Woman jailed, charged with felony camcordering after recording 4 mins of sister's birthday party in a movie theater

A woman who tried out her new pocket camera by video-recording a few minutes of her sister's surprise birthday party at a showing of "New Moon" has been charged with a felony -- "camcordering" a movie.

Penalties for camcordering have been ratcheting higher and higher (and have been introduced in international treaty negotiations, as well as in bilateral trade agreements with the US, which demands that its trading partners imprison people operating video recorders in cinemas). But the actual incidence of camcordered pirate DVDs is declining relative to "screeners" and other leaks from the industry itself.

The movie industry has turned into an alcoholic dad who beats up his family at the slightest transgression while ignoring his own gross failures -- blaming everything on external forces and refusing to confront its own problems.

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Samantha Tumpach spent two nights in jail for recording her friends singing "Happy Birthday" at a movie theater, for capturing less than four minutes of a feature film. She is charged with a felony and if convicted, could lose the right to vote, to work with children, to hold office, and to partake in full civil life.

And the movie industry's pitch to us remains, "Please stop pirating our discs, because if you don't stop, we may be driven out of business and then society would suffer from our absence."

Charged With Felony After Taping 4 Minutes Of "New Moon" (Thanks, Blaire!)

(Image: Camcordering, a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike photo from kowitz's photostream )


  1. If the singing was DURING the movie, I wholeheartedly support the prison thing. (OK, it’s not like I’d see a Twatlight movie anyway. General principles alone).

  2. The theater is a new-ish “Muvico” multiplexin Rosemont, just outside of Chicago. I’ve been to it a few times, as Chicago is kind of hit or miss on good movie theaters and they have a pretty decent set-up.

    When I saw this story yesterday I called and spoke to a manager and told them I’d be taking my business elsewhere. As would my relatives in Rosemont and neighboring Des Plaines. It’s a little thing, maybe $20 a month, but the manager actually sounded taken aback saying he’d gotten “more than a few calls” about this. If you’re in the area and this ticks you off, why don’t you do the same?

    The worst part of the story to me, is that a theater worker saw her filming during the show. Rather than go up to her, ask her to stop or leave or any other human action, they decided to waste police time by having them act as copyright cops.

    Our tax dollars hard at work enforcing the draconian copyright laws that the MPAA handed to our representatives. It’s repulsive nonsense and does nothing to actually protect anyone’s IP rights.

    1. Good on you for doing that.

      The other absolutely ridiculous element of this is that cops serving a major metropolis are doing this instead of dealing with actual crises or crimes that involves people in trouble.

  3. Actually, she might get acquitted on an insanity defense. She supposedly taped (shudder) New Moon, after all.

    On the other side, I’ve heard absolutely NOTHING about that manager’s devotion to customer service. Think about it. It was a birthday party, and out of the goodness of his heart he gave a gift to the guest of honor’s *sister*. How many people would do that?

    And the gift? A CRIMINAL RECORD! *Nobody* else would have thought of that. A gift that insures Ms. Tumpach will remember this birthday for the rest of her life, particularly when filling out employment applications and answering the “Have you ever been arrested or charged with a felony?” question.

    Now THAT is customer service! And I’m sure he and the movie chain are just delighted at the publicity.

  4. The staff of the theater are thugs. Any judge who convicts on this is a criminal.

    The people who passed the law should be charged with organized crime.

    Copyright laws are good and important. These are not copyright laws.

    1. “These are not copyright laws.”

      In more ways than one. In the literal sense, they’re not copyright laws, in that they don’t have the limitations and exceptions that copyright law does–like fair use–that allow copyright to exist in in harmony with the First Amendment and other key freedoms.

  5. The irony, to me, is that making an example of this girl will do nothing to deter piracy. I watched a cam copy of “New Moon” last week. The recording was done in Mexico. The title screen and credits to the movie were in Spanish. Someone had captured an English audio recording and then layered the two pieces to create an astonishingly well done final product. Meanwhile, the industry is shooting itself in the foot in a PR sense by harshly punishing this young fan. You would think that a “real” pirate would have been a tad less conspicuous about her camera inside the theater.

  6. Can anyone tell me what the actual charge would be? What makes a movie theater such a special piece of real estate that laws only apply within it’s walls? What kind of crazy system makes the taping of something in the background infringing copyright and a criminal offence? If someone were to be leaving a 4 minute voicemail message while in the theater and the movie’s dialog was recorded in the background — is that worthy of a criminal charge, too?

