MPAA Wants Jail Time for Videotaping Movies

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Every evening rush hour, hustlers lugging bags full of bootlegged movies walk the subway train aisles, calling "two for five dollars!" as brazenly as if they were selling hot dogs at Yankee Stadium.

At those prices, the DVDs, often of current Hollywood blockbusters, sell well, despite laughable sound and picture quality. Few customers seem to care the copies were made illegally.

Bootleggers apparently have little to fear. Under state law, people caught videotaping inside a movie theater face a maximum fine of $250.

As part of its worldwide campaign against piracy, the film industry is pushing for tougher penalties for smuggling a camcorder into a cinema in New York, which has the country's worst bootlegging problem and some of the weakest penalties.

A bill pushed by the Motion Picture Association of America would make operating recording equipment inside a theater a criminal misdemeanor, raising the maximum punishment to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

Making the crime a misdemeanor also would empower police to arrest violators on the spot, rather than simply issuing a summons.

People caught a second time would be charged with a felony.

"We have to do something, because right now there's no risk," said William J. Shannon, a Yonkers-based deputy director of the association's U.S. anti-piracy operation. "Right now, you're looking at something about the same as a parking ticket."

Legislators, film industry representatives and lawyers met Wednesday in Manhattan to discuss the new proposal, which would make New York one of several states to adopt tougher rules on movie piracy in recent years.

But Pace Law School professor David N. Cassuto likened the use of tough criminal penalties to attack the lowest-level offenders in pirating operations to "using a howitzer to solve a roach problem."

The proposed penalties would also apply to an obnoxious 16-year-old who holds up a camera phone during the coming attractions to snap a photograph of the screen, warned defense attorney Marvin Schecter.

Through intricate watermarking technology, investigators can now determine in which theater a film was playing when it was recorded by someone with a handheld camera.

About half the bootleg films that are recorded live in a theater, duplicated thousands of times and then sent around the globe, originated in New York City, the trade group said.