Category Archives: Piracy

New MPAA and NATO Wearables Policy Is As Much About Social Norms As It Is About Piracy

Sergey Brin Wearing Google Glass

Google’s Sergey Brin shows off Google Glass

In his classic 1835 treatise on American society, Democracy In America, french historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.”

This passage sprang to mind as I read the anti-theft policy update issued jointly on October 29th by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). The new policy focuses on wearable devices like smart watches and Google Glass, the latter being an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that attaches to prescription or custom eyewear. Many of these devices are equipped with a camera and thus the reason the MPAA and NATO felt obliged to revise the policy. Their statement read as follows:

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have a long history of welcoming technological advances and recognize the strong consumer interest in smart phones and wearable “intelligent” devices. As part of our continued efforts to ensure movies are not recorded in theaters, however, we maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward using any recording device while movies are being shown. As has been our long-standing policy, all phones must be silenced and other recording devices, including wearable devices, must be turned off and put away at show time. Individuals who fail or refuse to put the recording devices away may be asked to leave. If theater managers have indications that illegal recording activity is taking place, they will alert law enforcement authorities when appropriate, who will determine what further action should be taken.

The two organizations already had a standing policy against the use of mobile phones in theatres. It is simply being extended now to encompass wearable devices. You might even say the decision was a “no-brainer” accept for the confusion that might occur in reference to the cinema patron who decides to use “no brain” by wearing such a device into an auditorium in the first place.

Unfortunately people do indeed wear electronic devices into cinemas as was demonstrated in January when a moviegoer in Columbus, Ohio was detained by federal authorities for wearing Google Glass during a showing of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. The incident occurred when alert theatre personnel at the AMC Easton 30 noticed a patron wearing the “recording device” during the screening and contacted the MPAA, who in turn notified the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees movie theft.

Much in the way there were recently fuzzy policies and procedures on how to treat Ebola patients in the United States, there were no guidelines back in January for cinema operators on how to handle patrons with wearable devices such as Google Glass. It took the trade organizations a notably long time to update their anti-theft policy afterwards, however this may have more to do with the MPAA’s working relationship with Google and their desire to maintain it.

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Marvel Plays It Smart After “Avengers” Trailer Leak

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When Marvel Entertainment learned the teaser trailer for their highly anticipated super hero movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron” had leaked online they had a number of options in how to respond and ultimately did so in an exemplary manner. With the resources of Disney, their deep-pocketed owner, Marvel could have sent take down notices to every single website posting the leaked trailer. They could have even gone so far as to file suit against specific sites hosting or disseminating the trailer. Instead, Marvel handled the incident efficiently and in a way that painted them in a positive light.

The trailer in question is the first for the studio’s 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers” and was leaked via Google Drive. Within hours Disney sent Google a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requesting the file be removed. Initially there was some concern that an entire cut of the movie had been pirated however that seems unlikely since it is still being completed.

When the leak was first noticed on October 22nd, rather than run around with a SWAT team of lawyers trying to squelch the trailer’s distribution, Marvel decided to promote the incident with a single two word tweet that read, “Dammit, Hydra”. The post has been retweeted and favorited over 60,000 times and set the tone for the rest of Marvel’s actions related to the leak. By referencing Hydra, a global terrorist network in the Marvel universe, the company was showing a sense of humor in a relevant fashion. They seized control of the situation from that moment forward.

With the footage in the wild Marvel understood there was no way to stuff the genie back into the bottle, if you will, and one-upped the leakers by quickly releasing an HD version of the trailer along with a poster for the movie. This delighted hardcore fans who quickly kept the chatter about the trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” going strong on social media.

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When Reporting On Piracy Becomes Ethically Irresponsible, If Not Illegal

Expendables 3

I have been waiting for this day for what feels like an eternity. Today, August 15th 2014 is the day “The Expendables 3″ hits movie theatres worldwide. No, I have not been waiting two years since the “The Expendables 2″ was released and earned more than USD $300 million in worldwide box office. I’ve never even seen the first two ensemble action films in the franchise.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the opening day of “The Expendables 3″ since precisely July 28th of this year. That’s the day I learned a high-quality version of “The Expendables 3″ was leaked online from an article on the technology blog The Verge. The article, written by the website’s assistant managing editor, David Pierce, was headlined “I torrented ‘The Expendables 3′ and I’m still going to see it in theaters“.

Putting aside the legality of Mr. Pierce’s actions for a moment, the article made me question whether it is ethically irresponsible to report on such matters. Freedom of the press laws may “allow” media outlets and journalists to report on pirated titles without becoming financially culpable for a producer’s losses due, though doesn’t such activity actually publicize the availability of specific content, thus increasing illegal downloading and ultimately the economic damage it causes?

