One Year for Twenty Seconds?
One Year for Twenty Seconds?
One Year for Twenty Seconds?

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    An Arlington, Virginia student has fallen prey to the overzealous enforcement of state anti-bootlegging laws.

    Jhannet Sejas was watching the Transformers movie when she decided to record some of the action with her camera, in the hopes of convincing her brother to see the movie himself. She was reported to the theater, who called the police.

    When she admitted to recording the 20 seconds or so of video, she was arrested and charged with violating Va. Code § 18.2-187.2, which prohibits recording motion pictures or portions thereof without consent. Violations are a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2500 fine.

    The law, like many others pushed by the movie industry in the states, was clearly intended to target commercial pirates who would create bootleg tapes to compete with legitimate retailers on the black market. Ms. Sejas's recording clearly doesn't fit this description, and she therefore risks a criminal record and jail time for a low-resolution, 20-second clip.

    Of course, making copies of movie clips, even with a camera, implicates the copyright owner's exclusive rights to reproduce a work. But of course, under copyright law, the court would have to decide whether or not the use was fair. And in this case, with a tiny portion of the film, copied in order to promote it, and with no negative effect on the market for the work, it's a no-brainer. There'd be no good case for infringement.

    But the state law (and similar federal laws) don't contain such flexibility. That's one serious shortcoming of the law, and this incident just illustrates how carefully statutes should be drafted when real peoples' futures are at stake.