Hey you in the back row snogging -- security guards in cinemas will now be watching you with night vision cameras.
You might think that when you go to the cinema you are watching a movie, but if you go to a screening of Australia over the next few weeks, chances are that the movie (or at least hired goons from 20th Century Fox) will be watching you.
In an attempt to crack down on in-cinema movie piracy movie studios will be hiring “specially trained security guards” armed with night vision goggles (NVGs) to keep a look-out for people making illegal recordings of films in the cinema. Whilst we cannot understand why anyone would waste their money or download quota on obviously crap quality copies of movies (complete with head shots, coughs and lousy muffled sound) according to Neil Gane, Director of Operations at AFACT (the organisation suing iiNet) this is a big problem. “Films have been marketed so people want to see them before other people; pirated copies are available and free or nearly free.”
Gane believes that in-cinema recording (onto camcorders or mobile phones) is the underlying ‘technology’ used to bring 95% of the first pirated movies to the Internet or DVDs. Since “illegal recordings in cinemas are the first link in the piracy eco system” AFACT wants to stamp this practice out so that pirated movies don’t find their way to organised criminal syndicates and DVD factories in China, Malaysia or Russia.
Apparently Australia (the country and the movie) is not the first place NVGs have been used. In the US and Asia Pacific region, security staff have been using NVGs for two years with Gane commenting that “hundreds of people have already been caught with even a few convicted.”
Above: one of the nightvision scopes.
Apparently “camming” (as the industry calls it) is big business with professional “cammers” earning between US$2,000 – US$4,000 to stick a camcorder in a bag or shoulder holster, point the lens out of their sleeve and hold really, really steady for two hours or so. As an example of how serious the film industry is, Gane mentioned that in Maryland (US) a professional cammer was convicted for an 18 month jail term, although this case was exceptional. “AFACT is definitely focusing on the professional camer who is linked into a distribution network, however our anti-camer strategy is to prevent any person from making an illegal copy of a movie in a cinema.”
Of course nothing will drive people to the movies more than the thought that someone is spying on them, although parents of teenagers may feel a little safer. Whilst movie patrons will be informed by signage that making recordings of films in cinemas is illegal, Gane would not confirm whether cinema operators would inform people that the film they are about to see is protected by NVG equipped guards ready to take immediate action against suspicious behaviour.
“Ultimately the decision to employ NVG equipped security guards is made by the studio distributing the film and so far in Australia it has been deployed in Batman Returns and now in Australia. In the case of screening of Australia, NVGs will be deploying in the majority of the 304 cinemas showing the film.”
While at APC we believe that the film studios do have a right to protect their intellectual (legal term not adjective) property, having guards spying on patrons could be a little extreme. Gane was not prepared to discuss exactly how the security will be implemented in practice so we don’t know whether the goons will be in the back of the cinema constantly seeking out pirates, carrying out SWOT style reconnaissance missions or just checking in from time to time to make sure everyone is behaving.
Despite the obvious expense in sending out trained surveillance teams to cinemas across Australia, Gane believes that the strategy is a success. Despite “only a handful of people being caught during the screen of Batman Returns and no arrests being made, the strategy adopted by Village Roadshow was very successful in that there were no camcorder copies forensically matched to cinemas in Australia.” Clearly a case of cause and effect here since the pirates could not have obtained copies of the films from cinemas in other countries or by somehow “diverting” film prints to cine-trucks equipped with state of the art film transfer equipment.