  7. Home of the brave indeed! It takes some real patriot-sized balls to jail copyright offenders.

    What happened to you ‘mericuh… you used to be cool.

  8. camcording a birthday party while a movie is on? There should be some punishment for that!!! If I had been in that audience (and i would have cared for the movie) I would have gotten out a spiked baseball bat!!!

  9. US copyright law is getting ridiculous!
    She didn’t have any intention of copying the movie.
    They should have simply had her erase the clip and confirmed that she had erased it.

    Laws are meant to protect people!

  10. I thought copyright infringement was a civil offense, as opposed to a criminal offense, and that thus there was no such thing as arrests or jail time except when offenses against mediating police officers or the civil justice system came into the matter?

    Could someone please clarify the matter? I’m very confused.

  11. >> “You can hear me talking the whole time,” Tumpach said.

    And so could everyone else in the theater. I think two nights in jail is about right.

    Felony camcording is a joke, but how about “felony rude behavior in a movie theater?”

  12. OOOOOOOO! 4 whole minutes! What a crime! It was about what you would see in the commercials for the movie! What gives? How anal is the people who arrested her for this?

  13. This has become a felony?
    You know, when the rest of the world looks at the US and sees this sort of thing, it really must be like watching our slow decline into a Banana Republic.

  14. Hahaha this is amazing! This country is so bi-polar! We have felonies for recording (not even profiting, but simply recording) a crappy quality video of New Moon?

    Oh wait..

    Wait, i get it… New Moon is just so miserably lame and soul-destroying there are laws protecting duplication.

  15. Color me skeptical. Was she really “camcording a birthday party,” or was she camcording the movie paying on the screen? Big difference. There’s plenty of room for debate, but we should at least describe the events properly.

    I don’t know if they were described properly in this post, but I suspect that they weren’t.

    That said, I think the proper course of action would have been to approach the customer and ask her to stop recording.

  16. Good riddance. People like this are the reason that so many film company executives are penniless. Edgar Bronfman, Jr. is forced to live squalor because of scum like this singing Happy Birthday to You without the permission of the poverty-stricken Warner Music Group.

  17. Just stop feeding the beast. Find other things to do instead of watching the increasingly shite output of Hollywood.

    @11 what was she going to do, stitch together 30 different trips to the same movie, different angles and audio qualities, for sale at the local flea market? You big joker.

    Besides, why have a birthday party at a movie theatre? What’s wrong with a scout hut, garden, other venue? What’s the desperation to entertain people with this rubbish output anyway?

    What is wrong with you people?

  18. Sorry I’m a Brit (our police probably wouldn’t turn up), but she could “lose the right to vote” for a minor criminal offense? Really?

    1. Except that she’s not being charged with a minor criminal offense. She’s being charged with a felony.

    2. >if convicted, could lose the right to vote, to work with children, to hold office, and to partake in full civil life.

      y, it’s weird. that’s the human rights issue.

    3. Yes, felons can have the right to vote revoked. Wikipedia search “Felony disenfranchisement.”

      In most states it isn’t permanent, but yeah.

  19. A friend of mine is a well known screenwriter. He and I got into a heated discussion about this. He’s firmly entrenched in the studio system and supports the industry on this. I didn’t, of course. “Piracy” is a convenient excuse to continue to screw the artist and the studio system as well as the music industry are struggling as they drown. This really is disgusting and anyone supporting the system is a stooge.

  20. We’ll since Happy Birthday is now back under copyright, seems like she owes a royalty to someone in addition to her other problems! At my house, we don’t sing Happy Birthday. It might cost more than the gift!

  21. Walter…

    Believe it or not, some people in the U.S. will sit in a movie theater, record the movie that is playing, and sell the crappy copy on the streets. I guess people are willing to save a few bucks buying a copy rather than buying a legal version from the copyright holder.

    1. Blech. Your staunch support of the real criminals here made me vomit burp…. thanks.

      How is 4 minutes gonna infringe on anything? Why do you instantaneously suspect the girl is in the wrong, not the MPAA who consistently go after small fish to make a misdirected point. Meanwhile the real piracy goes on unaffected.

