Canada's 'closed' sign may shift pirates o'seas

Frith: New law could be U.K.'s loss

Britain could be next on the target list for international DVD pirates now that Canada's anti-camcording legislation has passed into law (HR 6/22).

That warning came Monday from Douglas Frith, president of the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Assn. and the Hollywood studios' Canadian point man, who shepherded Bill C-59 to enactment into law.

"These are sophisticated pirates. They will move jurisdictions to get a better and easier (movie) copy," Frith said Monday.

Bill C-59, which makes it a criminal offense to videotape movies in Canadian cinemas without permission, received Royal ascent after being rapidly passed through the lower House of Commons and upper Senate.

Frith explained that illegal camcording at the Canadian multiplex surfaced after 2005, when 38 U.S. states imposed criminal sanctions on unauthorized videotaping of movies south of the border.

He added that the problem could now shift to the U.K., which has yet to impose criminal sanctions on unauthorized camcording.

"(Britain) will require this under their criminal code. The lobbying will intensify to pressure that jurisdiction to change its laws," Frith said.

The CMPDA boss on Monday also gave details about the two-year effort to sway Ottawa into taking the new measures to reduce movie piracy originating from multiplexes here.

Frith wagered that he could best serve studio interests by putting a Canadian face on the issue.

"If it looks like a Hollywood studio is making demands, that doesn't work with this government," he said of the current minority Conservative government in Ottawa, which is beholden to support from opposition parties for passage of legislation.

Key to lining up support for Bill C-59 in Parliament, Frith said, was recruiting a range of Canadian industry groups — including the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn., ACTRA and the Directors Guild of Canada — to get across the message that eliminating unauthorized camcording is a mainstream industry goal.

Michael Geist, a professor in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said Hollywood deserves credit for being able to overcome deep reservations in the Ottawa bureaucracy about the bill.

"I've seen a fair number of documents in Justice and Heritage (federal departments) that would suggest … there was deep skepticism about the need for this legislation. Ultimately, the pressure that was ratcheted up from U.S. officials and the Canadian media prevailed," Geist said.

Recent outside events that support that contention include 20th Century Fox's warning that it was considering a delay in the release of its movies in Canada; Warner Bros.' announcement that it planned to pull preview screenings here; and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's early-June meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But Frith insists that the outside pressure shouldn't get too much credit, saying that he encountered likely resistance in Ottawa after the studio moves. Instead, back-room lobbying by the Canadian ambassador to Washington and the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa were far more helpful, he said, adding, "Some things help, some have a hindrance."

Now that Canadian courts can fine or jail anyone convicted of stealing copyrighted material with the intention of selling it, Frith said that local police forces will need to be educated on how to properly enforce the new legislation.

"The reality is, local police forces have to be brought up to speed about how to apply the law," he said.

Until now, Canadian exhibitors who caught patrons videotaping in their auditorium could do little more than eject them from the theater.

Typically, pirates caught camcording would claim they were making a film for personal use. Bill C-59 means the onus will now be moved to the person caught camcording to prove they were not doing so for gain.