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Night-vision goggles help keep pirates at bay

Flood of international and North American premieres makes festival a target for hidden camcorders

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

For all the art and glitz of the Toronto International Film Festival, there's a darker presence that's not really talked about. It lurks in the corner, just out of sight, until you notice a shadowy figure pointing a dark lens directly at you as you sit in a packed cinema.

Most festival goers are probably unaware of the anti-piracy measures around them, other than the screen warning against any recording.

But there are hidden layers of security - from watchers wielding night-vision goggles to other anti-piracy measures too secret for the festival to even talk about publicly - all of which are used to try to guard against illegal camcording and other piracy breaches as the festival screens its roster of 349 films.

There are 234 feature and mid-length films that are having some form of international or North American premiere at the festival. These are seen as particularly enticing to pirates.

"Any time you have a screening that is going on prior to a general theatrical release, a film is at risk," said John Malcolm, the Motion Picture Association of America's director of worldwide anti-piracy operations. "There is no question that pirate syndicates place a premium on - and they pay for that premium - to get early, high-quality copies of films."

While in town to promote Hollywood's anti-piracy campaign, Mr. Malcolm emphasized, however, that TIFF itself isn't seen as a security problem.

Nevertheless, Canada is a leading target for more anti-piracy safeguards. Although the numbers trotted out by the studios have varied widely, the MPAA says that Canada accounts for up to 25 per cent of the world's camcorded films.

A law passed in June makes it a Criminal Code offence, punishable by up to two years in prison, to record a film in a movie theatre. If it can be proven that the intent is to sell copies of the recording, the punishment rises to a maximum of five years.

Because TIFF largely takes over operations of the theatres it uses for 10 days, security falls under the festival's watch.

"We do have very stringent security policies around anti-piracy," said Natalie Lue, the festival's director of operations and theatres. "The problem is that I can't really go into them. That would be folly."

However, she did note a few. For instance, in addition to hiring a number of security firms, there are the festival's legion of volunteers. They are instructed on how to handle anyone recording a film or a tip by an audience member that someone may be wielding a camcorder.

Ms. Lue said no one has been caught at this festival, but the night-vision goggles did discover a couple who had a video phone out. They were asked to leave the theatre. Security checked the phone's memory and found nothing.

The films themselves often have watermarks, undetectable to viewers, which can be read by technicians to show what print of the film was recorded.

Still, no one wants to turn cinemas into airport terminals. And TIFF relies on the festival goers themselves. "Our audiences are not about bringing down the industry."

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