N.Y. zeroes in on pirates


New York State politicians and entertainment industry leaders are coming together in an attempt to shake the state's position as the nation's film piracy capital.

Under a bill that has bipartisan support and could be passed before the State Legislature's current session ends next month, the state would expand and boost penalties for multimedia pirates and enhance enforcement.

Actress Tina Fey, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker and MPAA chairman Dan Glickman joined New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, New York State legislators, SAG and DGA members and New York State film commissioner Pat Kaufman on Monday in unveiling the proposal for what is dubbed the "Piracy Protection Act," designed to combat the creation, distribution and sale of illegally recorded movies.

Zucker and Glickman expressed hope that once the New York bill passes, its supporters can push the federal government to follow suit with enhanced anti-piracy laws. "This act of leadership is a model for modern law enforcement nationwide," Zucker said.

The state attorney general's office cited recent industry reports that found that more than 50% of all illegally recorded movies are taped in New York and then distributed around the nation.

An MPAA study in 2006 also showed that the state economy loses on several fronts from piracy. Besides losing total annual output to the tune of $3.72 billion, motion picture and retail companies missed out on $1.49 billion in revenue, according to the MPAA. The state also lost 22,986 jobs and at least $50 million in tax revenue, the study found.

Nonetheless, New York only prosecutes people who illegally record films, and only with a small violation fee of $250. Cuomo said this makes the penalty comparable to a parking ticket. The state doesn't go after people involved throughout other parts of the piracy process.

"It's widespread, it's growing, it's organized," Cuomo said. To press his point, he held up a pirate DVD of "Iron Man," which opened Thursday in theaters but is already available on the streets of Manhattan.

Under the proposed bill, first-time offenders would face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Offenses would be elevated from violation status to a Class A misdemeanor. Repeat offenders would be charged with a felony.

To ensure smooth enforcement, Cuomo will create a new Special Assistant Attorney General position to coordinate local and state efforts.

"Especially in these difficult economic times, New York depends on a vibrant and flourishing entertainment industry," Cuomo said.

For the proposal to become law, it must get approval from both houses of the State Legislature. The Republican-controlled State Senate has passed a similar bill twice during the past year, but it was blocked in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

"We're going to get it done this session," vowed assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who represents a part of Brooklyn that is home to the Steiner Studios.

State Senator Frank Padavan also argued that money from piracy has flown from organized crime syndicates to purposes threatening national security. "A lot of this is going to terrorism," he said, citing Islamic group Hezbollah as one beneficiary.

In a moment that drew laughs, Lentol urged citizens to stop supporting film piracy even though some stars make $20 million and more per film, then turned to Fey to ask: "Is that what you make?" The reply was loud and clear: "Nooo!"

"It's not about studio executives, it isn't about movie stars or anyone else who rides in limousines," Lentol said. "It's about the assistant make-up artist" and other hard-working entertainment folks who may lose their jobs if piracy continues at current levels.

Zucker made it up to Fey later, calling the "30 Rock" star and writer "one of our most important creative (people) at NBC Universal." He added: "She's our Iron Man." (partialdiff)