Make a federal case

Org presses Congress for anti-camcorder law

WASHINGTON — It may soon be a federal crime to use a camcorder to record films in movie theaters across the country.

Studios, video retailers and theater owners have joined forces to press Congress for a national law criminalizing the use of camcorders at movie theaters, and federal lawmakers seem willing to grant their wish.

Judiciary Committee action on a pair of bills in the House and Senate that contain a camcorder crackdown provision could come as early as this week.

Earlier this month, theater operators, video and game retailers as well as music stores formed the Coalition of Entertainment Retail Trade Assn. to press their joint causes. Group made its maiden lobbying voyage to Capitol Hill last week to push antipiracy priorities, with the camcording bill topping their Washington wish list right now.

Group consists of five retail trade associations: the National Assn. of Theater Owners, the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers, the Video Software Dealers Assn., the Digital Media Assn. and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Assn.

According to VSDA veep of legislative affairs Sean Bersell, CERTA held 32 meetings over two days with members of the Senate and the House Judiciary Committee and their aides.

Linking arms

The alliance breaks down business barriers that have often brought theater owners and video retailers into direct conflict over the years.

“Five years ago (NATO) didn’t really care much about this issue,” said NATO topper John Fithian. “Frankly, the pirates weren’t very good, and it didn’t really affect us. That’s all changed now because of digital camcorders and the Internet, so (addressing) piracy is one of our most important goals.”

The Motion Picture Assn. of America is another driving force behind efforts to make camcording a movie in a theater a federal crime, a move that parallels the org’s efforts on the state level.

So far this year, anticamcording bills have been enacted in Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. It’s already a crime in New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California and the District of Columbia.

The federal lobbying took place the same week the MPAA hailed the felony indictment of Georgia resident Brandon Langley for allegedly recording “The Matrix Revolutions” with a camcorder at a movie theater where he was employed as a projectionist.

Although an anticamcording bill is sitting on the desk of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Langley was arrested under current state theft statutes, an MPAA spokeswoman noted.

Langley was taken into custody on the movie’s opening day, Nov. 5. Incident marked the first arrest on piracy charges of a theater employee hired to run the movie projector.

Langley’s indictment follows the first arrests for movie camcording in California earlier this month.

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