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Bill outlaws theater taping

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Utah lawmakers want people in movie theaters watching films, not recording them.

The Legislature passed a bill making it unlawful for someone to record a movie being shown in a theater, a response to complaints from Hollywood about widespread piracy and the ease of distributing bootlegged films on the Internet.

Federal laws against the practice exist and the Utah legislators want to make it a state crime as well.

The bill was not controversial and it easily passed the House of Representatives and the Senate. Nobody voted against the legislation as it cleared committees and the full House and Senate. Summit County’s legislators cast ‘Yea’ votes.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. must sign the bill into law.

The bill makes a first offense a class A misdemeanor and subsequent convictions third-degree felonies. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by one year in a county jail and a $2,500 fine. People convicted of third-degree felonies face a prison sentence of up to five years and a $5,000 fine.

The bill allows theater owners to detain people they suspect are recording a movie, question them and demand they show them the recording device before they call the police. It exempts lawmen recording movies while investigating crimes.

At least 39 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. President George W. Bush signed the federal law in 2005 and penalties may include prison sentences of between three and five years and fines of up to $250,000, the association says.

Locally, people who show movies say they have not encountered problems, though. They say there have not been instances when they caught people trying to record a movie during a regular showing. Still, there is support for the bill.

"It takes not only business from us, it takes out money for movie studios," says Stephen Simmons, the general manager at Redstone 8 Cinemas, the area’s largest movie complex.

He says pirates can film a movie and make copies on a computer to put them online or on DVDs, which could then be sold. Simmons reports the theater sends two staffers into movie showings to look for people recording the films.

If someone were caught, he says, staffers would enter the theater in regular clothes and sit next to the person to make sure the suspect is recording. If they are, the theater would call the authorities, Simmons says.

"Out of six years, I’ve never seen one person with a camera," he says.

The motion picture association says nine out of 10 movies that are sold on the black market are done so while they are still in theaters and it claims some are posted on the Internet soon after their premiers.

Meanwhile, at the Sundance Film Festival, a potential target because it shows lots of movies before they are released theatrically, organizers post signs at each theater prohibiting recording devices and festival volunteers are trained to look for people recording the films, says Patrick Hubley, a Sundance spokesman.

Hubley says Sundance’s rule is longstanding and festival organizers have never caught someone recording a movie. If there were someone suspected of doing so, Hubley says they would be removed from a theater and questioned.

"A lot of people here respect the laws of the country," Hubley says.

Frank Normile, the chief of the Park City Film Series, which typically does not show first-run films, supports the legislators but says there have not been problems at his screenings, held in the Santy Auditorium at the Park City Library and Education Center.

"I’ve never had an example I know of in the past 12-13 years. It’s not a problem for us," Normile acknowledges as he explains his backing of the bill. "You shouldn’t steal copyrighted material like that. They have too many pirates who put out bootleg things."


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