Australian court fines pirate movie camcorder

MUMBAI: At Blacktown Local Court in Sydney, 26 year-old Craig Farrugia pleaded guilty and was subsequently convicted, fined A$5,400 (US$3797) and placed on an 18-month good behavior bond for illegally camcording movies.

This criminal case arose from a 13 February raid by New South Wales Police, supported by investigators from the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) representing the Motion Picture Association (MPA), in which sophisticated video camcording and computer equipment was seized. Enquiries confirmed that the equipment had been used for making illegal video recordings of a number of recently-released movies including He’s Just Not That Into You, Marley and Me, Yes Man, Bedtime Stories, and Beverley Hills Chihuahua.

This is the second Australian conviction for making illegal camcords of movies in cinemas. In November 2007, Jose Duarte was convicted of making and distributing an illegal camcord copy of the theatrical release of The Simpsons Movie on his mobile phone and uploading it to the Internet. This unauthorized recording was tracked to streaming sites and P2P systems within 72 hours of Duarte making and uploading it, where it was illegally downloaded over 100,000 times and copied and sold as a pirated DVD around the world.

AFACT investigators spent several months tracking down Farrugia using amongst other investigative tools and techniques, state-of-the-art digital watermarking technology. The movie industry applies invisible digital watermarks to the prints of movies shown in cinemas. Like fingerprints, every watermark is unique and allows investigators to identify any cinema where movies are illegally recorded.

Prosecutors presented evidence before the court that the movies illegally camcorded by Farrugia were distributed by international release group “PreVail.” They had been made available on numerous web sites as well as forensically matched to pirated DVDs purchased in Australia and a number of other countries around the world including the USA, Mexico, Britain, Spain, the Philippines and Malaysia.

These ‘Release Groups’ distribute the illegal movies online to ‘Top Sites’, where the stolen movies are made available on P2P networks and shared by downloaders, greatly accelerating the spread of pirated movies. ‘Release Groups’ are also known to sell the illegally recorded movies to criminal groups who manufacture thousands of copies for sale via Internet auction sites, at shopping malls, markets, pubs, clubs and from the back of cars and vans.

Commenting on the conviction, Magistrate Keady said that the actions of Farrugia were “..part of an organised criminal conspiracy.”

Magistrate Keady went on to say that the movie industry “..entitled to the same protection of their property as are householders whose house is broken into and property removed…It is a property offence similar to that of larceny.”

AFACT Director of Operations Neil Gane said, “The successful conclusion of this case is an important development in the fight to prevent illegal camcording of movies during their cinematic release. Anyone thinking of illegally camcording a movie should be aware that it is a crime and that the technology exists to identify them, track them down and take them to court on criminal copyright charges.”

“While we are pleased with the very prompt closure of this matter, we are disappointed in the sentence meted out by the Court as it has failed to recognize the damage this particular crime can have on the industry. This illegal act of camcording can single-handedly destroy the ability of a movie to recoup the investment made in its production and adversely impact the business of cinemas, DVD retail outlets and on-line services around the world that rely on the downstream revenue of the movie. We hope for more stringent sentences to be passed in Australia to deter anyone thinking about camcording,” said Motion Picture Association president and managing director Asia-Pacific Mike Ellis.

Preventing camcording and arresting anyone trying to illegally camcord a movie is one of MPA’s top strategic priorities. Over 90% of first-release pirated movies to first hit the internet or be illegally sold as pirated DVDs originate from illegal recordings being made in cinemas. The effect of illegal camcords is particularly damaging to the economics of the movie industry as they often appear during the theatrical release window, stealing revenue from cinemas and retail outlets and putting many jobs at risk.

In 2008, 916 illegally camcorded movies were forensically matched to their cinema of origin, with 122 of these originating from cinemas in the Asia-Pacific region. Forensic monitoring over the past four months has shown that Australia has become a major hub for regional camcording, recording the second most forensic matches after the Philippines.

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