Movie piracy arms race

A man who went to the movies with his wife in Columbus, Ohio, was subjected to a terrifying hour-long interrogation by the FBI because employees at the AMC theater saw him wearing Google Glass.

They apparently thought he might be illegally taping the film and didn’t believe him when he tried to explain that the glasses were prescription, and weren’t even switched on.

—Jim Edwards, Business Insider.

Set aside the theater’s brute-force tactics for a moment here. Yes, they overreacted. Yes, they needlessly shamed and terrified a paying customer. Yes, they called in the feds, who have bigger things to worry about than fashion choices at a Columbus shopping center.

Instead, think about this from the MPAA’s perspective. Up ’til now, the Motion Picture Association of America has tried to stymie piracy with lawsuits against film buffs and clandestine infrared scans of their audiences.

These heavy-handed efforts have certainly frightened the public. But they’ve done little to thwart piracy. You can still stream just about any movie you like—for free—over the Internet. Even brand-new films (including all of this year’s “Best Picture” nominees) are easy to find; a two-minute Internet search will produce the goods.

Now, mass-market technology will make it even easier to surreptiously record films. Google Glass has the MPAA spooked. Sure, this particular product might not pose a threat. The current version of Glass is not hard to spot, with its android aesthetic. Plus, the wearable computer can record just a few minutes of video—hardly enough time to capture an entire film.

But the MPAA knows that sleeker, more powerful versions of Glass will come. What happens when you can’t tell the difference between regular eyeglasses and wearable computers? Or when these devices pack enough battery life to record full-length features? Or what if augmented contact lenses become viable? How will theater owners prevent an activity they can’t detect?

Given the MPAA’s strong-arm tactics to this point, an escalation seems likely. Think how fun future visits to the theater will be! You’ll pay $16.99 for your ticket, then surrender your bags for a full search, empty your coat pockets, walk through a naked-making X-ray scanner, submit to a retinal scan, sign a non-disclosure agreement, keep your hands in your pockets at all times, completely power down your cell phone, keep your eyes forward during the endless pre-roll commercials, and get detained for a post-screening survey (read: interrogation).

And the MPAA wonders why we don’t go to the movies anymore.