Canada’s Anti-Camcording Bill

As expected, the federal government introduced Bill C-59, its anti-camcording legislation on Friday (coverage from CBC, CTV, Canwest, Toronto Star, Globe). The bill creates two amendments to the Criminal Code:

  • The recording of a movie in a movie theatre without the consent of the theatre's manager, punishable by up to two years in jail.
  • The recording of a movie in a movie theatre without the consent of the theatre's manager for the purpose of selling, renting, or other commercial distribution of a copy of the recording, punishable by up to five years in jail.

The Globe is reporting that the bill may fast track through the House without any hearings – literally in a matter of minutes – despite a clear need to review the law for potential amendment (for example, I would suggest that there is the need to add the word "knowingly" to the two provisions and suggest adding a reporting mechanism everytime the provision is triggered so that we can get a better handle on the scope of the problem).  Everyone would agree that no one credible supports illegal camcording.  Indeed, while the economic impact may be subject to debate, there is no doubt that the practice does real harm to the artistic merit of the film and thus harms the creators. That said, this bill troubles me for several reasons.
First, there is still no independent, verifiable evidence that there is a problem in Canada. The inconsistent industry claims that I highlight in the Power of Lobbying video (along with any sense that Canadian films are affected), undermine the credibility of movie industry on this issue. Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda was asked during her press conference whether the government had conducted any independent research on camcording.  She responded that they were relying solely on the (inconsistent) industry data.

Second, there is little reason to believe that these provisions will have any discernable impact on camcording in Canada.  The U.S. has similar provisions, yet according to the MPAA, it is the world's leading source of illegal camcords. Moreover, it is arguable that current Canadian law can achieve the same goals as these reforms.

Third, implicit with this bill is that the government plans to divert law enforcement resources away from other issues by prioritizing camcording (a new law without any enforcement will do absolutely nothing).  Given that MPs have heard about real health and safety counterfeiting concerns, I do not believe that pouring law enforcement energy into movie camcording at the expense of public health and safety is the right thing to do.

Fourth, and most important, notwithstanding Minister Oda's denials, it is self-evident that this bill is the result of U.S. lobbying.  Given that reality – and the transparent comments from the industry and Oda that this is just a first step – I worry that the sequel to the anti-camcording issue will involve the broader copyright reform package and it too will reflect a made in the USA solution in the form of a Canadian DMCA.


  1. Interestingly, the United States did not sign the Berne Convention (copyright) until 1989. Canada signed in 1928. Countries including Switzerland, UK, France, Germany and even Tunisia signed in 1887.

    Effectively, that would have meant that the USA did not have to honour copywrite held in other countries. Funny how priorities can change so much in such a short timeframe. I wonder how much the growth of video cassettes for export had to do with that decision.

  2. Dwight Williams says:

    Ironic At Least
    Video cassettes, DVDs and CDs, to name but three technologies.

    I’d certainly be interested in preventing “mission creep” being snuck into this particular criminal code amendment, and Prof. Geist’s proposed modifications make a great deal of sense to me.

  3. Robert A. says:

    Michael Geist wrote: "Everyone would agree that no one credible supports illegal camcording."

    Camcording should not be illegal unless it is done for the purpose of espionage. Other cases can be tried in civil courts.

    If camcording movies is made illegal now, soon camcording police will be illegal.

  4. Technomage says:

    What a twisted society we are: young men who kill a cab driver while street racing get a year’s “detention” in the comfort of their own homes, while someone who uses a camcorder to record a film faces two years in the federal pen.

    That says a lot about what we value as a society, doesn’t it?

  5. Please/Disappointed
    First, I am disappointed and frankly disgusted that the government has let lobbying — American lobbying, at that — influence decisions that affect the Canadian public.

    However, at least they had the decency to indicate that this only applies to commercial uses.

    More important than all of this though, is your point here:
    [\”Given that MPs have heard about real health and safety counterfeiting concerns, I do not believe that pouring law enforcement energy into movie camcording at the expense of public health and safety is the right thing to do.\”]

    Canadian law enforcement has more important things to do with their time — like dealing with *real* crimes that affect *real* people and cause *real* problems — than enforcing America\’s thought crime laws.

    Again American politicians: you can shove it where the sun don\’t shine.

  6. Stephen W says:

    Read it again!
    The bill makes ANY recording of a movie, weither the movie is COPYRIGHT OR NOT a jail sentence. Commercial (ie intent to resale) is up to 5 years in the pen, private use (i.e. that can\’t PROVE sales intent) is up to 2 years. Not 2 less a day… 2 years… yep, you\’re back in the pen depending on the judge. 🙂

    The bill also doesn\’t state HOW MUCH of the film OR SOUNDTRACK has to be taped. My cell phone can record 15 seconds at a time at horrible resolution… I could easily end up in the pen for taking a flick of my girlfriend screaming at a scary part of the movie.

