Pirates are now very comfortable with downloading high-quality multi-gigabyte rips sourced from physical discs and VOD sources but many can’t wait, preferring to view movies early in their theatrical windows. The go-to sources in these cases are so-called ‘cam’ copies, i.e movies obtained by pointing a recording device directly at a cinema screen.
“Illicit camcording is the primary source of unauthorized copies of newly released movies found online,” the Office of the United States Trade Representative wrote in its latest Special 301 Report.
“The recordings made in movie theaters today are very different from those by a single person sitting in a theater with a bulky videotape recorder. The results are not shaky, inaudible recordings. It is now easy for a surreptitious recording in a movie theater to result in a clean digital copy of a movie with perfect audio that can be quickly distributed online.”
While this may be overstating the quality of the average ‘cam’ recording found online today, the United States views the availability of these copies as a “significant trade problem.” In particular, fingers are regularly pointed at Russia as a primary source of ‘cams’ but, to date, local authorities haven’t been able to prevent dozens appearing online every year. Now, however, Russia seems ready to take action.
According to the TASS news agency, the Ministry of Culture has prepared a new bill that aims to address apparent shortcomings in Russian legislation. Right now, punishment for recording in cinemas is moderated according to intent, meaning that someone who isn’t acting for financial gain can escape prosecution. The government now wishes to tighten up the loopholes to ensure that no one falls through the gaps.
“The Ministry of Culture of Russia has prepared a draft federal law prohibiting the recording of films in cinemas regardless of the purpose of such recordings,” says Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova.
“In other words, to hold the violator accountable it will no longer be necessary to prove that he was shooting specifically for profit.”
Lyubimova says that the changes will support other anti-piracy measures as part of a government strategy to not only introduce new legislation but to also sharpen up laws already in place. Whether fresh anti-camming penalties will reduce the high number of copies appearing online from Russia will remain to be seen but US rightsholders will be hoping for a good set of results.
According to the USTR, 26 illegally camcorded movies were traced back to Russian cinemas in 2015. In 2016, this had jumped to 63 cammed copies and the following year the figure rose again to 78 movies, a 300% increase over the number reported in 2015.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, however, the USTR’s latest Special 301 Report noted a significant drop for movies ‘cammed’ in Russia, with ‘just’ 48 titles appearing online in 2018.
The threat from Russia-sourced recordings isn’t just limited to video though. When ‘cammed’ copies appear online it is not uncommon for their components to be sourced from different places, i.e the video could be recorded in one country and the audio in another. According to the USTR, a total of 34 movie audio tracks were traced back to Russian cinemas in 2018.
Traditionally, illicit ‘cam’ copies were blamed for undermining the theatrical market but with the rise of licensed VOD platforms, authorities say that they are being affected too.
“In addition to theater owners who lose revenue, legitimate digital platforms, who often negotiate for a certain period of exclusivity after the theatrical run, cannot fairly compete in the market,” the USTR states.
While Russia is viewed as the primary supplier of first-run movie ‘cams’, other countries receive their share of criticism too. In 2018, Mexico was claimed to be the second-largest foreign source of illegally recorded films, with India and China earning mentions for not doing enough to curtail supply.