      The MPAA yet again makes the world laugh at the US…and gives us yet another sign of things to come.

  22. I really doubt the charges will stick. If it goes to trial, obviously the camera will be entered as evidence, and if there are shots of her sister and other party-goers, the D.A. will be hard pressed to prove that she was trying to pirate the movie…

    I’m guessing it gets reduced to a Misdemeanor and she gets probation and a fine – or maybe even time-served.

    I’ve seen lesser sentences for drug-offenses

  23. And the movie industry’s pitch to us remains, “Please stop pirating our discs, because if you don’t stop, we may be driven out of business and then society would suffer from our absence.”

    If only piracy would result in this instead of free advertising and promotion like in real life.

    We’d be better off without the major movie industry. And the RIAA also.

  24. Whenever I hear about something like this, I think back upon an experience I had in Prague back in ’96. I was hanging out with some locals in a pub and we were discussing liberty and the US Constitution. One guy says, “America must be great. You have all those rights in your Constitution.” To which I replied, “You would think so, but unfortunately our politicians have 200 plus years of practice getting around that particular document. You guys are the lucky ones. Your government hasn’t passed a bunch of stupid laws that restrict your freedoms. Yet.” They all looked somewhat dismayed.

  25. If someone pulled a stunt like that while I was trying to watch a movie – even a Twilight flick – I’d dump my overpriced cola on her head.

    That said, I hope the existing “entertainment” companies DO get driven out of business. Energetic, creative new companies with would arise to fill the vacuum.

    It’s not likely to happen, but I can always hope.

  26. It does say, however, that “you can hear [her] talking the whole time.” So maybe they were just trying to get her out of the theatre for ruining the movie for everybody else.

  27. The theater lists among its services, birthday parties. Does anyone know if if the birthday group watches the movies (with other patrons) and then retires to a party room for cake and pizza, or whether you get your own screening of the movie, with refreshments, etc.. If it is the second, it would seem that unless specifically and emphatically prohibited, the theater is including the movie in the birthday party experience, and one could make the argument that incidental photography or video taping (such as you apparently have here) is fair use. If recording devices are prohibited, she could have be asked to stop – after all, I’ve heard that sometimes people bring cameras and camcorders to birthday parties.

  28. “You know, when the rest of the world looks at the US and sees this sort of thing, it really must be like watching our slow decline into a Banana Republic.”

    Yes, it is.
    As a Canadian, frankly, I don’t even want to *visit* the US for conferences and such anymore, because I’m terrified at having so many of the rights I take for granted stripped away when I cross the border.

  29. @Vidya108: As a Canadian, you’re not saving yourself any grief. Canada’s anti-camcordering law — passed after intensive lobbying from the MPA and the US Trade Rep — is MUCH more stringent (and even stupider) than the US camcordering laws.

    1. Cory,

      You do know there has been one arrest per year under that legislation, that only resulted in fines, right?

      This passive-aggressive country of ours “goes along to get along” with aggressive American interests, and mostly ignores the resulting legislation except in very public cases. It sucks badly for Omar Khadr, the BC ‘king of pot’ and the guy actually convicted under the federal Copyright Act.

      For the rest of us, the police and border officials can’t be bothered, and businesses won’t lose money and precious customers over foreign interests.

      As for media, we don’t protect or promote our own, how could we do so for others? I would love to see American films pulled from Canadian theatres, so we could see more of our stuff. It’s out there now, just direct-to-DVD in small runs that you’re lucky to find. Theatre owners should find out just how cheap they could get it, and how little audience they’d lose. If I’m wrong, it would be good to learn that too.

      Also, as an occasional filthy pirate I shun cam copies as worse than useless, as I require a dvd-rip for minimum quality.

  30. I should point out its the same deal in Canada… While we don’t call them felonies etc… You get caught up here now its severe punishment as well… Atleast on par with jail time I believe its up to 10 years or so.. and fines although they state are limted you can imagine after all the lawyer fees…. Few nights and jail is a given if you really make staff\cops angry.. I believe for criminal prosecution Cdn govt must prove intent to distribute but copyright laws and copyright law abuse is just getting out of hand world wide now.. I believe the 2nd paragraph highlights the coming storm of evil..

  31. You can go on Pirate Bay right now and find multiple copies of New Moon for free, but they arrested someone who paid to go see it.

