Big Apple, biz squeezing piracy

City wants to make camcording of movies a felony

New York City announced steps Monday to deal with a growing piracy problem in the film industry, working with the MPAA to stop the distribution and sale of pirated films and attempting to criminalize the illegal recording of pirated work under state laws.

The enforcement efforts — and the forming of a mayor's task force to increase diversity behind the camera in the film and TV industries — came after industry, union and city officials held a two-hour entertainment industry summit earlier in the day.

The MPAA estimates that piracy cost Hollywood upward of $6 billion last year; New York City is responsible for more than 40% of camcorder piracy in the U.S. as well as 20% globally.

"It's not a victimless crime. It kills jobs," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference Monday at City Hall with New York City Film commissioner Katherine Oliver, MPAA chairman Dan Glickman and others.

The city plans to step up its efforts to combat piracy, with the NYPD and MPAA extending its existing efforts with techniques used against counterfeiters to identify city buildings where the piracy is being done. The police will not only go after the pirates but also the landlords, which Bloomberg said in some cases know full well about the activities going on in their buildings. Fines against the landlords and even the closing of the buildings could result.

Legislation that will be introduced in the state Legislature would step up penalties for those caught in piracy. It currently is only a noncriminal violation, but the city wants to make the first conviction punishable by up to a year in jail and subsequent convictions a felony worth four years in prison.

"New York is not the only place where this happens, but it's a place where it happens too much," Glickman said.

NBC Universal general counsel Rick Cotton said after the meeting that piracy "threatens to cut the heart out of producers" and that actions like those announced Monday were welcome.

"There is a multiplier effect where the loss of a production dollar contributes to a greater loss in the overall economy," Cotton said.

Monday's news conference followed a meeting with film and TV industry leaders, union officials and others who discussed the strides the city has made.

"We want to look ahead at what more we can do," Oliver said after the meeting. She said the problem of piracy and efforts to increase diversity behind the camera were going to be big initiatives going forward.

The Task Force on Diversity in Film, Television and Commercial Production will include representatives from the city, unions and entertainment companies as well as actress Whoopi Goldberg, who grew up in New York and said that it was important to increase diversity both in front of and behind the camera.

"With the tax cuts leading to more production, everything is moving forward so quickly that you can sometimes forget to bring everyone along with you," Focus Features CEO James Schamus said. "At the last Mayor's Office entertainment summit, I expressed frustration that we weren't moving fast enough on diversity issues. But there's been good initial success with the production assistant and mentoring programs, and it shows we've gotten serious about paying attention to these issues. It's a very good time to be broadening our efforts."

The task force will meet in a few weeks, with the goal to highlight existing programs and perhaps create new opportunities.

Gregg Goldstein contributed to this report.