It may seem like there are no easy answers to such questions, however in an age where theft can be conducted anonymously from the privacy of one’s own residence, what at first appears to be a gray area with murky boundaries comes into focus as one that should leave no room for confusion whatsoever. To help make our point we thought it best to wait until after “Expendables 3″ was released worldwide to publish this post.

To be sure, those of us who live in countries with a free and open press do not wish to hinder one of the most important tools in disseminating ideas and knowledge, as well as one of the most effective methods for keeping overreaching governments, corruption and wrongdoing in check. This is why I would have expected trade publications such as Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The Wrap to run stories about “Expendables 3″ leaking online, which they all eventually did.

In fact, looking at when each of these outlets began covering the story, and the angle they took in their articles, speaks volumes about what they hoped to gain by doing so and who truly pays their bills.

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We Need To Talk About Event Cinema Piracy

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It is a measure of the success of event cinema that it is fast becoming a victim of internet piracy, a trend that is only like to get worse, for one very simple reason. With the NT Live screenings proving particularly popular for pirates, it is a challenge that the industry will have to deal with soon, though there are only two ways of doing this, neither of which the rights holders and distributors seem keen to embrace. (While we are aware that by highlighting this trend more people might find a way to access illegal copies online, we feel that a debate is required about how to best tackle this issue.)

The problem of event cinema piracy began with in earnest with the popular 2011 transmission of the Danny Boyle directed Frankenstein, with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating in the lead role. The play was one of the early blockbusters of the National Theatre Live (NT Live), with even the encore screenings sold out.

Fans who were unable to get tickets or lived in territories where it was not screened soon found a way to watch the play as somebody had recorded it with a video camera in a cinema, the same way that most films get pirated. Judging by the comments on PirateBay, the quality is not great, but that is drowned out in the comments section by observations such as this one:

MarinaMurr at 2012-11-02 22:20 CET:
THANK you VERY much!!! As the previous author has said, I also created this account just to say THANK YOU!!! I even cannot express how grateful i am! So just thank you once again :-)

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NT was swift to take notice and issued a sternly worded posting in its NT Live blog, headlined, “OFFICIAL Statement re: Frankenstein DVD/Bootleg Recordings” where it wrote that:

“We do not in any way condone the piracy of recording, both because it is an illegal activity and because it is against the wishes of the artists whose work we represent. I would let you know that if you choose to record, distribute or download the screening of Frankenstein, you are breaking the law and risk legal action.”

Signed by David Sabel, Head of Digital Media Producer, NT Live, National Theatre.

However, a badly camcorded version of Frankenstein was no indication of what was to come. Today you can download in full high definition glory the NT Live transmissions of The Audience, Macbeth and Coriolanus, exactly as they were projected onto the screens of cinemas around the world. Searching for ‘NTLive’ on Piratebay yields a full 1080p version of Coriolanus that clocks in at over 21Gb, as well as a more manageable 720p version that is only 3.85Gb, with over 100 seeders. The Audience and Macbeth are also available in 1080p version, both just over 7Gb in size and both well seeded.

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Movie-Hopping – The Lesser Discussed Form of Film Piracy

Movie Hopping Planner

Film piracy or ‘movie theft’ is a well covered subject in exhibition industry circles. The fight is against people recoding films on video cameras in cinemas and uploading them to the internet or selling them on discs is one that unites multiplex operators, film studios, trade bodies like MPAA and FACT as well as law enforcement bodies (FBI et al). But there is a lesser known version of film piracy that is hardly even mentioned in polite cinema circles; the phenomenon of ‘movie-hopping’. Call it the multiplex cinemas equivalent of Netflix’s binge-viewing or movie-marathon. Except those who do it aren’t cinema fans prepared to pay to watch all four Twilight films in a row. They are screen surfers and quite open about it too.

Take this guest column from The Cornell Daily Sun, which is the student newspaper of the Ivy League university, called “Guest Room | Thou Shalt Not Movie-Hop“. But that is exactly what the columnist (one Arielle Cruz) had intended to do:

My plan today was to go movie-hopping with a friend. Take a bus over to Regal Cinema, buy a matinee ticket for the first show of the day, subtly carry in a couple of Subway sandwiches, a bottle of whiskey and some Target-priced movie candy and let the day unfold. It didn’t end up happening today. It turns out I had some other things I had to do. The intense snowfall wasn’t inspiring me to leave my apartment either. But the thing is, I would’ve done it. I had every intention of doing it, and beyond that, I don’t feel any guilt about it.

