Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Movie Uploader Pleads Guilty; Will He Get Jailtime?

from the questions,-questions dept

Earlier this year, the entertainment industry convinced Congress to pass a law that added extra penalties for anyone who shared a "pre-release" copy of content, making it a felony that could lead to jailtime. Yes, this could lead to awkward situations where fans who want to hear an album that some big label decided didn't have enough hits to be released could all be facing jailtime. Well, now, the first person prosecuted under this law has pleaded guilty to uploading a pre-release copy of the last Star Wars film two days prior to release. So, does he deserve jailtime? Can anyone make a credible case that he actually "cost" the industry anything? As we pointed out at the time, it only seemed to increase the interest in actually going to see the film. Yes, the guy did break the law -- but does jailtime fit the crime?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Peter Wayner, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 12:04pm

    did he cost the movie industry money?

    Oh, I think the answer is that it depends. If the copy is complete and reasonably clear, then I'm sure he did. Many people don't watch many movies more than once. Yes, we all have favorites that we like to see again and again, but I'm sure that I don't need to rewatch 99% of the movies I've seen. Once you know the butler did it, there's no need.

    It's important to remember that some forms of art are different than others. I can imagine that a free MP3 of a song might encourage me to buy a concert ticket or a complete album, but I don't see how a free copy of a movie can have much of the same effect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Lonju, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 12:11pm

    As if...

    Time magazine speculated millions of dollars worth of loss of profit because of millions of people who would decide not to go to work just to see the movie. And it happenned too. Consider it this way, if someone planned to kill but didn't actually kill, do they deserve jailtime? Analogous to that, if someone uploaded something illegally, but it had virtually no effect on the movie's performance at the box office, does the accused deserve jailtime or not? I most fervently think not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    correction-bot, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 12:27pm

    Re: As if...

    You are wrong in a couple of respects "Lonju." A law that creates jail time for its violation is not imposing that sentence in retribution. Rather the sentence is for punishment and deterrence. The issue of lost profits may arise in a civil suit, however. In that case, if the studios could not prove damages, (i.e. financial harm) they would lose their cause of action.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Rikko, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 12:36pm

    Re: As if...

    Ick, that's a pretty heavy analogy.. Don't know I agree with that.

    However, I do equate it with something like going to Ikea and photographing some furniture to build at home. Now, I like building my own things but perhaps Ikea has a design I think is pretty slick. They aren't out anything by me "stealing" their design - I won't profit by selling it.
    So I can build my own coffee table or whatever and it won't cost them a cent - just like downloading the movie.

    My motivations here are perhaps opposite movie downloaders does. You download a movie because you A) Don't want to support the film companies whose politics you disagree with while retaining the entertainment they sell B) You can't afford their price and/or C) You're too lazy/don't enjoy the theater experience. If you couldn't download the movie, would you pay to see it? Maybe.

    I build my own furniture because A) It's cheaper B) Ikea furniture is so badly built I wouldn't trust it with anything that bears a load and/or C) I don't enjoy the shopping experience/prefer to build it in my home garage.

    In both cases, if I do it myself, I do gain something at the cost of a corporation - however this cost is in their R&D and not in the tangible product I am taking (eg. what I have is not matter - I have not deprived them of anything because I have only information). For me to have the illegal version or nothing at all doesn't affect their bottom line in the slightest.

    The *only* place that IP theft is relevant is when people choose piracy when they would otherwise purchase their own license for it. Ie, "paying sucks!" so I go and download and burn the newest 50 Cent (or whatever retard in en vogue in pop culture this afternoon) rather than going out and buying this "must have" product.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Steven, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 12:41pm


    The entire thing rides on if the video was completely uploaded or was he just seeding, if he was just seeding everyone else seeding desirves equal punishment, if he uploaded it alone, AND PEOPLE DOWNLOADED IT, its against the law, :( If nothing was shown to the public no punishment should be emitted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    GerBa, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 12:50pm

    Re: As if...

