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Unauthorized Recording of Motion Pictures in a Motion Picture Exhibition Facility - 18 U.S. Code § 2319B

Copyright protections are taken seriously in the United States, including the copyrights for motion pictures. As the advent of technology has made piracy of motion pictures more accessible than ever, the federal government has instituted laws providing stronger protections and stricter penalties

Title 18 U.S.C. 2319B specifically makes it a federal crime to use any recording device to record an exhibited motion picture. You could face significant time in federal prison if you're guilty of this crime.

Unauthorized Recording of Motion Pictures in a Motion Picture Exhibition Facility - 18 U.S. Code § 2319B

18 U.S.C. 2319B says, “(a) Offense. Any person who, without the authorization of the copyright owner, knowingly uses or attempts to use an audiovisual recording device to transmit or make a copy of a motion picture or other audiovisual work protected under title 17, or any part thereof, from a performance of such work in a motion picture exhibition facility, shall —

(1) be imprisoned for not more than three years, fined under this title, or both; or
(2) if the offense is a second or subsequent offense, be imprisoned for no more than six years, fined under this title, or both.

The possession by a person of an audiovisual recording device in a motion picture exhibition facility may be considered as evidence in any proceeding to determine whether that person committed an offense under this subsection but shall not, by itself, be sufficient to support a conviction of that person for such offense.

(b) Forfeiture and Destruction of Property; Restitution. 
Forfeiture, destruction, and restitution relating to this section shall be subject to section 2323, to the extent provided in that section, in addition to any other similar remedies provided by law.

What Does the Law Say?

18 U.S.C. 2319B explicitly addresses the unauthorized recording of motion pictures in a motion picture exhibition facility, commonly known as a movie theater

The law prohibits anyone from knowingly using or attempting to use an audiovisual recording device to transmit or make a copy of a motion picture or other audiovisual work during a movie theater performance without the copyright owner's express authorization.

This law emerged in response to the growing threat of piracy in the digital age, where technological advancements have made it easier to capture high-quality recordings clandestinely. 

Recording a movie in a theater violates the movie studios' copyrights and significantly impacts the revenue generated from box office sales. It's important to note that the law targets the act of recording itself, regardless of whether the recorded content is distributed or used for personal gain. 

What Factors Must Be Proven for a Conviction?

To convict you of this crime, federal prosecutors must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Knowledge and Intent: You knowingly used an audiovisual recording device in a movie theater. This implies an awareness of the act and the intention to record the motion picture.
  • Unauthorized Recording: The recording must be unauthorized, meaning it was done without the copyright owner's explicit permission.
  • Location: The recording must have occurred within a motion picture exhibition facility. This typically refers to a movie theater where films are publicly exhibited.
  • Use of a Recording Device: The law explicitly targets the use of an audiovisual recording device. This includes any digital or analog device capable of recording or transmitting motion pictures, such as cameras, smartphones, or camcorders.
  • Protected Work: The recorded content must be a motion picture or other audiovisual work protected under copyright law.

Other things to know about this law:

  • The law exempts recordings made within the parameters of lawful investigations made by law enforcement. In other words, law enforcement or their agents can record in these facilities without fear of prosecution, provided it serves an official purpose.
  • The law permits theater managers to detain suspects within reason. If a theater owner or manager suspects you have been recording in their theater, they can employ reasonable measures to detain you without fear of lawsuits.
  • The federal law defers to state law. If there are also state laws prohibiting unauthorized recording in a theater, the federal government will generally allow it to be prosecuted by the state.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: James attends the opening of the latest blockbuster movie. He sneaks a high-quality video camera into the theater and records the movie to create a bootleg copy to share with (or "rent to") his "friends." James can be charged under 18 U.S.C. 2319B.

EXAMPLE 2: Doris is a film student. Her film instructor screens a documentary he made in the school's theater room and invites students to record portions of it on their smartphones for study purposes only. Doris records a segment of the film. Doris cannot be convicted under 18 U.S.C. 2319B because she had express authorization from the owner of the film.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 113, stolen property, has several federal statutes related to section 2319B, unauthorized recording of motion pictures in a motion picture exhibition facility, including the following: 

  • 18 U.S.C. 2311 - Definitions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2312 - Transportation of stolen vehicles,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2313 - Sale or receipt of stolen vehicles,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2314 -Transportation of stolen goods, securities, money, fraudulent State tax stamps, or articles used in counterfeiting,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2315 - Sale or receipt of stolen goods, securities, money, or fraudulent state tax stamps,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2316 - Transportation of livestock,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2317 - Sale or receipt of livestock,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2318 - Trafficking in counterfeit labels, illicit labels, or counterfeit documentation or packaging,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319 - Criminal infringement of a copyright,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319A - Unauthorized fixation of and trafficking in sound recordings and music videos of live musical performances,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319C - Illicit digital transmission services,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2320 - Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2321 - Trafficking in certain motor vehicles or parts,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2322 - Chop shops,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2323 - Forfeiture, destruction, and restitution.

What Are the Potential Penalties?

Violating 18 U.S. Code 2319B can lead to significant penalties, which include:

  • Imprisonment for up to 3 years for a first offense.
  • Imprisonment for up to 6 years for subsequent offenses.
  • Fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations.
  • Forfeiture and destruction of unauthorized copies of motion pictures and related equipment.

What Are the Common Defenses? 

If you're charged with the unauthorized recording of motion pictures, a federal criminal defense attorney may use several defense strategies to counter the charges, including, but not limited to:

  • Lack of Knowledge or Intent: You were unaware of the recording device or had no intention to record the motion picture.
  • You Had Authorization: The copyright owner authorized the recording, although this is a rare scenario.
  • Constitutional Violations: If evidence was obtained through a violation of constitutional rights, such as unlawful search and seizure, this evidence may not be admissible in court, and the charges may even be dropped.

If you need more information, contact our law firm to review the case details and legal options moving forward. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.

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