Forget new laws or video screeners, the holiday blockbuster Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King made a quick trip to peer-to-peer networks on the Internet before legitimate fans could even pay for their popcorn.
Wired magazine reports that despite the hype, new laws won’t do much to solve the problem of film piracy. Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, which tracks the most popular downloads on peer-to-peer networks, said at least 10,000 copies of The Return of the King, are already on the Internet.
Like other blockbuster films, the copies of this movie appear to be high quality. The most popular versions seem to have been taken by professional pirates, rather than a regular ticket-buying audience member, Garland said.
The Motion Picture Association of America, however, estimates that about 90 percent of films on peer-to-peer networks originated from camcorder versions of films, and is working to enact laws that will penalize those who surreptitiously record films in movie theaters.
As of Jan. 1, bringing a camcorder into a movie theater is a crime in California. Under the law, moviegoers who see a person with a camcorder in a theater may make a citizen’s arrest. Those convicted could spend a maximum of a year in jail and be fined up to $2,500.
Vans Stevenson, senior vice president of the MPAA, said the organization will push to enact similar laws in a dozen other states next year. “We want to have every available tool and remedy that we can to fight this particular problem of thievery,” Stevenson said. “If we don’t, it’s going to have a dramatic negative effect on our business.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R- Texas) have announced legislation to make it a federal crime to videotape movies in theaters.
Pirated films often have another life beyond the Internet. Rich Taylor, an MPAA spokesman, said the electronic copies on peer-to-peer networks often provide the first access for pirates who press the electronic version and mass-produce hard copies overseas.
Still, Wired reported that most laws designed to thwart film piracy are misguided. “I think they are a complete waste of time,” said Fred Von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It will have absolutely no effect on the availability of film on peer-to-peer networks.”
He noted a study by AT&T Labs found that the majority of current films are leaked to peer-to-peer networks from inside the industry anyway. “If the MPAA really wanted to make a difference, they should introduce legislation to punish movie studio employees who smuggle the films out,” he said.
Plus, the record-setting opening of The Return of the King suggests that peer-to-peer sharing is not jeopardizing movie studio profits anyway, he said.
The laws “are designed to stall the clock,” BigChampagne’s Garland said. “I certainly don’t oppose any effort the copyright owner makes to protect his intellectual property, (but) this new legislation is not going to solve the big problem.
“Digital copies can and will be made ad infinitum, and any information can be freely and instantaneously distributed to any Internet-connected point on the globe,” Garland said. “There is absolutely nothing that any of these antipiracy measures or band-aids can do to negate these two basic facts.
“It only takes one copy,” he said.