    If the man had only planned to upload the movie and didn't then you could liken it to a person who planned to kill but didn't only if the shooter never shot. The man shot, he uploaded the movie, which would be more like the shooter shooting and hitting his target but the target didn't die. The man fulfilled his part in breaking the law. The fact that not enough people chose to watch it has no bearing on that. Many hours of community service would be a good punishment since his crime seems to have fallen flat

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Georgiaboy, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 12:54pm


    I think that people that put stuff out there should get a fine just so people know it'll cost them to put pre-released entertainment on the internet, but jailtime just seems a little too much. I love Star Wars, but I think George Lucas has enough money what's he complaining about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Tashi, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 1:11pm

    No Subject Given

    I'm more concerned about whether Ken Lay gets jail time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Joey, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 1:30pm

    "Stolen" profits

    I have a question, then.

    If someone has an online DVD rental deal, where they get 3 dvds at one time, but while waiting for his copy of COACH CARTER to come up in the queue, decides to download it from wherever.

    He realizes it isn't too hot, so he drops the movie from his list (and decides to get "The Island" instead).

    Did he do wrong?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Kathy J, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 2:34pm

    Re: did he cost the movie industry money?

    If I see a movie, and I don't like it, do I get my money back?

    That's stealing my time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    s, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 2:39pm


    I'm not like the millions out there, I haven't seen any of the last three released Star Wars. But, those are they types of movies that I would think all the fans want to see on the BIG screen. A dinky down load with diminished quality is just not going to satisfy the fans of a scifi movie.

    I do agree that he broke the law and some punishment is deserved. I like the idea someone above mentioned of a fine. But jail sentence, PLEASE! We already have full jail houses and there are worse crimes that get less punishment. As a tax payer, I really don't care to take care of him behind bars because somebody MIGHT have missed a few ticket sales.

    And community People like their money. I'm inclided to believe a fine is more effective than community service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    BlackCow, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 3:18pm

    No Subject Given

    I think they should just leave the guy alone. I doubt it hurt Lucas Arts much. But I guess the law is the law and thare isent much he could do about it. I think he should just get a fine though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 3:52pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Not that this hasn't been mentioned on Techdirt 2398723947 times before but....

    If he is not disrupting society or causing harm to others (which in this case I sure hope we can all agree he's not "hurting" George Lucas with his actions), then JAIL TIME IS NOT NECESSARY.

    As far as I'm concerned this is no different that all the people serving jail time for simply HAVING marijuana. They are not harming anyone (except possibly themselves with smoke) and are overcrowding prisons and taking police officers' attention away from the REAL criminals who are a REAL threat.

    Stop this nonsense. Fines are enough punishment for petty crimes like these.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    ryusen, Dec 14th, 2005 @ 4:06pm

    punishment should fit the crime?

    I have a couple of issues with this.
    1) does uploading a movie really deserve jailtime? Shouldn't our jails be saved for violent offendors?
    2) what was the harm done? there is a hypothetical harm to the movie industry, but that is purly financial and should stick to a civil suit, to recover them. most of the "evildence" of lost income is very skeptical.
    3) as a tax payer, i hate seeing my tax money go toward this. the portion of my tax money allocated to the DoJ and FBI should be going toward crimes with actual harm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    thecaptain, Dec 15th, 2005 @ 8:43am

    No Subject Given

    What he did is against the law of the land, so yeah, some punishment is in order. Jailtime? I think not...recently around here a woman proven to have abused kids for 20 years got a 2 year probation, why the heck should this guy get JAIL?

    One point these companies refuse to acknowledge and it drives me nuts.

    1) SW was wildly profitable
    2) Most geeks who spent the time downloading it were there on opening weekend ANYWAY...and likely purchased the DVD
    3) Those who downloaded the film but don't fit the description above in #2 would VERY likely NOT have paid to see it anyway.

    So any talk about how those "poor, undertrodden corporations suffered so many loses" really burns me.

    I'd rather see at this point someone say "Yes, we made tons of money, but what this guy did was against the law and that's why we want him" rather than hear "its horrible!! What he did made us lose billions of dollars *booohoooohooo* we're almost bankrupt!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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