“Who’s That Pottering Around Up in Row 7?”

Here’s a serendipitous find from out of today’s wanderings in Die Zeit: Viewers of the new film “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” could find themselves being viewed at certain movie theaters in Germany. “But it’s dark in there during the show!” you might object. No problem: the one or more people down off to the side of the movie-screen (usually private security firm employees) will be using night-vision devices to keep tabs on the audience. It’s not anything like over-passionate canoodling they’re there to stamp out (or for that matter people talking on mobile telephones in the middle of the showing – damn!); it’s those who have brought camcorders or similar devices along and are trying to record the film.

As you could imagine, it’s films that have just been released to theaters that are particular candidates for this treatment, and Die Zeit further notes that this is by no means a new measure, but has been used at least since back in 2005. This time, though, a powerful coalition of Warner Bros., the Society for Prosecuting Copyright Violations (in German, the GVU), the Federation of German Movie Theaters, and the Union of Film Distributors stand behind it; in response to customer complaints, one movie theater-owner could only plead “If we don’t allow it [the night-vision surveillance], we would never get any more films from Warner.” Nonetheless, officials from the Data Privacy Office of Sachsen-Anhalt (one of the federal German states where this practice has been going on) are now investigating whether Warner Bros., by insisting this way, has violated the law.

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