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Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 02.02.07
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

The boob tube police

1977 must have been a big year for Interpol. That was the year international police got together and said, "It is imperative that we address a serious global crisis that is undermining society as we know it: video copyright violation."

And so, with access to the world's policing resources, they devised a plan: they would simply ask people not to violate copyright. And they would ask them in front of every single home video ever made.

They created the video copyright warning - the video equivalent of pre-flight instructions.

You know how it goes: "On September 8, 1977, Interpol declared that it is illegal to copy, broadcast, bend, fold or mutilate copyrighted video material, although, let's face it, this doesn't really apply to you, copying Gunga Din off PBS. We're not likely to bust down your door. But, still, it's illegal, so don't do it."

Or something like that.

Whatever the wording, the basic concept has remained virtually unchanged for close to 30 years, even though in 1977, video players were the size and weight of car radiators. Little monkeys lived inside the machines to rewind the tapes.

It would be interesting to know whether any would-be video pirate have ever been deterred after reading this warning. If so, Interpol should long ago have added other warnings, like, "Organized crime is bad," or "Don't traffic human organs."

All evidence suggests the warning isn't working. The U.S. Motion Picture Association claims that in 2005 piracy cost American studios $6.1-billion, which is coincidentally the same amount Star Jones spent on plastic surgery that year.

Here's how it works: people sneak camcorders into theatres, film new releases, copy them onto DVD, then sell the copies to people who want to enjoy the genuine movie-going experience in their home, namely people blocking the screen, candy wrappers rattling, and cell phones going off.

And it turns out that Montreal is a hub of video piracy. Why this is, no one can say for sure, but it may have to do with all those banned smokers needing something to do with their hands.

The Motion Picture Association has complained that Canada isn't taking video piracy seriously. In the U.S. it's a felony. Here, the punishment consists of being forced to watch Canadian sit-coms.

Canada's attitude may simply be a passive-aggressive response to U.S. cultural imperialism.

Or it could be that there just isn't a whole lot of sympathy for an industry that charges $24.99 for legitimate copies of The Guardian. It's not a big priority for people that police stop illegal pirating just so Ashton Kurcher's agent can buy chinchilla lining for his Jacuzzi.

I would suspect even Interpol doesn't have video piracy too high on its "must-do" list. Briefings at Lyon headquarters probably go like this: "Leclerc, you will be investigating a drug smuggling corridor out of Bangladesh. MacTavish, you're going undercover to investigate whether this multinational corporation is smuggling in child labour. Smith, I want you to track down all the illegal copies of Cheaper by the Dozen II."

Maybe Interpol would receive more public support if they changed tactics and tackled video-related issues that people really care about, like consistency in ratings.

For instance, the DVD I rented the other night had PG on the back of the box, a G rating from Quebec on the front of the box, and before the screening itself a PG-13 rating. In other words, the rating for this video was best described as "Well, it depends what you mean by 'parental guidance.'"

Interpol could also ensure that previews don't give away the whole bloody plot.

Or they could bust down my door and keep my kids from chewing chips so loudly when we're watching a movie. Now that's a crime!

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