MPAA & NYC Unveil Campaign to Stem Piracy

Movie piracy is a worry for anyone involved in the film industry, but in New York it's a citywide problem. The city's film and television business employs over 100,000 New Yorkers, according to a study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and produces $5 billion in economic activity. With the increase in piracy, however, the city and state of New York lose over $50 million in sales tax revenue and nearly 23,000 jobs each year, the report declares.

Now the city of New York and the MPAA are working together to turn the tide. With stiffer penalties for illegally videotaping a film and a new PSA campaign encouraging citizens not to buy pirated DVDs, New York is becoming a global leader in the battle against piracy.

"We've got to make sure that New York is not seen as the haven for pirates," says Dan Glickman, chairman of the MPAA. He notes that 43% of pirated DVDs from camcorders originate in New York City theatres.

"Our office has been taking a lead in fighting piracy as part of our ongoing support of the entertainment industry," adds New York City Film, Theatre & Broadcasting Commissioner Katherine Oliver. "This is a very important industry for the city of New York."

The initiative began last fall as a partnership of the MPAA, the Mayor's Office, the New York City Police Department and local theatre owners. According to Oliver, the MPAA approached the Mayor's Office with the results of their study on piracy in New York.

"They shared this information with us and said, 'We need some help,'" Oliver explains. "We [now] have a three-pronged approach: tougher legislation, stepped-up law enforcement, and increased public awareness."

The change in city law makes illegal videotaping a misdemeanor instead of a violation. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in prison and fines up to $5,000, as opposed to 15 days in jail and fines up to $250 for a violation.

A person can also be prosecuted for a misdemeanor based on eyewitness testimony; for a violation, a police officer must personally witness the crime taking place.

"Joe Public can now call the police department and report [piracy], and then the police department can take action," explains Oliver. "We're encouraging people to call the city's call center, which is 311."

Theatre managers and employees have been trained for years in catching suspected pirates in their theatres, explains Doug Oines, president of Clearview Cinemas and of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) of New York. The new law, however, enhances their ability to detain and lead to the arrest of suspects.

"Working with Mayor Bloomberg in putting this legislation together has given [theatre owners] the ability to address this problem," Oines explains. "We feel more empowered by the new law."

The MPAA has also established a rewards program for theatre owners, in which individuals who stop piracy in their theatres can receive up to $500. According to Glickman, several thousands of dollars in rewards have been paid so far.

"[Theatre owners] have been extremely helpful," Glickman says. "They are the fourth partner [in this initiative]."

The city's other major effort is a series of consumer-targeted PSAs, with ads airing on New York City cable stations and in theatres and print ads featured on city bus shelters. The cable ads will show clips from films like Happy Feet and Titanic as if they have been pirated, with crucial parts of the screen cut out or heads blocking the view. The print ads use the format of the ratings system to describe pirated DVDs as "RO for Ripped Off," "PS for Poor Sound" or "F for Fake."

"PSAs [in the past] have tended to be law enforcement- and economic-based," Glickman explains. "These PSAs add a humor component. It's a play off the MPAA's rating system."

Local TV networks and 20 Time Warner Cable channels will run the PSAs, with a possible expansion later in the year.

"We really felt that we wanted to find creative ways to get the message out," Oliver says of the decision to run the ads on television as well as theatrically. "We're also looking into online distribution of the PSAs."

"We're certainly hoping that this will be another way to educate the general public about the seriousness of this problem, the impact that it has on the entertainment industry, and the fact that camcording is a serious crime," Oines adds.

The MPAA study on piracy in New York, released in May of last year, estimated that the state of New York loses $3.72 billion in total output annually due to piracy, with a $1.494 billion loss in revenue for the state's motion picture industries. The study also estimated that piracy causes the state's workers to lose $903 million in earnings annually.

The rise in piracy has come at a time when New York has made major efforts to attract film productions to the city; since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, film production days have skyrocketed, thanks to tax incentives from the city and free outdoor shooting permits.

"2006 was the best year ever for film and television production in New York," says Oliver. "We're very proud that we brought the business back."

With piracy threatening every aspect of the industry in New York, both the MPAA and the city hope that the new laws will have a strong positive impact on New York's booming film industry.

"The Mayor saw this as a way to combine the desire to bring more film business into New York with the recognition that New York is the source of a lot of piracy," says Glickman.

The New York City initiative is the first partnership of its kind between the MPAA and a city government, though the MPAA hopes it will not be the last.

"The New York effort is the most advanced by far of any municipal relationship we have in the country," Glickman says. "We're going to take this New York City model, the model of beefing up enforcement [and] making sure the laws are strong enough on the books...[and] take that model to other communities in this country where we have a piracy problem."

Oines says that NATO of New York has been working with the state government on establishing stiffer penalties as well.

"This has been an important problem for the entire motion picture industry, and a growing problem for the last several years. We are finally starting to see the legislation that's being put in place across the country that enables us to deal with this and give it the serious [consideration] that it deserves."