Tape 20 Seconds of a Movie and Go to Jail

movie3.jpgAccording to the Washington Post:

Jhannet Sejas and her boyfriend were celebrating her 19th birthday by taking in a matinee showing of the hit movie “Transformers” at the theater at Ballston Common mall.

Sejas was enjoying the movie so much that she decided to film a short clip of the sci-fi adventure’s climax to get her little brother hyped to go see it.

Minutes later, two Arlington County police officers were pointing their flashlights at the young couple in the darkened theater and ordering them out. They confiscated the digital camera as evidence and charged Sejas, a Marymount University sophomore and Annandale resident, with a crime: illegally recording a motion picture. . . .

Sejas said she had no intention of selling the 20-second film clip. She just wanted to show it to her 13-year-old brother, who had said he wanted to see the movie. She was shocked when the officers showed up.

Sejas faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 when she goes to trial this month in the July 17 incident. Arlington police spokesman John Lisle said it was the decision of Regal Cinemas Ballston Common 12 to prosecute the case, a first for Arlington police.

According to the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005:

(a) Offense.–Any person who, without the authorization of the copyright owner, knowingly uses or attempts to use an audiovisual recording device to transmit or make a copy of a motion picture or other

audiovisual work protected under title 17, or any part thereof, from a performance of such work in a motion picture exhibition facility, shall–

(1) be imprisoned for not more than 3 years, fined under this title, or both; or

(2) if the offense is a second or subsequent offense, be imprisoned for no more than 6 years, fined under this title, or both.

The possession by a person of an audiovisual recording device in a motion picture exhibition facility may be considered as evidence in any proceeding to determine whether that person committed an offense under this subsection, but shall not, by itself, be sufficient to support a conviction of that person for such offense.

The Washington Post article continues:

Jason Schultz, senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said he is aware of only one case prosecuted under the federal statute. In September 2005, a Missouri theater employee pleaded guilty to two counts of using a camcorder to copy two movies.

He said he has never heard of a case like Sejas’s.

“I’ve heard of people’s devices being confiscated, or them being kicked out of the theater,” Schultz said. “This is the first criminal arrest for someone filming for personal use that I know of.”

You may also like...

9 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    Hopefully the prosecutor will exercise discretion and drop the case. The purpose of the law is obviously to combat the copying of all or substantially all of a movie for redistribution. It can’t only prohibit that, because otherwise the offense wouldn’t be complete until the movie was over. But I don’t think anyone intended to make making a 20-second clip of a feature film a crime punishable with jail time.

    One correction: I don’t think federal law is involved here, given that she was confronted by Arlington County police officers and there’s a reference in the article to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The penalties under the FECA are different. I suspect Va. Code § 18.2-187.2: “A. It shall be unlawful for any person to operate an audiovisual recording function of a device in a commercial theater, excluding the lobby and other common areas, to record a motion picture or any portion thereof without the consent of the owner or lessee of the theater. Any person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

  2. Bruce — I think you are right that FECA isn’t the law she’s charged under. It was the only law cited in the article, which is why I quoted from it.

  3. random law student says:

    The facts are unclear, but 1. if it is a digital recording camera (rather than digital picture camera that can record but is primarily for pictures) 2. if she started recording at the beginning of the movie and 3. she only stopped because she was interrupted (or thought she had been seen) then I think there is a case for the VA law violation.

    Why would she think recording her own clip would be better than a trailer her little brother can download?

  4. random law student says:

    The facts are unclear, but 1. if it is a digital recording camera (rather than digital picture camera that can record but is primarily for pictures) 2. if she started recording at the beginning of the movie and 3. she only stopped because she was interrupted (or thought she had been seen) then I think there is a case for the VA law violation.

    Why would she think recording her own clip would be better than a trailer her little brother can download?

  5. random law student says:

    The facts are unclear, but 1. if it is a digital recording camera (rather than digital picture camera that can record but is primarily for pictures) 2. if she started recording at the beginning of the movie and 3. she only stopped because she was interrupted (or thought she had been seen) then I think there is a case for the VA law violation.

    Why would she think recording her own clip would be better than a trailer her little brother can download?

  6. Bruce Boyden says:

    Random, you’re right, but from what I can tell from the article, it sounds like 1, 2, and 3 are all false. Since the police confiscated the camera, 2 should be pretty easy to verify; if the only clip starts near the end of the film, that’s not a very plausible piracy attempt.

  7. Sherwin says:

    The charge is indeed under the Virginia Code–one of several state laws pushed by the MPAA a few years back.

    Random:

    I think there’s a case that the law was violated even without meeting any of those three conditions–the real problem to me is a poorly-drafted and poorly-applied law.

  8. Chris says:

    I completely agree with Sherwin; while there may be a case here, the real problem (some would argue crime) is that the MPAA (and other organizations like them) have successfully lobbied for such poorly drafted and poorly applied laws. You would think the MPAA would learn from the absurdity of the prosecutions gone after by the RIAA.

  9. Bruce Boyden says:

    Chris and Sherwin: how would you amend the statute so that it meets its objective without requiring proof of the recording of an entire movie, and without including difficult-to-establish elements such as intent?