Calgary Man First to be Convicted For Theatre Recording

Canada: true north strong and free, and “hotbed of movie piracy”, if the victim statement of Mark Christiansen, VP for Paramount Pictures, is to be believed. That’s what was read at the trial of Richard Lissaman of Calgary, 21, who has become Canada’s first person convicted under new movie piracy legislation. Lissaman attended the opening of “Sweeney Todd” with a concealed camera with the intent of recording the movie, and at some point mid-film, the house lights went up and Calgary police arrested him. Theatre staff were likely patrolling the theatres with night-vision gear.

Lissaman pleaded guilty and given a $1,495 fine and 12 months probation. As part of the probation terms, he is banned from any movie theatre and from owning or possessing any video-recording equipment. He got off fairly easy given that he could have received a prison sentence of up to 2 years. Previously, authorities needed to prove that a cam movie recording was intended for sale or distribution, but under new laws starting June 2007, any image recording without consent could result in jail time.

[Judge] Skene said if one compared Lissaman’s crime to shoplifting, it was not like someone stealing a loaf of bread or litre or milk for personal use but like someone taking a cart of meat to be re-sold for profit.

Unfortunately, neither of those comparisons are apt. Pirating a movie is copyright infringement, not stealing. Taking a cart of meat is stealing, wherein an actual unreproducable item is taken. The defendant didn’t break into the projection room and steal the film reels. I would expect this kind of deceptive doublespeak from the movie industry, but not from a provincial court judge.

While I believe this law is ridiculous and represents a scary slope of our law-enforcement being willing to work as lackeys for the movie industry, I don’t defend breaking the law. However, I believe there was an error in the court’s judgement. The judge is quoted “You can say he and his pals will watch the movie, but he has an item that is more supportive of taking something to be used to make a profit. It’s not a simple theft of an item for personal consumption.” Likely correct that the recording wasn’t for personal consumption, but very likely wrong that it would be used for profit.

The nature of the movie piracy/warez scene in North America is it’s done for fun and reputation, not profit. Unlike in many Asian or third world countries where pirated material is often burned to disc and sold in markets, here in North America files are exchanged freely over the Internet. There’s just no market for pirated materials here. Warez groups compete for the honour being the first to release a new movie, or for releasing the best quality copy, but make no money for their time and effort.

Further, within the warez scene there is low demand for low quality cam-in-theatre recorded copies of movies. The vast majority of pirated movie distribution originates from higher quality DVD-ripped copies. Sometimes a DVD-rip will emerge even before the film is released in theatres, bearing markings of promotional copies that are sent to reviewers and industry insiders.

“We would have liked to see jail time, sending a stronger message. We hope this is just a starting point,” -Virginia Jones, director of policy and legal affairs for the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association

Yes, putting this kid in jail, at taxpayers expense, is EXACTLY what we need to stop piracy. Not embracing digital distribution, making better movies, improving the theatre experience, or lowering prices, but throwing a youth in jail with the real criminals. This is what happens when industries give up on competing and turn to fear-mongering and bullying.

Two other cases of cam recording in Montreal will be back in court this December and January. For another take on this story, see Torrentfreak.