Content Protection

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Content Theft

Copyright laws protect the rights of people who create movies, TV shows, artwork and other products by providing the creator with exclusive rights to sell, license or otherwise use his or her creative work. In the case of movies and television, these laws help safeguard the creative works that support the livelihoods of the millions of people who work as set painters, costume designers, make-up artists, writers, actors, directors and more.

The MPA works with public and private sector stakeholders around the world to pursue commonsense solutions and implement content protection measures that advance innovative consumer choices, while safeguarding the rights of all who make something of value with their minds, their passion and their unique creative vision.

Such efforts are necessary as content theft continues to plague film communities causing severe economic impact in many territories. Losses are suffered not only in the lack of return for investments but also in terms of progress in the developing of vibrant online marketplaces where legitimate film content can be made readily available at a click of a mouse.

Much more needs to be done to address the various forms of content theft and every individual will have a role to play to prevent it.


Types of Content Theft

Camcorder Theft

Approximately ninety percent of newly released movies that are pirated can be traced to thieves who use a digital recording device in a movie cinema to literally steal the image and/or sound off the screen. Camcorder theft is one of the biggest problems facing the film industry. All it takes is one camcorder copy to trigger the mass reproduction and distribution of millions of illegal Internet downloads and bootlegs in global street markets just hours after a film’s release and well before it becomes available for legal rental or purchase from legitimate suppliers. Studios and cinema owners have significantly increased security and surveillance in cinemas all over the world to thwart would-be camcorders.

The MPA and its members are dedicated to ensuring that the sources of content theft, such as unauthorized recordings in cinemas are eradicated, and to educating people about the gravity of content theft and its consequences. Among the current measures to mitigate the level of unauthorized camcording activity in the Asia-Pacific region are:

  1. Investing in Security: In many jurisdictions MPA and industry work closely to conduct routine bag examinations and handheld metal detector inspections at pre-theatrical screenings. Warning signs are also posted prohibiting camcording and alerting audiences that they might be observed by guards using night-vision goggles, or other methods.
  2. Legislation: In Asia-Pacific, both Hong Kong and Japan have laws that enable local authorities to criminally arrest and prosecute illegal camcorders. The MPA is lobbying for similar legislation to deter illegal camcording across the region.
  3. Public Education and Training: The MPA works closely with cinema staff and law enforcement agencies to prevent unauthorized recordings through regular awareness and training seminars, and via their interactive and multi-lingual web site
  4. Technical Measures to Prevent Camcording: The MPA’s Head Office in Los Angeles, USA, has supported and introduced three different types of technologies that could greatly reduce the effectiveness of camcorder pirates: Camcording Jamming Technologies that disable camcorders from copying a theatrically exhibited film being shown on the cinema screen; new Forensic Watermarking that allows investigators and law enforcement to know the exact time, date and auditorium of a screening where a camcorder copy was made; and advanced in-cinema Camcorder Detection that would alert cinema owners to individuals camcording within the auditorium.

Peer to Peer (P2P) Theft

A peer-to-peer (P2P) network is a system that enables Internet users through the exchange of digital files among individual computers or “peers” to (1) make files (including movies and music) stored on their computer available for copying by other users; (2) search for files stored on other users’ computers; and (3) transfer exact copies of files from one computer to another. P2P technology itself is not illegal and may be useful for many legal purposes, but people often use the technology to illegally exchange copyrighted material on the Internet. While people may believe their files are being exchanged among only a few “friends,” these files can be accessed by millions of people around the world who are part of the same P2P network.

If you download movies using illegal peer-to-peer sites, you are often also distributing illegal content, as the default setting of most P2P networks ensures that individuals downloading files from the network are simultaneously uploading files and thus distributing illegal copies of works to other peers in the group, who in turn distribute the files to yet others.

By uploading and downloading copyrighted material on P2P networks you are not only violating the law, you are also potentially exposing your computer and private information to strangers. By allowing strangers to access files on your computer, other sensitive information, such as bank records, social security numbers and pictures, could also become accessible and put you and your family at risk of identity theft or worse. This activity also exposes your computer to harmful viruses, spyware and annoying pop-ups (adware).

Streaming Theft

Today, the fragmentation of the online market means that streaming sites and cyberlockers represent a growing share of unlawful conduct. Streaming refers to a form of online content theft that allows users to view unauthorized copyrighted motion picture and television content on demand, without downloading the illegal file. Users generally visit illegal websites that either host the streamed content or provide links to content hosted on other websites. Both hosting unauthorized content and linking to unauthorized content hosted on other websites is illegal.

While there are many websites where consumers can legally view streamed content, there are many illegal streaming sites where operators will solicit users to provide payment to purchase “subscriptions” or “memberships” or otherwise pay for illegal content. These sites often feature advertisements for legitimate products or services alongside illegal streaming of unauthorized movie and television content. They may use trademarks and cover art of well-known studios and distribution companies or provide a plot summary of a movie or a list of the cast of characters. Website operators of such illegal sites purposely use these techniques to fool consumers into believing that their websites are legal; that’s how they make a profit. It’s called fraud and theft.

When visiting a website that streams video content, remember these tips in deciding whether to use the website to watch your favorite movies and television shows:

  • Watch for Titles that are “Too New to be True” Movies that have yet to be released in theaters, or which are still out in theaters, are not legally available online. If such recent titles are being offered online, they are almost invariably illegal copies.
  • Trust Your Eyes and Ears 
In many cases, the quality of illegal copies is inferior with poor sound and can appear blurry or shaky.
  • Be Cautious When Websites Make Offers that are Too Good to be True 
Be wary of “too good to be true” offers, such as those for “free” content when searching for and purchasing downloads from unfamiliar sites; they typically indicate pirated product. Look out for terms like “Unlimited Movie Downloads,” “100% legal” and “Millions of Files Shared.” Offers for one-time or yearly fees with no details and no contact information should also alert you that you have entered an illegal site. If the site avoids disclosing its location (for example, if there is no address in its contact information), this can also be a sign of an illegal website.

Optical Disc Theft

Optical disc theft — also known as “bootlegging” — is the illegal manufacturing, sale and/or distribution of movies in hard copy or disc format. Bootleggers sometimes have elaborate operations where they replicate DVDs and then distribute them to vendors who sell them illegally on the streets. There is strong evidence that many of these operations are run by the same organized crime networks that traffic in drugs and human beings. Others may have small operations in their homes and even in their places of work. These illegal goods can be sold anywhere: on websites, online auction sites, via e-mail, by street vendors and in flea markets around the world.

Theatrical Print Theft

Theft of a film print (35 or 16 mm) or digital file from a theater, film depot, courier service or other industry-related facility for the purpose of making illegal copies is another serious form of copyright theft. This type of theft enables the replication of high quality copies that then serve as a master for duplication and unauthorized distribution. Fortunately, this type of theft is rare due to increased security measures taken by MPAA member companies. The MPAA routinely conducts security surveys of production and post-production facilities on behalf of our member companies and recommends specific security measures that have had a positive impact on reducing this type of theft.

Screener Theft

Illegal copies of films are sometimes made from legitimate, advance copies used for screening and marketing purposes called “screeners.” As with film print theft, this type of theft is rare. Hollywood studios send out hundreds of thousands of screeners every year with very few instances of leaks. However, there are some unfortunate instances where the source of pirated movies is found to be screeners. To protect against screener leaks, the studios annually confirm addresses in their databases to ensure screeners are delivered to the correct addresses and end up in the hands of the intended viewer.