NYC wants jail time for film piracy


NEW YORK -- Secretly videotaping movies in a New York City theater for illegal sale on the street would be a misdemeanor, with penalties including possible jail time, under a bill the City Council approved Thursday.

Movie bootlegging cost major film studios more than $6 billion in 2005, according to the MPAA, an advocate of the motion picture, home video and television industries. The association says more than 90% of pirated films are generated by people who record them in theaters and sell the duplications for mass reproduction or post them on the Internet, sometimes just hours after the movie has premiered.

Authorities say New York is a major source of film piracy, with more than 40% of movies that are ripped off and resold nationwide being generated in the city.

"We have an opportunity here to respond to that illegal activity in a way that could help support the film industry far beyond the five boroughs," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.

Now, when someone is caught recording a movie in a city theater, the violation carries a $250 fine. Under legislation passed by the City Council, the crime would become a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $5,000.

"Videotaping a film is stealing from legal enterprises, and the penalty for that action should be strict," said Councilman David Yassky, who sponsored the measure.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the bill, a spokesman said. He also is urging Albany lawmakers to support a state bill moving through the Legislature that would similarly classify theater videotaping as a misdemeanor but also make the second offense a felony.

Bloomberg's administration also is cracking down on film piracy in other ways.

The mayor announced in the fall that the city will begin using public nuisance laws to go after the owners of buildings where film piracy is organized and movies are sold. Authorities had already been pursuing other types of counterfeit goods in a similar way for several years, shutting several buildings and confiscating millions of dollars in clothing and handbags.

The mayor's film and television office also is set to unveil a multimedia campaign to educate residents about the seriousness of film piracy.