How to report an illegal public viewing/screening?
May 18, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I have reason to believe that someone is staging unauthorized, illegal public viewings of various films.

These are old school blockbuster films. Given the purported reason for the activity, I do not believe that it's possible they've applied for the correct licenses to show these films. I would like to do the right thing and turn them in, but I am unsure how one would go about such a thing. I found a form on but I would prefer to report anonymously if possible.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are they making money off of it? That is going to be the line between "why do you hate the children" and "you are a true patriot."
posted by circular at 3:34 PM on May 18, 2010 [18 favorites]

1. Re-consider that turning them in is the 'right thing.'
2. If you're sure it is, report it to the FBI.
3. If you're weirded out at the thought of filling out a form on the FBI site, because you think it feels like overkill to call the FBI on a movie screening consider #1 again.
posted by jardinier at 3:45 PM on May 18, 2010 [31 favorites]

The big rights-holders are fairly vigilant about busting people who show their property publicly without paying rights all on their own (I know this because my college's film society was busted once or twice for having stuff in the public advertising that they hadn't paid rights for).

If it's not large-scale enough for the rights-holders to notice, turning them in sounds like kind of a petty thing to do - perhaps the "right thing" by legal standards, but not so much by most people's social standards (assuming these guys aren't, you know, charging $10 admission or something).

I'd talk to the event organizers about it first to make sure that (1) they actually haven't cleared the rights and (2) that they actually know this is a thing that they need to do (it's entirely possible that they don't know that they have to pay rights if, for example, they're not charging admission).
posted by bubukaba at 3:45 PM on May 18, 2010

The MPAA has a page on public performance licensing, with contact info for some companies.
posted by smackfu at 3:46 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

You mean this form?

First, it's not clear whether the contact info is required. Have you tried submitting without it? If that doesn't work, use a fake name. This is not that difficult and makes me think this question is a little trollish.
posted by peep at 3:47 PM on May 18, 2010

If you're talking about this, the contact information is not a required field.

However. What do you have to benefit from this? You say they're "old school" blockbuster films, which means they're not stealing screeners of Avatar and underpricing theaters. How much, exactly, do you think the System loses by someone charging five bucks so the neighborhood can see Beverly Hills Cop II? There's a big difference between the letter and spirit of the law. The MPAA (who were caught pirating themselves) have repeatedly proved themselves to not just unconcerned, but absolutely vile to their own consumers. They would be the only institution benefiting from your actions. The MPAA system is broken. Period. Instead of helping artists, which is what I assume you want to do, you will be helping perpetuate a cancer in the film industry.

But, yeah, the form is anonymous.
posted by griphus at 3:51 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - you can go directly to metatalk and beat your chests there if you don't like the question.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:52 PM on May 18, 2010

Are they charging money? If not, it seems really churlish to turn them in, and to some extent it seems that way even if they are. Have you talked to them about it? If not, you might want to talk with them first, before taking further action: maybe their POV on the subject would make you see things differently. Are you being harmed in any way by the showing of the films? Seems unlikely, so I really wonder where the harm is. How many people are we talking in terms of viewership here--a dozen or a few hundred? If it's not a lot of people viewing it seems a bit of an overkill to get them in trouble. Those are just some things to consider before taking further action.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 3:56 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you need to do this, I'm sure you can bypass the form and send a detailed anonymous email to the right people that would bring the hammer down on these scofflaws.

Just be sure you're doing more good than harm. For example, you might decide that showing movies to raise money for a good cause outweighs the small profits the movie makers would get from legal showings (or would get from DVD sales that wouldn't have happened if these movies hadn't been shown). Or you might decide that Steven Spielberg actually needs the money. Which course will allow you to sleep better?
posted by pracowity at 3:57 PM on May 18, 2010

"unauthorized, illegal public viewings of various films" is a really broad, umbrella statement. I mean, if you walk into a local department store, they're staging a round-the clock public and unauthorized viewing of various films. I know this because DH worked at a slew of different department stores where the employees just pick a E-rated DVD and throw it in. Of course, they're also selling these DVDs, the TVs they're playing it on, and the DVD/bluray players attached to them.

Theater employees also do this on a regular basis before a film is released in illegal screenings where the admittance is hush hush and invitation only. It doesn't really hurt anyone, and nobody is charging for it.

What is this "purported reason" btw? Raising money for the homeless? Keeping kids entertained in an after school program?
posted by Sallysings at 4:00 PM on May 18, 2010

Mod note: last time - MetaTalk or therapy are your options, not shitting in this thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:16 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Please, anon, ignore the posters telling you you're being churlish or petty. Getting the rights to show a movie publicly isn't difficult, and many interesting films can be acquired for cheap. The money paid for public performance doesn't just go to giant awful film companies. Substantial, meaningful amounts go to performers and writers and directors in the form of residuals (unless you made a movie with Morgan Creek), and more than a few creative people rely on those residuals to keep them afloat during lean times. Report them, and let the studio determine whether or not the public performance rises to the level of infringement.
posted by incessant at 4:16 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why don't you just confront them and see if they have a license to view the film? If they do, you are wasting the movie studios' rather meagre budgets on a wild goose chase. If they do not have a license, you can give them a piece of your mind and rest easy that you stood up for what you think is right!

And then you can report them to the authorities.
posted by mixer at 4:47 PM on May 18, 2010

anonymous posted">> I would like to do the right thing and turn them in, but I am unsure how one would go about such a thing.

