Illegal filming/photo in theater, whose rights?
February 16, 2015 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I can't find a clear answer to this: Someone is illegally taking photos or recording in a movie theater (or live theater), which I think is against copyright law. This is also on private property, and there are noted rules against that. But I think it's also illegal to confiscate the camera and delete the photos/video...

So whose rights have precedence? I'd think it's the creators or venue that has precedence, otherwise it's like having someone shoplift but letting them walk out the door with the goods because you don't have the right to search their bags. (Not a perfect analogy, I know.) Ethically, it seems right to have those images deleted, but what does the law say?
posted by Ky to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Whose law? What country, state, etc?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:18 AM on February 16, 2015

Not sure why you're having trouble finding stuff on this. You might want to follow some of the things that happened recently surrounding Google Glass where the MPAA and the National Association of Theater Owners worked together to "ban" Google Glass.

- Movie Industry Officially Bans Google Glass (2014)
- MPAA Wants Advanced Anti-Piracy Measures at Movie Theaters (2013)
- Woman Sues Movie Theater After Being Arrested For Recording Twilight (2010)
- Camcording in movie theater results in 21-month sentence (2008)
- A Year In Jail For Filming 20 Seconds Of A Movie? (2007)

So you might want to read up about how some of these things actually took place, it's pretty interesting.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on February 16, 2015

Live performance may depend on the artist. I've been to plenty of live music performances where the performer was fine with people recording.
posted by rtha at 8:25 AM on February 16, 2015

Response by poster: Oops, U.S. law, and I suppose any state.

Thanks for the leads, jessamyn. My Google-fu just sucks on this topic, I guess!

rtha, for live concert performances, I think you're right. Some people don't seem to care about recordings while others are pretty strict. But live theater may be different.
posted by Ky at 8:34 AM on February 16, 2015

Response by poster: Oh okay. It seems the linked cases go straight to an arrest, but there's never mention about the venue security actually confiscating and deleting the images/video themselves. Maybe that part is up to the police, or something.
posted by Ky at 8:37 AM on February 16, 2015

IANYL, etc.

Just because something may be illegal, it doesn't automatically follow that you have a right to self-help to resolve it. Certainly copyright law itself doesn't provide that remedy. If anything, it would be in the terms of admission on the movie theater ticket - that you agreed to forfeit your camera if you recorded illegally. (Though I've never seen that on tickets.)

Also, FYI, it's certainly not universally illegal to take pictures in a movie theater, at least in the United States.

There is, as far as I know, no copyright infringement equivalent of shopkeepers privilege, and I think the potential for liability on the part of the theater owner could be high.

On further research, it looks like there have been a few attempts to create a similar privilege in federal law, but haven't gone anywhere.
posted by mercredi at 8:49 AM on February 16, 2015

The reason I linked to those situations was that I think the point is if you feel that someone is illegally recording an entire movie, you call the police while they are there and have them arrested because it's that level of crime (according to laws etc.) you don't necessarily have the right to confiscate their stuff because you are not the police. Taking photos in a movie theater is, to the best of my knowledge, not against the law. You might want to look more into this case to see if the movie theaters got involved.
posted by jessamyn at 8:54 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

One doesn't have the right to just confiscate another person's stuff. You have to call in the popo to get that shit done...and even then, they don't necessarily have the right to delete stuff unless both parties would agree...
posted by hal_c_on at 9:15 AM on February 16, 2015

So it turns out that there is a later version of those federal bills that did pass:
Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005

Which would give theater owners a similar [limited] right to the shopkeepers privilege to detain someone until police arrive, but doesn't give any right to seize a camera or delete images.
posted by mercredi at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

FYI, it's certainly not universally illegal to take pictures in a movie theater, at least in the United States.
Under 18 U.S.C.A. ยง 2319B, it is pretty clearly illegal to make a video recording of a movie everywhere in the US. Still pictures are not universally prohibited, but many states have laws that would also prohibit still pictures.

The guidance given to theater employees is to detain the person until the police arrive, who will then confiscate the recording equipment. They have built a nifty website for employees at where they promise a $500 reward to any usher who is able to bust someone for them. They also suggest that you contact the MPAA so that they can "liase with the police on legal issues."
posted by Lame_username at 9:25 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

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