Canada piracy provokes Fox threat
EmptyTORONTO -- 20th Century Fox is threatening to the delay the theatrical release of its movies in Canada in a bid to stamp out illegal camcording of its product in Montreal cinemas and elsewhere.
"Canada has become a hotbed for film piracy. It's a serious problem," Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Fox, said Tuesday.
As a remedy, Snyder said Fox is considering withholding its movies from cinemas in which a camcorder has been used to produce pirated DVDs.
Failing that, Fox will delay the release of its movies in Canadian cinemas to stop the theft of its product by increasingly emboldened movie pirates.
"If taking cinemas out of the system doesn't work, we'll move Canada back a couple weeks and no longer do day-and-date releases for our movies," he added.
Ellis Jacob, CEO of Toronto-based Cineplex Entertainment, the country's largest cinema chain, sympathizes with Snyder. He recognizes that Montreal in particular has become a major center for "cammers," or illegal operators of camcorders in cinemas, after the practice was made a criminal offense in the U.S.
But Jacob said that Canadian cinemagoers will be hardest hit if Fox and other major studios staggered theatrical releases in North America.
"At the end of the day, we have the advantage of seeing movies on a day-and-date basis. What we will be doing is taking that benefit away from our consumers and making us a third-world country," he warned.
Canadian exhibitors are caught in a bind because current Canadian laws do not allow for the arrest or prosecution of moviegoers with camcorders. What's more, the major studios have water-mark technology that can determine which theater was used to digitally capture movies for pirated DVDs.
Montreal is seen as a preferred city to capture movies in cinemas as Hollywood films are screened theater in both English and French. The day-and-date release pattern means pirates are able to get a jump on satisfying demand for bootleg DVDs in Europe.
Snyder made his frustrations clear to Jacob in a Nov. 30 letter in which he urged Cineplex Entertainment and other Canadian exhibitors to end illegal camcording in their cinemas, or else.
"Look, this is their primary business. Any interruption in the flow of product to their theaters has to be alarming. But we're asking our partners to protect our content. They're the first line of defense to thwart the pirates," Snyder said Thursday.
Douglas Frith, head of the Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Assn., which represents the interests of major Hollywood studios in Canada, said that Fox's wrath underlined growing anger among studio executives over lax Canadian laws governing movie piracy and copyright protections.
"We share the frustration. We're working in a legislative and enforcement vacuum, and certainly a prosecution vacuum at every level in this country," Frith said of fruitless efforts so far to make camcording in cinemas a criminal offense in Canada.
In addition to working for stronger laws, the CMPDA has trained cinema employees to spot illegal camcorders. Cineplex Entertainment's Jacob added that cinemagoers are cautioned against camcording with cinema posters and screen ads.
But despite those efforts, local police are not responding to calls from cinema operators when pirate camera operators are spotted and detained.
"We're doing the surveillance. We have them (camcorder operators) in our crosshairs. But we require a police force to enforce the law, which is why we are pressing so hard to get camcording made a criminal offense," the CMPDA's Frith said.
The illegal camcorder operators also are professional, using peep-hole cameras to capture movie content, and occasionally satellite receivers to upload premiering movies within minutes of leaving the theater to organized crime labs that can have pirated DVDs on sale within hours.
Fox's Snyder insists it's for others to pressure the Canadian government to criminalize the use of camcorders in cinemas.
He insists Fox will do what it can do to control a growing problem for its product released in Canada.
"We have sent people up there to try to train the exhibitors on what to look for. But the local law enforcement has no authority. When a theater finds someone with a camcorder, they just come back the next day," Snyder said.