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Canada shedding reputation as illegal camcording haven as incidents decline

MONTREAL - Tougher federal laws seem to be having blockbuster effects on shutting off the cameras of movie pirates in Canadian theatres.

MONTREAL - Tougher federal laws seem to be having blockbuster effects on shutting off the cameras of movie pirates in Canadian theatres.

Only a few years ago, Montreal was known as the illegal camcording and movie piracy capital of North America and fingers were also pointed at Calgary. Now reports from those cities show little, if any, activity on the movie theft front.

Two arrests in Montreal and one in Calgary are the results of a crackdown facilitated by the new laws, urged by Hollywood and even the governor of California, former action-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger during a visit to Canada.

But skeptics question whether the problem was ever more than just Hollywood hype.

"Is it likely that a couple of arrests in Montreal and one in Calgary have had this huge change?" said Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa Internet law professor.

"I don't think so."

Industry numbers blamed Canada for between 20 and 70 per cent of global camcords and huffed that Montreal alone was responsible for up to a quarter of the world figure.

"The industry data was always so widely inconsistent to simply not be credible," Geist said.

The Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association described the movie thieves as belligerent, brash and intimidating towards theatre staff, knowing that there were no laws to stop them.

Enter Bill C-59, a Criminal Code amendment introduced in June 2007, that made recording a movie without permission a crime punishable by two years in jail. Taping a film for future sale or rental carries a maximum five-year jail term.

Prior to legislation coming into effect, the distributors' association reported that at least 116 camcords were sourced back to Montreal theatres in 2007 alone. But since October 2007, not a single incident has been traced to Montreal.

"There have been no camcords sourced back to Calgary since the time of (the) arrest," said Steve Covey, the association's director and a former RCMP executive.

"We have seen a sharp decline of sourced camcords back to the Montreal area," Covey said.

Vince Guzzo, head of Quebec-based Guzzo Cinemas, said his chain had long been a target for illegal dubbers. He says the new law and increased security at the theatres has paid off, with his staff nabbing people bringing in camcorders or trying to tape movies.

"We've been good at weeding out the bad ones," Guzzo said.

"Guys who aren't necessarily criminals but thought it would be cool to do it are less likely to do it now and those who were crooks and were doing it have been caught."

Louis-Rene Hache pleaded guilty in February to illegally filming the romantic comedy "Dan in Real Life" at a Montreal theatre and was sentenced to 24 months probation. He must also complete 120 hours of community service.

In the Calgary case, Richard Lissaman was fined $1,500 in November 2008 for illegally recording the film "Sweeney Todd" the previous December. He was also banned from theatres for one year.

Another Montreal man, Geremi Adam is due in court in the fall.

Adam, who operated under the Internet alias maVen, uploaded some of the highest quality pirated films. His handiwork drew the attention of both the FBI and RCMP.

RCMP Sgt. Noel St-Hilaire acknowledges that police feel more empowered with the new legislation.

"The number of complaints have dropped drastically," St-Hilaire said, adding that while there have been sporadic incidents, few have been prosecuted.

St-Hilaire mused that technology allowing a film to be transmitted all over the world in minutes may have fuelled the notion that there were dozens of people at work in Montreal.

"It can create an illusion that Montreal was the hot spot where it was really only a few individuals who were involved," St-Hilaire said.

"They might have been just a few individuals but for the industry they were causing quite a bit of damage."

Geist said U.S. interests likely pressured Canada to act on the copyright violations so that they could use it as an example for other jurisdictions.

"Many of the clams were exaggerated and we had this sort of almost hysteria that developed where the studios threatened holding back on some movies."

It's clear that films remain readily available on the web - but mainly through inside jobs at the studios themselves. This year, an unfinished copy of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" appeared on the Internet a month before its release.

Geist said camcorded versions still occasionally pop up online for trade but "no one is keen on those anyways."

While he acknowledged some works were coming from Canada, Geist dismissed the idea that Canada could have been solely to blame as a source of the problem.

"It's always been the insider jobs and that's a studio issue," he said. "That's not a theatre issue and certainly not a country issue."

 
 
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