When movies are recorded directly from cinema screens, the resulting pirate copy is known as a ‘cam’, regardless of the device used – camcorder or otherwise.
The terms camming, camcording, cammer, and other variations are not exclusive to movie piracy circles though; those paid to monitor and crack down on pirates use them a lot too.
In a report to the USTR in early 2022, the International Intellectual Property Alliance used similar terms more than 130 times when calling out China, Ecuador, India, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, and other countries for not doing enough to prevent in-cinema recording (pdf).
While camming is clearly an ongoing problem for some countries, enhanced security and tough legislation in the United Kingdom should deter even the most determined pirates. In theory, at least.
Arrest in the UK
Early October, the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit announced the arrest of a man in Liverpool “in connection with an investigation into film piracy.” The involvement of the Film Content Protection Agency (FCPA), the Film Distributors’ Association anti-piracy group, left little doubt this was related to camming.
Over the weeks that followed, TorrentFreak was able to link the arrest with an industry report claiming that at least four movies, recorded in two UK cinemas during the summer, had appeared online.
Our report published late November provides more detail and last week an FDA/FCPA newsletter dated December 20 (pdf) confirmed events as reported.
Aside from being recorded in the UK, where an intent to distribute copies online can carry a 10-year prison sentence, the copies were notable for another reason – their extraordinary quality.
This isn’t mentioned by FCPA and we’re still unable to confirm which movies are linked to the case, but the period cited – June to August 2022 – coincides with surprisingly high-quality cam copies suddenly appearing online around mid-June before stopping around mid-August.
Double-whammy events like these aren’t exactly common in the UK, especially given the alleged quality and the obvious threat to the market. However, records show that camming ‘incidents’ in UK cinemas are extraordinarily common, yet receive almost no press.
Other Camming Incidents in 2022
Camming incidents appear to be covered more comprehensively in annual reports, meaning that overall data for 2022 won’t be available for another few months. In the meantime, the four movies cammed in Liverpool can be added to other incidents recorded elsewhere in 2022.
At Cineworld Dundee (Scotland) on an unspecified date, a staff member identified a customer camming a movie. The title hasn’t been published but in line with FCPA policy, the diligent staff member received an award for her anti-piracy work.
Along with staff in hundreds of other cinemas in the UK, she is likely to have received training and detailed instructions on how to respond to a camming event (pdf).
In another incident earlier this year, a ‘cammed’ copy of Spider-Man: No Way Home appeared online soon after its theatrical release. Forensic investigators linked the copy to a cinema in Leeds, West Yorkshire.
The image below was circulated to cinemas in the UK following the arrest of a suspect. It later appeared in a FCPA newsletter in redacted form. We’ve concealed the suspect’s identity in the original but the text clearly shows that preventing any repeat behavior remained a priority for FCPA.
The image on the right appears to be a still from surveillance footage, one of the key weapons in the fight against camcorder piracy. Data from camming incidents in 2021 shows evidence can also be obtained from less obvious sources.
Camming Incidents Break Records in 2021
The Film Distributors’ Association Yearbook 2022 notes that PIPCU, MPA, The Industry Trust, and the Alliance for Intellectual Property, all partner with FCPA in its fight against piracy. The level of camming incidents reported in 2021 shows that the FCPA needed all the help it could get.
“During 2021 the FCPA was directly involved in the professional investigation, intelligence gathering and research of 125 copyright theft incidents in cinemas,” the FDA publication reads (pdf).
Due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the 125 incidents actually occurred over just seven months, the highest number ever reported by the FDA.
“The majority of these incidents led to the offenders being confronted and excluded from screenings by the cinema management. However, the more serious occurrences required swift police assistance, and resulted in five people being arrested and a further seven receiving recorded police cautions for illegal in-cinema activity,” the report adds.
Detail on Specific Cases
Details on some individual cases can be found in a report published by the UK Cinema Association (UKCA). It notes that online global piracy release groups struggled to obtain content in early 2021 due to COVID-19-enforced closures of cinemas around the world. When cinemas began to open up, pirates picked up where they had left off – including in the UK.
“Two high-impact cases occurred in particular immediately as UK cinemas began re-opening in May , with two publicly available copies of a new film traced via film forensics to two London cinemas only six miles apart,” the report reveals.
“Subsequent investigations revealed that the same offender was responsible in both instances, plus another case in December 2020. Having been identified and traced, he was arrested in July.”
Pirates Tracked and Traced, One Literally
When the UK came out of lockdown, visitors to cinemas and other venues such as pubs and clubs, were required to fill in so-called ‘track and trace’ documents. In the event of an infection, government ‘track and trace’ teams were then able to directly contact people who were in the vicinity and ask them to isolate to prevent the spread.
According to UKCA, the suspected cammer arrested in July completed one of these forms with his details and signed it.
From July 2021, another three cammed movies appeared online and were subsequently traced back to cinemas in London. All of the offenders were identified but efforts to locate them are reported as “ongoing”. Interestingly, the report claims that these cases were linked in some way, despite none of the individual offenders knowing each other.
“In one unusual case, film theft returned to an East London cinema which had experienced high-impact piracy in 2019, albeit this time through a different offender, something which serves as a reminder that this activity can happen at any cinema, no matter how unlikely a target site might seem,” the report concludes (pdf).