It seems that hassle-free entertainment at the movie theatre is truly becoming a thing of the past. The film industry has taken some aggressive measures to combat pirating in Canada, as evidenced by increased security patrol in the theatres, knapsack searches and the use of metal detectors and night-vision goggles. As foreign lobby groups and politicians have targeted Canada as a hot source of film piracy, it appears that Canada has succumbed to the pressure of being enlisted on the “Priority Watch List” for countries with high rates of piracy. In June 2007, shortly after California Gov. Arnold Schwartzneger met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Canadian government passed Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unauthorized recording of a movie). The new bill reads:
The recording of a movie in a movie theatre without the consent of the theatre’s manager. The recording of a movie in a movie theatre without the consent of the theatre’s manager for the purpose of selling, renting, or other commercial distribution of a copy of the recording.
As such, the government is seeking to introduce two new offences, where the first offence could lead up to two years in jail while the second offence could pose a penalty of up to five years.
I think this bill is useless and it does not provide a practical solution to the piracy problems that we have today. First of all, the Copyright Act already addresses illegal recording because a person who commercially distributes a movie filmed in a theatre can be prosecuted with the possibility of jail time and significant fines. If there is a gap in the law, the law-makers should respond by addressing the copyright reform issues that actually deal with the challenges presented by internet and digital technology. Passing a bill such as this, and thereby incorporating a copyright offence into the criminal code, is hardly the right answer. Inevitably, public expenditures on these matters will rise, as government and court resources will be spent prosecuting such offences. I can think of more than a dozen ways to put our resources to better use (eg. increased funding for disabled seniors with low income, reducing waitlists for heart surgeries etc.) rather than cracking down film pirates so that Hollywood can make a few more million dollars.
Second of all, there is conflicting data as to whether or not Canada is in fact the culprit of such rampant film piracy. According to the MPAA, the United States was responsible for 43% of pirated movies worldwide in 2006. Indeed, the US has its own federal and state anti-camcording legislation and, yet, it is responsible for by far the most of pirated movies in any country in the world. According to Professor Michael Geist, Bill C-59 was based on draft language provided by Hollywood lobbyists.
But these lobby groups often make allegations of piracy based on skewed data with questionable accuracy, so one must wonder if our legislators actually put some thought into whether or not Bill C-59 will benefit Canadian consumers and businesses. Professor Michael Geist captured this issue well: “Canadian policy should prioritize Canadian interests, not those of foreign governments and lobby groups.”
Lastly, Bill C-59 is simply not good for public policy. While I understand the sentiment of prohibiting illegal recording of someone else’ s work, I still want to be able to carry my new digital camera (which has video recording functions) into the theatre as I wish. An unsuspecting tourist should not be expected to submit his/her camcorder at the movie theatre, only to have it tossed into a bin with other random gadgets. I see Bill C-59 as a short-term quick fix to satisfy a small portion of stakeholders in the entertainment business and it does not strike a fair balance between the rights of the public, the owners of intellectual property, the users of such intellectual property and the law-makers. True enough, the commandment “thou shalt not steal” is a deeply-entrenched value in our society. However, imposing a criminal sanction for recording in theatres allows copyright law to encroach carelessly into the private rights of individuals who may have nothing to do with such an offence.
Copyright law reform should evolve with the modern technical and creative progress while allowing businesses and communities to grow with the changing times.