Thursday, February 08, 2007

Campaigning about Camcording

The Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association (“CMPDA”) is the trade association for Hollywood in Canada. It’s the movie counterpart to the Canadian Recording Industry Association (“CRIA”), sometimes referred to as the Canadian Recording Industry of America.

However, the CMPDA has normally been much more restrained and responsible than CRIA in its lobbying and in its descriptions of alleged inadequacies in Canadian law. And needless to say, it has not tried to make its customers into victims of mass litigation. This mirrors the situation down south, where the RIAA carries on its war against weapons of mass distribution, while the MPAA sits back wisely watching and now looks almost magisterial by comparison - especially in the aftermath of Jack (VCR = Boston Strangler) Valenti.

But now the CMPDA has launched a massive campaign about what it sees as a need to attack “camcording” in cinemas in Canada. So far so good. Nobody would seriously defend anyone’s right to camcord a whole movie in a theatre for piratical purposes - even if the harm might be somewhat overstated and the remedy sought may be somewhat overwrought. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

But unless my ears fooled me this morning when I heard the CBC news, the problem is that CMPDA is now seriously conflating this issue with the 1996 WIPO treaties and Canada’s general lack of progress, as CMPDA sees it, in copyright reform. Mr. Frith of the CMPDA suggested that Canada is somehow behind the rest of the world, WIPO-wise.

First of all, nothing in the WIPO treaties (if either applied, it would be the WIPO Copyright Treaty "WCT") has anything to do with camcording in theatres. Camcording in theatres is already illegal. Nothing in the treaties would make it more illegal. If we decide to enact a tougher and carefully conceived anti-camcording law, fine. But it would have no more to do with the WIPO treaties than a fish has to do with a bicycle.

True, the WIPO treaties deal with “making available” and communication of works such as films on the internet. But that’s got nothing to do with camcording in a cinema. And it’s highly likely that Canadian law is already more than adequate in terms of meeting the WIPO treaty requirements in these respects.

And once again, it must be pointed out that the EU is still far from ratifying the WIPO treaties. The only major countries that have ratified the WIPO treaties are the USA and Japan. (Belgium, if one considers it “major”, is said to have gotten ahead of the EU and engaged in “mistaken” premature ratification). The rest are a coalition of the billing ranging from Albania to the United Arab Emirates, virtually all of which are somehow beholden to the USA.

It does not behove the CMPDA to embark on the over-the-top rhetoric we have come to expect routinely from CRIA.

Back to camcording. If better legislation is needed, which may indeed be the case, there’s definitely a need to avoid poorly conceived legislation that might make it illegal to merely carry a recording device into a theatre, since it’s unrealistic to criminalize people for carrying cell phones and video cameras when they go the cinema. And bear in mind that virtually all cell phones can now record video and it's getting harder and harder to tell the difference between video and still cameras, which are increasingly converging technologically.

And after all, if you take the kids to the park and record them on video and then go to the movies, are you supposed to leave your expensive camcorder in the car so that it can easily get stolen? Maybe Canadian law can be improved in this area - albeit with great care. Amending the Criminal Code, which is what CMPDA wants, is not a simple thing. Nor should it be. There are real issues involving deployment of scarce police resources when we have rampant violent crimes involving guns, drugs and other obvious criminal activity. There are serious policy issues about the border between true criminal behaviour and the use of the state to enforce what may in some cases be purely or arguably a civil matter.


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