    Want even worse? The bill singles out any part of the soundtrack as well. So… say the movie ends, the credits are rolling, and you call your buddy to tell him how the movie was. If you get his voicemail/answering machine… you\’ve got jail!

    There needs to be a) intent, b) knowledge, c) sample limits written into this bill to avoid malicious prosecution.


  7. Stephen W says:

    I guess if your BUDDIES voicemail is the one doing the recording, weither he knows it or not, HE’S the one going to prison! 🙂

  8. Franky B says:

    On top of all the other nonsense, what’s this about having the theater manager’s consent? What does he/she have to do with anything? He’s not the copyright owner. I’m sure the publisher didn’t grant him power of attorney when he paid for screening rights. Don’t they realize that a lot of the better quality camcording is done by theater employees? What if the manager himself does the camcording?

  9. Distribution into Copyright Law?
    I just read Bill 59. It contains a reference to “distribution” yet there is no reference to distribution at present in Canadian Copyright law. Does this portend that the Copyright Act itself will be so revised? The application of US legal terms to a Canadian copyright problem is very disconcerting when our Copyright Act embodies both economic and civilist approaches. As is, it appears an isolated drafting, that the courts may have difficulty in addressing, absent an appropriate reference in the Copyright Act itself. “Distribution” in the Canadian Copyright Act is not an expressed right as it is in US Copyright law.

    I would be interested in Prof Geist’s comments.

  10. ImJohnGalt says:

    Sorry for reposting this, but I’m afraid it will be lost in the older thread:

    Um, I know that it’s fun to play Dennis the Peasant (to wit: “help! help! I’m being repressed!), but isn’t it possible that Canadian exhibitors were being harmed by illegal camcording? That asking an 18-year-old usher to try to stop someone from camcording a film might be putting them into a dangerous situation, especially if the camcordee doesn’t have to fear prosecution?

    If someone goes into a bar and tries to steal a bottle for their friends outside, the bar should have the right to prosecute the thief. My understanding is that under current Canadian law, the theatre can only ask the person to stop camcording, and can’t even confiscate the camcorder. No charges can be laid because intent to distribute is notoriously difficult to prove. Putting a few teeth into the law seems to make good sense.

    Arguments that police are not going to be solving murders because of this legislation are, for want of a better word, juvenile. Perhaps we should stop enforcing parking laws or pollution laws because, well, the guy writing the ticket might have caught Robert Pickton before he killed again. That’s nuts.

    I’m as much an anti-DRM guy as the next, but how about looking at the legislation on the merits of the legislation, rather than on who you think lobbied for its passage. People, corporations and special interest-groups lobby for legislation every day – that’s how government works. I’m all for trying to make it the best, most specific legislation possible, but denigrating it because of the source of the lobbying seems to me the most puerile of reasons.

  11. Lies, statistics…and the movie industr

    Um, I know that it’s fun to play Dennis the Peasant (to wit: “help! help! I’m being repressed!), but isn’t it possible that Canadian exhibitors were being harmed by illegal camcording? That asking an 18-year-old usher to try to stop someone from camcording a film might be putting them into a dangerous situation, especially if the camcordee doesn’t have to fear prosecution? ”

    laws already can combat this (copyright infringement laws; freedom of commerce enables businesses to elect to search and refuse business to people)

    slippery slope that adds criminal component to copyright. should be studied carefully and weighed as to whether it’s for the greater good.

    unprecedented jail time

    vague, Could have unintended consequences as mentionned with cell phone cameras

    Taxpayer money, police resources going to an industry which has faked its own statistics, which was covered here and elsewhere. They should raise their employees’ wages to make them care enough instead.

  12. let’s not forget that rash changes to copyright law gave Americans the DMCA that created new monopolies that were illegal to circumvent. Did I mention that Warner faked the statistics during their media blitz a few months ago (and in February too) 🙂

  13. last thing…
    Last thing: theaters have the ability search everyone for cameras, esp. on pre-screenings. I’ve experienced it. It didn’t seem to stop them then, and I didn’t mind it.

  14. ImJohnGalt says:

    Chris, as I said, I’m all for tightening the language, but criminalizing illegal camcording in theatres is *not* the DMCA. I can’t believe that you’re advocating that kids (and face it, most of the employees of the exhbitors are kids) are supposed to try to enforce the existing laws.

    “laws already can combat this … FOC enables business to elect and search…people”

    I can’t *wait* until the exhibitors start searching everyone going into their theatres so that I can watch you all scream about how your civil liberties are being infringed. This is impractical and inconvenient to all patrons. Why not just allow a theatre to press charges when they catch someone camcording their film?

    The slippery slope argument is ridiculous on its face. It’s the same as when Republicans argue you shouldn’t legalize gay marriage because then people will want to marry their dog (thank you Senator Santorum). If subsequent bad legislation is introduced that you think goes too far, fight it.

