A Felony Could Be Coming to a Theater Near You

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON – The days of toting a camcorder into a movie theater to capture the latest blockbuster release are close to extinction, at least that is the intention of a Senate Judiciary committee that pulled out the latest legal stops this week against movie pirates and a growing cottage industry that has movie moguls stomping mad.

The Senate panel approved a bill that would ratchet up the penalty for pirates caught with their hand in the cookie jar, in this case, their finger on the "record" button of the latest and most inconspicuous camcorder products that have given way to an entire industry of bootlegged movie copies over the Internet.

Statistics from the Motion Picture Association of America state that 92 percent of the first round of pirated movie content found on the Internet comes from illicit copies made in the shadowy darkness of nationwide movie theaters. Those are quickly replaced by higher-grade bootlegged product, which in many cases originate from insiders at the movie studios themselves.

"Online piracy of movies, software and music is a growing problem, which threatens the ability of artists to be compensated for their work," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the bill. "This bill will help end the most egregious form of copyright piracy."

The bill that Feinstein and fellow Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have proposed would make movie piracy a felony. The bill also hammers out the terms of piracy punishment as they pertain the level of involvement, be it a guy in movie theater, who could face up to three years in prison, or a movie executive handing off the most recent Warner Brothers release to a friend on the sly, an offense that could carry a penalty of up to five years in prison. Both offenses would also come with steep fines, according to the terms of the bill.

According to reports, New York and California already have laws in place that make the practice of piracy illegal, but federal law is so far lacking, and could become a reality if the bill is met with a warm reception from the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

In testimony before Congress on April 29, Jack Valenti, CEO of the MPAA, pleaded with lawmakers to take action against the growing worldwide piracy crisis.

“Ensuring the health of the filmed entertainment industries, and the U.S. copyright industries as a whole, is in the national interest,” said Valenti. “With large-scale involvement of organized crime in the international replication and export of pirated DVDs and the large and rapidly growing threat of Internet piracy, the very future of the filmed entertainment industry and other copyright industries are at stake.”

Valenti told Congress that in addition to enforcing copyright laws and prosecuting criminals who violate those laws, the U.S. Government must devote adequate resources to investigate intellectual property crime. Those recommendations include increased funding to the FBI to train agents to work in the field of Internet piracy.