Arielle sees this as a victimless crime which isn’t hurting the movie industry (cinemas and studios). “It hasn’t so far, and, according to a number of accounts on the Internet, it is even a family tradition in some households.” A quick survey of the net shows just how widespread the phenomenon is. At least in terms of being discussed. First of all there is a step-by-step Wikihow with illustrations and a disclaimer:

Before proceeding, please realize that movie hopping is grounds for being banned from the theater or escorted out. Very rarely you can be arrested for theft of services (similar to shoplifting).

And a helpful list of suggestions at the end, including:

  • Staff changes occur at around 6:00 PM, this is also the longest gap between movies and is the worse time to try and theater hop.
  • Try to not buy concessions. You want as little interaction with the staff as possible.

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MPAA Agent Bob Hope Detains Man For Wearing Google Glass in Ohio Cinema

Sergei Brin with Google Glass

Not the man accosted by the FBI.

It was only two weeks ago that we predicted the day would come when people would be wearing Google Glass in cinemas and be able to record an entire movie. That future has already arrived sooner than we expected.

Over the weekend of January 18th an un-named man went to see “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” in Columbia, Ohio and ended up feeling the full wrath of the law for appearing to ignore the FBI warning that says making an illegal recording of a film is a crime. The man wrote a first-person account in The Gadgeteer about what happened:

I went to AMC (Easton Mall, Columbus, OH) to watch a movie with my wife (non- Google Glass user). It is the theater we go to every week, so it has probably been the third time I’ve been there wearing Google Glass, and the AMC employees (guy tearing tickets at the entrance, girl at the concession stand) have asked me about Glass in the past and I have told them how awesome Glass is with every occasion.

Because I don’t want Glass to distract me during the movie, I turn them off (but since my prescription lenses are on the frame, I still wear them). About an hour into the movie (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), a guy comes near my seat, shoves a badge that had some sort of a shield on it, yanks the Google Glass off my face and says “follow me outside immediately”. It was quite embarrassing and outside of the theater there were about 5-10 cops and mall cops. Since I didn’t catch his name in the dark of the theater, I asked to see his badge again and I asked what was the problem and I asked for my Glass back. The response was “you see all these cops you know we are legit, we are with the ‘federal service’ and you have been caught illegally taping the movie”.

He tried to explain that the Google Glass had been turned off and that he needed the prescription glasses to watch the film. This did not seem to impress the officials, who further confiscated his work and personal phones, as well as his wallet. After 20-30 minutes of questioning outside the cinema he was promptly hauled off and taken in for questioning at the mall’s security room.

What followed was over an hour of the “feds” telling me I am not under arrest, and that this is a “voluntary interview”, but if I choose not to cooperate bad things may happen to me (is it legal for authorities to threaten people like that?). I kept telling them that Glass has a USB port and not only did I allow them, I actually insist they connect to it and see that there was nothing but personal photos with my wife and my dog on it. I also insisted they look at my phone too and clear things out, but they wanted to talk first. They wanted to know who I am, where I live, where I work, how much I’m making, how many computers I have at home, why am I recording the movie, who am I going to give the recording to, why don’t I just give up the guy up the chain, ’cause they are not interested in me. Over and over and over again.

Eventually they brought in a laptop and USB cable, telling the man that this was his final chance to ‘come clean’. After he insisted that he had done nothing wrong, they plugged in the computer, downloaded and went through the photos and five minutes later realized that there was no Jack Ryan recorded on the new fangled device; one which would not have looked out of place in Q’s gadget lab in a James Bond movie.

I asked why didn’t they just take those five minutes at the beginning of the interrogation and they just left the room. A guy who claimed his name is Bob Hope (he gave me his business card) came in the room, and said he was with the Movie Association and they have problems with piracy at that specific theater and that specific movie. He gave me two free movie passes “so I can see the movie again”. I asked if they thought my Google Glass was such a big piracy machine, why didn’t they ask me not to wear them in the theater? I would have probably sat five or six rows closer to the screen (as I didn’t have any other pair of prescription glasses with me) and none of this would have happened. All he said was AMC called him, and he called the FBI and “here are two more passes for my troubles”. I would have been fine with “I’m sorry this happened, please accept our apologies”. Four free passes just infuriated me.

Interesting to note that digital cinema watermarking on pirated films had obviously flagged up previous instances of piracy, which is why the authorities must have responded as quickly as they did in this instance. And by ‘Movie Association’ does he mean the MPAA? It would seem so.

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Industry Trust Deploys “Battleship” In U.K. Anti-Piracy Campaign

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Universal Pictures has teamed up with the trade group Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness in the United Kingdom to produce an anti-piracy advertisement which incorporates footage from the studios upcoming release “Battleship“.

The thirty-second spot (shown above) is part of Industry Trust’s “Moments Worth Paying For” campaign aimed at enticing viewers away from illegal downloading and into the theater by suggesting some films are just meant to be seen on the big screen, or at the very least… meant to be paid for. The advertisement intercuts scenes from the film with shots of audience members watching and enjoying the movie.

