It started well over a decade ago when visitors began sneaking handheld camcorders into theaters. These big clunkers were easy to spot, but as time passed the recording devices became smaller and easier to hide.
While recording a movie for strictly personal use is not illegal in UK cinemas (despite industry efforts to have the law changed), theaters continue to outlaw the use of recording devices. Most recently, Google Glass was banned, and phones and tablets need to be switched off as well.
In a code of conduct the movie industry and cinemas have agreed that employees will take immediate action when they spot someone with a recording device, but some cinema staff take these obligations way too far.
At a Cineworld cinema in Brighton Marina, UK, employees dialed the national 999 emergency number after they spotted a group of 12-year-old girls with iPhones and iPads at a showing of The Hunger Games.
The girls, accused of recording parts of the movie, were hauled outside where two police cars rushed towards the scene with flashing lights.
Although recording movies is not a crime in the UK (as long as there’s no intent to distribute), the officers still carefully inspected the devices for ‘bootleg’ material. After their search turned up nothing the girls were allowed back in. However, the teens decided to wait outside, reportedly in tears, until their parents came to pick them up.
Louise Lawrence, the mother of one of the girls, is outraged by the treatment. Not just the false piracy accusation, but also the fact that they were left out in the cold afterwards.
“Our girls were falsely accused, had the police called on them and then just left in tears. It’s outrageous. If they have done this to our children they will do it again,” she says.
A Cineworld spokesperson stresses that they apologized to the parents for the mistake, adding that it’s common procedure to take these actions.
“While we regret that the customers felt distressed, we are confident that the correct procedures were followed. If our staff see such behavior we expect them to notify the cinema management immediately and to call the police. However, we have taken on board the concerns expressed by the parents and we are reviewing how the policy is applied to younger customers,” she adds.
While movie theater staff could indeed call the police if they suspect that a commercial pirate is in their midst, a group of 12-year-old girls with iPhones hardly falls into the category.
And calling the national emergency number certainly seems to be taking things too far.