  32. I agree with asplund’s thought that the specific theatre (more specifically, the individual screen) was rented out for the movie. As someone who used to work at a theatre, it’s not that uncommon, and I could totally see a camcorder being present.

    Also, it’s not any different from people who take out their phones to capture some of the excitement at being at an anticipated movie with their friends. They DO catch parts of the movie. So unless they are blatantly taping the screen versus making a memory of some of the fun, this should NOT fall under a copyright violation. It’s just ridiculous to be that rigid and they can say goodbye to moviegoers. The only thing theatres have going for them is first release and the fun, moviegoing experience. And the latter is nearly extinct…

  33. Well… didn’t everyone in the theater break copyright law by performing “Happy Birthday” in public?

  34. Ok, I wasn’t going to see New Moon anyway,
    But I really wish the article mentioned what theater this happened at so that I could ensure I would NOT EVER give them my business.

  35. Joke all you want about society missing the movie industry when they’re gone, but considering how many people go to see shitty movies like “New Moon”, yeah, I think that’s actually a fair assumption.

  36. Sony stands behind Muvico because they turn movies into an “experience”….

    “Muvico’s vision for the movie theater of the future is that exhibitors need to offer more complete services to enrich the theater-going experience,” said John Scarcella, president of Sony Electronics’ Broadcast and Business Solutions Company. “Their goal is to redefine the idea of simply going to the movies, by turning it into an experience for customers…..”


  37. If you want to be proactive about this, please rate and write a review on Yelp and/or Google. Stars really do matter in this day and age. Also, please call the management at Muvico and tell them how you feel.

  38. I wrote them. They sent this reply:
    From: Questions@muvico.com
    Subject: RE: She wasn’t a bootlegger. Let her go.
    Date: December 4, 2009 10:26:25 AM EST
    To: ncardozo@mac.com


    The unauthorized video recording of a motion picture while it is
    being exhibited in a movie theater is illegal under federal law and
    under the laws of more than forty states, including the State of
    Illinois. According to a study commissioned by the Motion Picture
    Association of America, illegal film piracy costs the movie industry
    billions of dollars each year, and illegal camcording in movie theaters
    is the source of over 90% of all illegally copied movies in their
    initial release form.

    In order to combat the increasing theft of copyrighted films,
    the motion picture industry has encouraged theater owners to adopt a
    “zero-tolerance” policy prohibiting the video or audio recording of any
    portion of a movie. Specifically, theater managers are instructed to
    alert law enforcement authorities whenever they suspect illegal
    activity. Theater managers have neither the expertise nor the authority
    to decide whether a crime has been committed. Law enforcement
    professionals determine what laws may have been broken and what
    enforcement action should be taken. It is then up to prosecutorial
    discretion to determine the seriousness of any charges that might be

    In our continuing effort to educate our guests about the
    illegality of film piracy, Muvico prominently places a number of posters
    and signs within its theaters alerting moviegoers of its
    “zero-tolerance” policy with respect to the camcording of films in its

    Beatriz E. Gerdts
    Administrative Assistant
    Muvico Entertainment LLC
    3101 N. Federal Highway, 6th Floor
    Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306
    Phone: (954) 564-6550 ext. 0

  39. “zero-tolerance policy” == “We are stupid lazy morons who don’t care about anything — but mostly we’re stupid.”

  40. You know, I’m really beginning to think that if the movie industry does go out of business, it really isn’t that bad of a thing. Although, this is coming from a guy that usually doesn’t actually watch movies (or other copyrtighted material in general, well, okay, I do sometimes on hulu).

  41. I have to say that I believe terrorism is behind this. More precisely, the terror of running risks, or being held responsible for something undesirable happening, encouraged by a power-hungry health and safety industry (especially in the UK) and profiteering lawyers.

    What I have seen described in this and previous postings, is a society driven mad with fear of being held responsible or blamed, fenced in by a strangling maze of legislation enacted “for your protection” despite having the opposite effect. (The madness manifests in a state of paranoia where everyone, even family members, is a potential legal threat heading your way, and disinterest in the loss of freedoms to “safety”.)

    Isn’t there some way we can “Unsafe the World” — to get people to once again accept that life is inherently risky, and escape this terror-fueled safety trap?

    …sorry, was I ranting again? Ferrofluids are cool. And my capcha was “theaters people”. That’s cool too.

