The Great Canadian Movie Experience

There’s little disputing the movie industry wants to curb piracy and get consumers to return to the theatres and enjoy the occasional movie.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Movie critics typically use advance screenings to offer reviews of the latest potential blockbuster, which can help add to the hype. A very important step in improving ticket sales for the movie industry might be to keep the experience and atmosphere for screenings as pleasurable as possible. However, if one were to read a recent report on the CBC, you’d never know this was the case.

According to the article, movie-goers were stripped of all electronic equipment from cell-phones to laptops. While watermarks might not affect the movie going experience given that they are hardly visible to the human eye, one moviegoer explained that she saw staff carrying metal detectors while other staff members wore night vision goggles. Obviously, this is much more visible than a watermark. The new measures were explained merely by the passage of Bill C-59, which was very quickly fast-tracked into law.

Bill C-59 was brought into existence due to Hollywood pressure in the United States. Unfortunately for Hollywood, all one had to do was track the claims to realize that the many of the numbers were questionable at best. This led to many doubting the claims that Canada was even a piracy haven in the first place. Critics of the numbers shortly afterwards were treated by an MPAA press release which said that a number of camera pirates were busted in an attempt to prevent Spiderman 3 from being pirated off the screen. As advocates like Michael Geist point out, not one incident even occurred in Canada.

Many argue that the bill actually changes little in terms of what was already implemented in the criminal code. The only difference since the bill was implemented were the penalties for being caught. Proponents to the bill argue that before the implementation of the bill, theatre owners or staff members could only kick out patrons caught with a movie camera unless they can prove that the copy would be used for commercial redistribution. Some would say that the theatre pirate would only be there the next day for another attempt. Any penalties actually inflicted on the alleged pirates would be considered ‘the cost of doing business’ to them.

So, before the camera piracy bill, there was the poor helpless theatre owner being bombarded by these camera pirates. After the bill, the movie industry is suddenly cracking down on movie pirates with night vision goggles, metal detectors and watermarks. Watermarks are nothing new. Chances are watermarks may have been one way the U.S. Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus could have traced many cams to Canada. Though, the other ‘new’ tools to combating piracy, according to the report, are the metal detectors and night vision goggles for the advance screening.

It is not illegal to use a metal detector or night vision goggles on privately owned property. Nowhere in Bill C-59 does it say that theatre owners are now allowed to use metal detectors and night vision goggles. Aside from penalties, what exactly has changed in terms of piracy prevention? Moreover, if there are reports of theatre owners catching pirates before the new measures were enacted, is it really worth it to implement all the new technology if pirates were already being caught? No report before the bills passing suggested that pirates in Canada were being caught by metal detectors or night vision goggles.

If these new implementations are put in place with regular screenings, is the cost of anti-piracy worth it when the moviegoers experience is ruined by the increased surveillance? When a prominent example like Spiderman 3 suggests that camera piracy isn’t occurring at the rate originally claimed, will the overall effort to crack down eventually simply backfire? One thing is for certain, night vision goggles, metal detectors and turning a theatre into an airport on a high threat level alert won’t attract movie patrons.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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