio (much easier than capturing the video) and splice it to the foreign video. That will happen very soon indeed.

Screenshot of Russian pirate Gravity – honest


That said, why anyone would do so is open to question. A stunning 2013 movie like Gravity really deserves to be seen as the makers intended, not on some terrible cam copy that takes us back 50 years.


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