Are you familiar with the political project of these people? I'm not sure what you mean by "purported reason." Is it possible you could consult with the organizers of a Guerrilla Drive In (like this one), or the group in question, to learn more about their resistance to the laws locking down public display of the material? Who knows, perhaps by talking with the people on the other end, you can find a solution to this ...problem... without resorting to legal measures.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:57 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, not to preclude your legal action exclusively on the grounds that you're assumedly not informed enough to determine legality, which, some say, requires a degree in law... copyright law is so poorly designed as to be unenforceable. Look at this bit -- I'm excising for emphasis:

§ 110 · Limitations on exclusive rights:
Exemption of certain performances and displays

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:
(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, if—
(A) the performance or display is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities of a governmental body or an accredited nonprofit educational institution;
(B) the performance or display is directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content of the transmission;
(C) the transmission is made solely for, and, to the extent technologically feasible, the reception of such transmission is limited to—
(i) students officially enrolled in the course for which the transmission is made; or
(ii) officers or employees of governmental bodies as a part of their official duties or employment

So if you've ever gone to a screening for a film class you weren't enrolled in, that's a violation right there. I can tell you that even at USC, where classes sometimes screen blockbusters, like Beowulf and Get Him To The Greek, before they are released, in the presence of the producers and directors, and intellectual property of the industry powers is widely respected, this rule is bent right over.

Basically, just because you know it's, on the face of things, illegal, doesn't mean it's something which can be addressed effectively, since the laws surrounding copyright are so impractically warped, and so my guess is that whosoever is breaking the law, or just looking to you and any authorities on the case to be breaking the law is going to be hassled quite a bit more than they will be effectively brought in line for the benefit of others.

Also, we're now allowed to show in public, unless we charge admission, on any equipment "commonly found in private homes," which may or may not include consumer level projectors, right? It's a muddy mess, and I would discourage anyone from complicitness with the enforcement of ill-imagined laws.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:27 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Asker, please consider the following: "Do[ing] the right thing" is a moral decision, and one that a person should be able to do with their head held high. Yet, you are uncomfortable doing this non-anonymously, which suggests that to your own moral code you may not be "do[ing] the right thing". Thus, turning them in anonymously will likely lead to personal regret later.

So, I strongly recommend you take whatever steps you personally require, in order to feel comfortable turning them in with your head held high. Presumably this would involve speaking with them to see if they have the necessary licensing, doing the research to help them obtain licensing, helping raise money to pay for the licensing, or at least notifying them of your intentions to give them the option of stopping on their own (which is, I presume, your ultimate intention.)

At the end of the day, if you want to be able to sleep at night, your motive should be to ensure they're legal, or get them to stop, not to punish them. Be sure of your own motives, then go forth without fear (and without anonymity.)

also: what people say about the laws being very screwed up right now is, sadly, true -- so you would do well to avoid assuming that illegal = bad in the current copyright enforcement climate. have you talked to any of your community members about this?
posted by davejay at 6:39 PM on May 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Turn them in anonymously on the MPAA form and don't feel, for even a fleeting second, that you're the bad guy here. The rights holders will determine a) if the appropriate licenses are held, b) if they believe infringement is taking place, and c) if they think it's worth it to pursue.

You (probably) do not need to contact the FBI -- this is very likely not within their purview anyway.

All the posturing about the terrible copyright laws, and the encouragement to stick it to the man, conveniently ignores the simple fact that sticking it to the man is also going to stick it to the little people who made the blockbusters that are (supposedly) being stolen.

Don't worry about how complicated copyright is, or how difficult it would be to prove at trial. It is hand-waving in an attempt to confuse. All of that complexity is for the rights holders and the purported defendants to figure out.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:21 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The first step is always to talk to the person, if you are bypassing that step, then it seems you have a personal grudge. Perhaps there is a better way to manage that.

I guess I really have a hard time believing that anyone is concerned about old school blockbusters copyrights.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:27 AM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are they charging admission? That would be important to me if I was faced with the decision.

Yeah, Big Media is a bunch of greedy bastards who might not deserve what they have. However, the way I look at it is thus: I don't want people taking my work without paying my price, so I can't support others who do the same.
posted by gjc at 7:40 AM on May 19, 2010

You (probably) do not need to contact the FBI -- this is very likely not within their purview anyway.

Then why is their name on the copyright warnings on DVDs (and VHS for that matter)? I have always called them "FBI warnings".
posted by soelo at 8:19 AM on May 19, 2010

Life Lesson #306
(generally learned in the first few years of grade school)

NEVER CALL THE AUTHORITIES UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST. They will not just move in, remove the badness from the situation and leave everything nice. It is far more likely that their presence will complicate matters in all manner of unforeseen ways, and that includes coming back to haunt you, big time.

Seriously. All credit for posting this question to AskMe before acting. Now, please pay some heed to all the answers that are counseling you to respond to this situation in a less extreme manner.
posted by philip-random at 9:19 AM on May 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Then why is their name on the copyright warnings on DVDs (and VHS for that matter)? I have always called them "FBI warnings".

Reading one of those warnings and spending 30 seconds on google might illuminate this issue for you, but the short version is that "criminal copyright infringement" is not exactly easy to do on accident and typically targets large infringement operations (selling lots of burned DVDs, for example).

Further, civil and criminal remedies co-exist in this area of law -- even in situations where the criminal sanctions apply, the rights holder is likely to be much more interested than the FBI is most of the time.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:05 AM on May 19, 2010

I imagine that the FBI only gets involved when it involves inter-state commerce (aka companies selling illegal DVD's all over the country).
posted by radioamy at 3:14 PM on May 19, 2010

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