Comedian doesn’t find illegal downloading funny

It’s more and more common to be warned against recording movies on camera phones by cinema chains, with Vue even going so far as to routinely search the bags of paying customers for camera equipment and the Federation Against Copyright Theft taking out huge ad campaigns to warn against watching poor-quality copies, reminding audiences that there’s nothing like seeing a film at the Cinema.

At the end of last week, a teaser trailer for “Transformers : Revenge Of The Fallen” was posted on various film websites just hours after it was released in cinemas, thanks to a video recorded on a camera phone. Needless to say, a higher quality version was posted by Paramount shortly afterwards.

But it’s not only the motion picture industry that is suffering. On February 16th, stand-up Comedian Lee Hurst pleaded guilty to an allegation of criminal damage before Guildford Magistrates Court after he grabbed a mobile phone from an audience member whom he thought was filming his routine during a performance.

Hurst’s justification? He had seen videos of his performances posted on YouTube and believed that other writers had been copying his routines. Outside court, Hurst said “we just need the same protection that is afforded to the cinema on copyright theft”.

Lee has every right to be outraged, but the situation is a little different than in the film industry.

Bootlegging of live performances has been a problem since the late 1960s, when Led Zeppelin’s Manager Peter Grant would routinely walk into record shops selling bootlegged recordings of the band’s concerts and smash them with a baseball bat. Given that recording technology is now far more advanced, these days he simply wouldn’t have time to track all of the bootleggers down.

The fact is that bootlegging takes money out of the pockets of the artist as well as anyone who is licensed to make recordings of a performance. Performers themselves have various rights under the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which restrain third parties from making a recording of any “performance” (works of theatre, dance, music etc.) and copying it for any other reason than personal use.

Performers also have the right to “equitable remuneration” when commercial recordings of their performances are broadcast and can pursue any third party who distributes any infringing copies.

The reason the law works this way is to ensure that artists have rights in live performances of their work, as well as any royalties they may receive from legitimate DVDs or other sales of their shows, which will always be protected by copyright.

The main reason why live performances haven’t been the focus of anti-piracy campaigns is probably because they are the main source of income for many acts through ticket sales in any event, and the problem has not been as widespread or as high-profile as in the music or film industry. Now, however, things will probably start to change as more and more clandestine recordings make their way onto the web, and more and more artists feel short-changed.

Not everyone, however, is likely to smash the mobile phone which is recording the performance in question, and we’ll most likely see camera phones banned from use at live venues.

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