The Industry Trust is a member supported trade group established in 2004 to promote the benefits of copyright. The “Battleship” spot is the first in a series being produced for the “Moments Worth Paying For” campaign. Each will feature a different movie.

“Battleship” opens on April 11th in the U.K. and the anti-piracy trailer will run in theaters throughout the country until May 10th.

In a press statement announcing the “Battleship” spot the Industry Trust’s general director Liz Bales said:

“Using new release content to engage with our audience on the important issue of copyright infringement is a proven approach embraced by both the film and TV industries. We feel certain it will provide great benefits to the marketing of the release while continuing the great strides made in change attitudes and consumer behavior around copyright theft.”

Studios Are Fighting Movie Piracy On College Campuses

Piracy On College Campuses

A Warning To Copyright Infringers At Cornell

It looks as if the MPAA may be spying on college students, or at the very least monitoring their file sharing activity. Last week on CNET’s daily tech news podcast Buzz Out Loud the hosts read an email from a listener named Chris who explained how the MPAA has been leaving notes for students they believe are sharing movies online.

Illegal (and legal) file sharing is a constant topic of discussion on Buzz Out Loud as are the attempts of the MPAA and RIAA to prosecute those who participate in such activity. So Chris, a college student who lives in a dorm on the Cornell University campus, wrote in to pass along the news that the MPAA has identified his dorm as a den of illegal downloading. He writes (no emphasis added):

…my university (Cornell) has had run-ins with the MPAA and RIAA in the past over our school’s file sharing network. Everyday when I get back from class, I see a new notice on the message board in the lobby. About once a week there is a particular kind of message; this week’s reads:

‘Attention! Someone in Eddygate (my building) IS or WAS uploading the movie THE FIGHTER. STOP NOW!!! PARAMOUNT PICTURES WANTS YOU!!!

Last week it was ‘SONY PICTURES IS WATCHING YOU!’ for some other movie.

Are they now threatening college students specifically? … Are they possibly monitoring our specific building?… Are they really going through the effort to contact landlords and apartment managers to tell their residents to stop committing the ultimate evil?

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NATO Responds To ‘Twilight’ Pirate’s Lawsuit

nato-logoLess than 24-hours after we posted a story on the lawsuit filed against Muvico by a 22-year-old for being arrested for filming inside a movie theatre an email arrived from Patrick Corcoran, the National Association of Theatre Owners’ Director of Media & Research.

Corcoran not only provided a statement about Samantha Tumpach’s suit, but along with Brigette Buehlman also filled in a few details about the organization’s Take Action reward program.

Tumpach was arrested in November for filming portions of “Twilight: New Moon” during her sister’s birthday party inside a Chicago movie theatre. Her suit alleges that she was given no warning to stop filming and that even after the MPAA suggested releasing her, the theatre’s management had her arrested to collect a reward for stopping a camcorder pirate.

In our previous post Corcoran pointed out that Tumpach’s assertions were printed as fact, rather than allegations. Fair enough. That the history being presented was being drawn from Tumpach’s allegations and news reports could have been made clearer.

Corcoran also wrote:

“Any upset or unpleasantness Miss Tumpach believes she has suffered was a consequence of her own actions. Muvico was well within its rights to act as they did. Recording any part of a movie in a theater is illegal.

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Accused “Twilight” Pirate Sues Movie Theatre

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Samantha Tumbach

Remember back in November of last year when the industry was abuzz about a 22-year-old woman who was arrested and jailed for using a video recorder inside a Chicago movie theatre during her sister’s birthday party? Well, she’s back in the news again.

This time Samantha Tumpach wants to go to court on her own terms by filing a lawsuit against Muvico over the arrest for malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotion distress, defamation and negligence. Tumpach had hinted she might sue the theatre back in December so he lawsuit doesn’t come as a complete.

When Tumpach was originally arrested in November she spent two days in jail before being released. Facing the possibility of a three year jail sentence, Tumpach insisted she was only shooting her sister’s birthday party which was taking place at a showing of “Twilight: New Moon”. Though the theatre and prosecutors didn’t back down, initially they ultimately dropped the charges.

The lawsuit claims Tumpach was never given a warning to put her camera away. She was filming the first scene in the film “hoping to capture the title and beginning as a memory of this exciting event.” Then when she was removed from the auditorium by theatre personnel the police questioned whether making an arrest was really appropriate. Tumpach pleaded with authorities that she had know idea she was doing anything wrong by recording inside the theatre. The suit alleges that when the MPAA was contacted they told police to erase the content from the video camera and simply file a report.

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