  42. If, according to beatriz.gerdts “theater managers have neither the expertise nor the authority to decide whether a crime has been committed”, how can the “law enforcement professionals” know if they’re being called out to deal with a crime? If the managers calling them specifically deny having any idea about what’s legal how do they know when to call?

    Maybe that’s the problem: if the staff were trained in the limited area of copyright infringement in a theater, this case would never have reached the prosecuting authorities. If I call the cops to tell them I’ve no idea if a crime is happening, at best I’d expect them to ignore it, at worst to prosecute me for wasting their time.

  43. According to the SunTimes article, the theater management insisted on pressing charges. While the corporate letter above indicates that theater managers are instructed to alert law enforcement, the letter doesn’t mention that they must always press charges.

    Zero tolerance for recording movies can take a more reasonable approach. How about a simple confirmed deletion of the recording? I imagine most people would be willing to comply if they are made aware that calling the police is the alternative.

    Samantha Tumpach, if you decide to sue the theater, put me down for a donation oequivalent to the price of admission.

    That will keep me out of any Muvico theater in the future.

  44. Actually – it’s Hollywood that is leaky. Oh … I can’t be bothered.

    I think someone creative (more so than me – I have good ideas, and bad execution, which isn’t the way I’d like to finish my time on this earth) should write a script / story about a studio perpetually unleashing lawsuits and prosecutions, and even making a persuasive show out of it designed to convince the public that a system of law alternate to their understanding exists.

    i.e. to attempt to overcome the population’s desire to consume their shite output in cheat-mode by overwhelming them with fear of a non-existent law or set of common-law principles.

    And then, in later episodes, have some kind of lovely backlash where screwing with the underpinning principles of society is dealt with by a whip-bearing latex-wearing she-devil with big knockers. She talks big about universalism, immutability, respect and that kind of thing, then strips studio execs naked and whips them each six times. Tars, feathers, and out to the streets for a march down Hollywood boulevard, where they each have to kiss every single (vomit-covered) pavement star and confess their sins, and admit their reverence of Hollywood’s golden era (i.e. when it didn’t exist).

    They will also publicly explain the “anomaly” that is Paranormal Activity, and how and why they’re incapable of providing the same level of entertainment on budgets exceeding $100m. ONE HUNDRED MILLIONS OF DOLLARS! Wasted!

    Fuck – is this copyrighted? Any of you follows through, and I’ll sue. I’m better at this stuff than I thought.

    I think I’ll sue you just for reading this! Note down your name in the comments boxes so I know who to subpoena.

    I’ll make a tonna ca$h.

  45. So why don’t we organize a picket of the theater in question? Instead of relying on lame legislators to do anything anymore why don’t we make moron business owners wise up? A little civil disobedience in this sheep culture goes a LONG way today.

  46. i’m pretty sure i’ve seen psa type spots from the mpaa about reporting suspected piracy and getting a rather large cash reward in return. with that in mind, let’s start this debate over.

  47. Hey, man, you can keep the camcorder. But if this group of nitwits came into a theater that I was watching a movie in and threw a ‘surprise birthday party,’ I would have raised holy hell and probably pulled a weapon if the jackasses weren’t thrown out quickly enough.

    Birthday party in a movie theater. Jesus! How many idiots inhabit this world?

    Let the dimwit rot in her cell for a while. Serves her right.

  48. According to the original report (which Cory Doctorow chose not to quote), the movie theater managers were the ones who insisted on pressing charges. Therefore it would be appropriate to blame them for over-reacting, wouldn’t it? But, since the mission here is to circulate poorly documented hearsay in an effort to rouse anger in support of preconceived dogma, the post blames “the movie industry” which has “turned into an alcoholic dad who beats up his family.”

    I just hope no one confuses this kind of thing with real journalism.

    1. I just hope no one confuses this kind of thing with real journalism.

      ….is there a risk of that? I must have missed the meeting where we decided BB is henceforth known as the home of journalism.

      [also… considering the studios encourage prossecution your point is irrelevant. I dont see “the movie industy” jumping to her defence now, do you?]

  49. see my post above for a possible reason for this kind of “over-reacting.” the movie industry will offer you thousands of dollars to squeal. what does your conscience offer up? a warm feeling of actually being human. i laugh. what do you think most are going to do (assuming they know about these rewards)?

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