August 3, 2007 | By Hugh D'Andrade

Virginia Theater Throws the Book at Teenage Filmgoer

Use a digital camera in a movie theater — even for only a few seconds — and you may be dragged from the theater, arrested, and charged with a serious criminal offense. That?s what happened to Jhannet Sejas on her 19th birthday, when two police officers interrupted the showing of Transformers she was enjoying and placed her under arrest.

Sejas says she had no intention of selling or distributing a pirated copy of the film. Her aim was simply to share a few seconds of the Transformers movie with her younger brother to get him excited about seeing the film. (Her camera had recorded a miniscule 20 seconds of the film when she was arrested.) Like any fan, Sejas was a paying customer who only wanted to share her enthusiasm.

But apparently the owners of the theater at Ballston Commons Mall in Virginia didn't see her that way. Sejas had her camera confiscated, was banned from the theater for life, and charged with "illegally recording a motion picture".

It might be excusable for the theater to pull her out of the movie — camcording is apparently a piracy problem in the area. But once they got her into the lobby and saw that she was using a tiny point-and-shoot still camera, and that she only had 20 seconds of it, that should have been the end of it. And assuming a lack of common sense on the part of the theater owner, the police officers should have known better (hey, they can give warnings, right?).

And what about the local district attorney? Does he really have nothing better to do than charge a teenager for this?

Hollywood has been pushing states around the country to adopt anti-camcording laws like the one Sejas was arrested under. But as the movie industry admits, these laws are overbroad and can be used against innocent theatergoers like Sejas who make personal uses that do not infringe any movie copyright.

Congress is now considering expanding the scope of and penalties for criminal copyright infringement, promising more costly, unnecessary, and draconian investigations and prosecutions in the future. Don't let more Americans get treated like Jhannet Sejas -- take action and stop the copycrime legislation in Congress now.

Update, 8/22: Sejas has reportedly plead guilty to a misdemeanor and been forced to pay a $71 fine.


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