Studios sing chorus of “Blame Canada”

by Mathew on May 8, 2007 · 3 comments

Update:

Michael Geist has a typically well-argued post on the latest Warner Brothers camcordering nonsense here.

Original post:

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

When you go to see a movie, do you get irritated by the guys sitting in front of you with their video cameras pointed at the screen, illegally “camcordering” the film? I don’t, because I’ve never seen one, although I’ve been to my share of premieres, including (most recently) Spider-Man 3. And yet, Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century Fox and other Hollywood studios have been screaming and yelling for some time now about how Canada is a hotbed of piracy. In the latest move, Warner Bros. said on Tuesday that it will no longer hold preview screenings in Canada.

pirate1.jpgSo that means no more previews of Warner Bros. movies before the main attraction at your local multiplex? Well, no. The studio said that it is cancelling all “promotional and word-of-mouth” screenings. Those are the special showings that occur just before a big movie hits the theatres, which are usually open only to contest winners, movie reviewers, people who see an ad, and so on — in other words, a pretty unlikely place for someone to bring in a camcorder under their shirt. So if Warner’s move strikes you as mostly a symbolic gesture, that’s because it probably is — a gesture aimed primarily at keeping the pressure on Parliament to bring in new anti-piracy legislation.

There have been other gestures as well. Studios and movie distributors have been lobbying to have Canada placed on a high-priority international piracy “watchlist” along with countries like China and Russia. And Twentieth Century Fox made some vague threats earlier this year to hold back some of its top movies from Canadian release, because the risk of piracy was reportedly so high. One Fox executive said in January that Canadian cam-corder copies were “like an out-of-control epidemic,” and that the country had become “a leading source of worldwide Internet film piracy.” He said Canada accounted for close to 50 per cent of illegal camcorder copies.

As Ottawa law professor Dr. Michael Geist and others have pointed out before, however, there are a number of flaws in the movie studios’ argument — including the fact that there is no tangible evidence for that 50 per cent figure. The International Intellectual Property Alliance, which includes the Motion Picture Association of America, has previously said that Canada is only responsible for about 20 per cent of camcorder copies. And even though that number still seems high, the MPAA has said only 179 of the 1,400 movies released between 2004 and 2006 were camcorded (Warner says 70 per cent of its movies were camcorded over the last 18 months).

Dr. Geist notes that one of the most recent studies of movie piracy found the majority of illegally copied movies – over 75 per cent — come from review copies or early releases that are sent to movie industry insiders, including reviewers at newspapers and magazines. Piracy experts say that camcorder copies are really only in demand for that brief window between when a movie is released for preview screenings and when the DVD is released. Canada obviously has DVD copiers too, but no one is saying we are an international leader (at least not yet).

Is camcordering a movie and selling millions of copies wrong? Of course it is — and we already have laws that make that a crime, although movie studios and distributors say they are too difficult to enforce. But it doesn’t help when the industry uses hyperbole and inflated numbers to try and make its case.

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