A man in Calgary has become the first person to be convicted under Canada's new, much tighter, piracy laws. Richard Criag Lissaman was caught filming the movie Sweeney Todd in a Calgary theatre. Even though there's no proof that he was planning to reproduce and sell his recording, Lissaman was fined almost $1,500 and given one-year probation, during which time he is not permitted to purchase, own, or possess any type of video recording equipment outside his home. And yes, that even includes a cell phone with video recording capability!
In June 2007, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to crack down on movie piracy. The new offenses included the unauthorized recording of a movie in a theatre without the consent of the theatre manager, both with and without knowledge of the intent of selling, renting, or otherwise commercially-distributing a copy of said recording. The court is also permitted to confiscate any recording equipment used in the crime.
In this such case, I guess it is safe to assume that the man was going to distribute his recording in some unauthorized manner. He obviously wasn't recording it for himself, since he was there! And if his friends wanted to see the flick, well, they would have been there with him. Still, does this give the country free reign to fine a person $1,500 and put them on probation without actually proving anything other than the fact that he recorded the movie?
I know it might not seem like a fair comparison, but plenty of people attend concerts with their cell phones and digital cameras high in the air recording video footage of the artist singing, performing, and chatting up the crowd. While many will upload this footage to their own blogs, a site like YouTube, or a social networking Website to share with friends for free, how do we know they don't plan to sell it to a tabloid site for profit? And can we fine them simply because their actions imply that they might want to, or have the opportunity to, sell the footage? It reminds me of a joke that has been circulating the 'net for years whereby a coast guard threatens to fine a woman for illegal fishing, even though she's actually just reading a book in the boat. "Yes, but you have the equipment to begin fishing," he says, pointing at the fishing rod that's in the boat. At this point, she responds that she'll charge him for sexual assault. When he looks at her with a puzzled face, she declares, "yes, but you have the equipment to commit that crime".
What's more, I know it's a far stretch, but could this first iconic sentencing eventually spiral into more and more laws that crack down on innocent people? Those who copy DVDs onto their home PCs as a back-up, or create mix CDs for their friends, or that record TV content to an external hard drive for later viewing.
I know I'm playing devil's advocate here, but the legal system is sadly built around so many technicalities and loopholes that sometimes you wonder if we're paying more attention to convicting the guilty or protecting the innocent.