Punishing the Innocent

One of these statements is not like the otherJust in case you thought the studios weren’t being hysterical enough in their attempts to curb camcording, here’s the latest development: Warner Bros. has announced it will cancel all promotional screenings for its films, effective immediately. The studio marketing department is calling this a “Bold Anti-Piracy Screening Policy”.

Promotional screenings are those invitation-only previews to which people are invited on the Wednesday night before a given movie opens. Usually, they’re winners of a newspaper or radio contest. The press are often invited to attend as well, so we can see the movie with an audience, instead of in the isolation of a private screening room.

Of course, security at these promo screenings is ridiculously overstated. Bags are searched. Audience members are wanded for hidden electronic devices. Cell phones with built-in cameras (which is most of them, these days) are checked at the door and held for the length of the feature. I mean, yes, it cuts down on mid-movie phone calls, but the trade-off is you’re forced to line up like cattle for 20 minutes before you enter the auditorium, and you’re in a lousy mood by the time you get to your seat.

I’ve been reassured that Warner will continue to hold private screenings for the press, so this doesn’t really affect me one way or the other. And it won’t affect the pace of piracy, either; what Warner’s announcement disingenuously overlooks the fact that movies aren’t being bootlegged at these promo screenings.

It’s a practical impossibility to pirate a movie with a cameraphone, of course. Even with additional memory, you wouldn’t be able to capture more than, what, ten minutes of footage? And then there’s the issue of the pirate securing an invitation to this private preview screening, and of course the security guys are taking cameraphones phones away at the door.

Nope, the pirates have worked out a much simpler solution. They go to the movie on opening day, when there’s absolutely no security, and they bring a decent camcorder in a gym bag. And when the lights go down, they set up, and record the movie. A day later, the torrent is all over the internet; a day after that, you can buy it at your local dodgy vendor.

Warner’s elimination of promo screenings will not affect this situation in the slightest. But it gives the appearance of aggressive counter-piracy action — and it’s apparently true that most pirated movie files do originate in Canada, where there aren’t actually any laws against videotaping a movie in a theater.

That’s something the studios would like to change. And so, by making draconian moves like this, they can wave their virtual arms and wail about the awful changes they’re being forced to make to their business practices, and lobby the government to outlaw the camcording of motion pictures.

Also, if they’d enacted this a week ago, they might have stemmed the toxic word of mouth on “Lucky You”.

Just saying.

One thought on “Punishing the Innocent”

  1. Dear Norman:

    There are laws against videotaping a movie in a theatre; there is no clear consensus that “most pirated movie titles originate in Canada”. Check out Michael Geist’s web site (www.michaelgeist.ca) for lots of fact (and opinion) on this.

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