    I’m not sure I understand why people are conflating the DMCA with this legislation. If further legislation is introduced that looks like the DMCA, I’ll be right there fighting it, and as I said I’m all for tightening up the language of this bill to avoid the laws of unintended consequences (e.g. the cell phone argument), but unless you make the penalties for camcording more than “I’m sorry sir (or ma’am), but you’ll have to leave”, it ain’t gonna stop.

    “taxpayer money, police resources going to an industry….”

    Oh please. Exhibitors pay taxes. Police resources will be going to *enforce a law*, not to an industry. That’s like saying that police who prosecute art counterfeiters are giving police resources to the gallery industry. It’s a silly argument.

    If you want to argue that studios should be focused on making sure their screeners don’t get out there, I’d agree with you. But the people being hurt by the camcorders aren’t really the studios (who suffer far more when the high quality screeners get released, eating into their DVD sales), but the exhibitors. Nobody seems to be talking much about them, though.

    Disclosure: I do *not* work in the exhibition industry, but do have friends that do. I’m rabidly anti-DRM, but sympathize to some extent with the pressures on Canadian exhibitors who are seeing the window between theatrical release and DVD release get shorter and shorter.

  15. Marc Bissonnette says:

    Personally, I don’t see a problem with the bill; You’re not supposed to have recording devices in a theatre because you do not have permission from the copyright holder to create a copy.
    You’re not supposed to be using your cellphone in the theatre because it’s just plain rude to other patrons.
    Federal penitentiary time ? That’s a little harsh, only because we’re seeing killers and rapists get off with much, much less punishment for much, much more heinous crimes (And yes, I said “punishment” not “reform” or “reeducation”)

  16. ImJohnGalt says:

    Ditto on the sentencing guidelines. In reality, though, I can’t imagine a 1st offence would merit more than a criminal record and probation. Multiple offences might warrant 3-12 months, but I’m with Marc – time in the Fed Pen system does seem a bit, uh…punitive, to say the least. Wouldn’t be at all upset if they fixed the sentencing rules.

  17. Foreign Influence
    Why I feel the foreign influence on the law is troubling, let us learn from Australia who deported a person who did not violate their own laws to the US, VERY interesting article:

    [ link ] “Vice-like grip of US copyright laws bears down on Australians”

    There will be more criminal prosecutions for intellectual property (IP) violations as a result of Australia’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, according to leading IP academics.

    “The changes in principle that the FTA required, and the changes in Australian law, have increased the criminalisation of copyright infringement”, said David Vaile of the Cyberlaw and Policy Centre of UNSW.

    According to Bill Childs from the University of Technology, Sydney’s faculty of Law, the clamp down on copyright law in Australia derives from “TRIPS [Trade Related Aspects Of Intellectual Property Rights] and the FTA, [which was] driven very much by intellectual property and American lobby groups.”

  18. Foreign Influence part II
    Now, keep that Australia article in mind as you read Doug Frith’s quote from May 31. Foreign pressure that will hurt not only Canadian film customers, but perhaps free software developers as well. Frith frames it as something, I don’t know– perhaps Microsoft would like to see, in relation to it’s recent patent threats against competition like GNU/Linux.

    [ link ]
    [ link ]

    “Frith responded by stating that this is really the first step – not only for the movie industry – where the government has shown it will seriously address the whole area of intellectual property theft.”

    Side note, IP is a dangerous term IMO, as many free software developers have learned from it’s misuse in the US, and the flawed analogy it makes to personal or real property. Copyright, patent, trade mark, trade secret, all different laws.

  19. To ImJohnGait
    ImJohnGalt: They already *DO* screen people for camcorders, as I said. Perhaps they should hire more burly security guys to increase the intimidation factor, since I’m all for job creation :*)

  20. ImJohnGalt says:

    Chris, they usually only post security guys for previews, as you indicated, and even then they don’t frisk everyone – the logistics of a screening make such a practice prohibitive. Or are you suggesting they frisk every person going into every screen at every showing across the country?

    That seems a rather cumbersome solution, when the threat of a criminal record and/or some amount of jail time might achieve the same result without the inconvenience to so many people.

    I just don’t understand why people are so quick to defend the practice of camcording, or treat it (as you seem to be here) as though “well, if the exhibitors don’t catch the guy before he goes in with his cam-corder, he deserves to be able to camcord the movie”. I have yet to see a coherent argument as to why it shouldn’t be criminalized. As Michael says, the text could be improved, but I think the goal is a worthy one.

    Just because Frith said something stupid doesn’t mean this particular law wouldn’t be a good one (if modified as per my remarks above). Again, if future legislation results in restrictions on fair use or dumb DRM laws, well, those pieces of law should be challenged to the fullest by people like you, I, Michael and everyone else who cares about such things.