WIll Customs seize my robot pals?
February 4, 2005 6:08 PM   Subscribe

PirateFilter: Question about bringing VCDs into the good ol' U.S. of A. Yarrr. {MI}

I'm an American studying in Germany. My latest Internet nerd hobby is collecting MST3k episodes with BitTorrent. I consider it a labor of love - helping to keep a great show alive. I've burned about fifty episodes onto CD so far - and I'm now thinking about problems I might have getting back into the States with them.

I know Best Brains only takes issue with people downloading episodes that are available for sale (and rightly so), so I try to avoid those. What I have, then, are fifty CDs of gray-area intellectual property, material that isn't exactly legal, but that isn't being actively pursued by its owner. That is to say: BBI would have to defend its property in court, but they aren't threatening to sue trackers like the MPAA has.

My question is this: if I try to waltz through U.S. Customs carrying this stuff, am I going to be hassled, arrested, deported, or whatever? Will it be a better (or worse) idea to send them in the mail? And, if so, labeled as what?

Please - help me save my hobby!
posted by ruddhist to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Customs are unlikely to stop you, even less likely to look in your bag, infinitely unlikely to care what's on your CDs, and definitely won't be enforcing copyright law. It's not rheir job.
posted by cillit bang at 6:23 PM on February 4, 2005

Sir, your goal is comendable, noble, and a respectable venture of the highest regard. I applaud you for your efforts to keep such a wonderful show from being forgotten.
As far as your question goes, I'm not really sure. Surely you can fabricate a convenient excuse for the necessity of your discs- if you're questioned, just say that you're a grad student and it's all data for your thesis or something. If they ask what your project is on, tell them you're going into robotics.
posted by baphomet at 6:25 PM on February 4, 2005

I'll corroborate the story for a co-authorship.
posted by tss at 7:03 PM on February 4, 2005

Yeah to the spindle, or binder. Easier to travel with.

Shortly after the US started raising the popsicle flavor alert codes, I grew a big ol' bushy beard. I was stopped for a personalized search every time I passed through JFK and Dulles on international flights. I NEVER had a search that came close to the level of detail you fear.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 8:25 PM on February 4, 2005

They're not realistically going to hassle you about it, but if you want to do something to make yourself feel better:

(1) Put them back on a hard drive with enough room.
(2) Back up the hard drive onto many cd-r's, with by purest coincidence the directory that contained the MST3K videos backed up at 1 movie per cd.
(3) Now you can honestly say, on the tiny chance that they ask you what's on the disks, that it's backup of the machine you were using in Germany.

The more important things I can suggest are:

*Look at alt.binaries.multimedia.mst3k if you have a decent usenet feed
*Many of your videos probably say "digital archive project." I wonder if there might be an organization by that name somewhere on the net, with instructions for how to get the movies through other, non-BT ways...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:47 PM on February 4, 2005

Best answer: Naw, don't worry about it. They'll only raise an eyebrow if you have several of the same packaged DVD as its more likely you're intending to resell the property. But a mixed bag of VCDs and DVDs? Not a problem.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:54 PM on February 4, 2005

If you're really worried you could always encrypt them with CSS so nobody but you can decrypt them.

Wisecracks don't help people find answers.
posted by shepd at 9:29 PM on February 4, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the reassurance, everyone. I guess it's really what I was looking for.

ROU_Xenophobe: Way ahead of ya. ; )
posted by ruddhist at 3:09 AM on February 5, 2005

Best answer: Unless you're talking about hundreds of disks, it will likely be no problem. But cillit bang is mistaken. Copyright enforcement definitely is part of US Customs' job.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:56 AM on February 5, 2005

For what it's worth, I was mailing a package to a friend in Italy yesterday, and had to wait on line forever in the (US) post office. I was reading various scary notices (including the signs on two bins saying "Known User Packages" and "Target Packages") and the longer I waited the more neurotic I started getting about the burned CD I had included in the package. By the time they gave me the customs form to fill out, I was completely freaked. I noticed it said that by signing it, I was swearing there was nothing illegal inside. I ended up opening the thing and taking out the CD.
Then I thought, this is pathetic and I confessed all to the woman at the counter, asking if she had ever heard of anyone getting busted for a burned CD. She laughed at me.
"Our guys don't care about that," she said. "That's not what we're looking for." I felt dopey.

Just anecdotal, obviously.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:15 AM on February 5, 2005

Funny story: friend of a friend was on vacation in Thailand and went back to Japan (where he was living). Customs stops him and raise an eyebrow at his pirate DVD collection. You can get virtually any DVD in SE Asia for maybe $1 US, and my friends' friend stocked up.

So what did the Japanese customs people have a problem with? His porn. In Japan foriegn porn is illegal. So dude had to give up his porn, but they didn't give a rip about his other--obviously pirate--DVDs.
posted by zardoz at 8:14 PM on February 5, 2005

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