And in the most recent “americans are stupid” * news:

19 years old Jhannet Sejas was arrested today for capturing 20 seconds of the new “Transformers” movie on her digital camcorder. [The Washington Post] [Daily Press] [ABC news].

The girl of course wasn’t aware that she was doing anything wrong, but according to a new copyright law passed in 2005, recording a motion picture in a theater is a crime regardless of the reason and use for the copy. I’m not aware of the specific details of this absurd law, so it might not actually prohibit this specific behavior (capturing a very small subset of the whole work), but in any case the specific law under which Jhannet Sejas will be tried on August 21 flies in the face of common copyright practices.

What worries me is that none of the speakers in the defense of the girl – at least in the sources I’ve read – had anything to say about the absurdity of the law. In the normal sense, and in most civilized countries, copyright infringement is determined by the use of the copy being made, where certain uses fall a definition of “fair use” which is allowed. I can’t see how anyone can argue that recording 20 seconds of a 2 hour movie is anything but fair use.

If the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 does not allow for fair use, then it is a bad law, and I don’t know how it goes in the United States, but in Israel bad laws (specifically those that contradict existing laws) may be stricken down by the supreme court.

By the way – I’m aware that a lot of illegal movie copying is done using digital cameras (although its beyond my why would anyone want to watch these “camrips” – the only time I actually set through an entire “camera ripped” film I suffered immensely) even if I think that the MPAA quoted figure of 90% is a bit on the high side, but there are many legitimate reasons to bring a camera into a movie theater and even use it to record from the screen, for example:

  • Taking a picture of the screen to comment about in an article.
  • saving a few seconds of the soundtrack to analyze it for educational purposes.
  • Sending a message to a friend with a recommendation about the movie (“go see it”/”don’t watch it”) with a few seconds of an especially good/especially bad scene

I think all of these are clearly fair use, some of which are possibly beneficial to the copyright owners.

What is the status in Israel ? We don’t have stupid laws which simply forbid any recording no matter to what purpose. IANAL, but to my understanding camrips are clearly forbidden by the old copyright law (which is quite archaic – there’s a new copyright law being drafted which should be more suitable to the digital age). “Fair use” ideas are specifically allowed for in the current law, and the way I see it all uses such as I described above are indeed fair use. In regard to the case at hand – Jhannet Sejas – even if we disregard, for the sake of discussion, that 20 seconds are far from a usable copy, clearly the capturing of the movie in the camera is not in and of itself a violation of copyright, mostly as the use of the copy is unclear at this stage – in much the same way as I’m allowed to take a book and photocopy it as many times as I want, so long as I don’t do any infringing use in the copies (probably the only legal use of such copies is to store them in a neat pile under the book, at all times, or to destroy them).

Anyway – there you have it: a country of legalisms going from bad to worse.

*) “Americans” is in this case the common reference to residents of the United States and not to all residents of the American continents (to remove any doubt).

3 Responses to “And in the most recent “americans are stupid” * news:”

  1. Eran:

    Well, I also don’t know what about Israel but it already happened to me, not just once or twice, that I’ve been asked and searched for recording equipment. Which is also funny because when I go out, I carry at least two such devices if not three.

  2. Guss:

    Searched, and – did you give them your stuff ?

  3. Eran:

    No. I told them about them.

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