Movie industry steps up piracy battle

( USA TODAY )- Film piracy cost the movie industry $670 million last year and is becoming particularly acute in Mexico, where there are no anti-piracy laws, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America said Tuesday.

MPAA chief Dan Glickman, speaking at the ShoWest convention of theater owners, says that piracy cost the movie industry about $6 billion worldwide in 2007, a figure unchanged for about the past four years.

"We are getting more advanced in tracking the crime, and they are getting more advanced in committing it," he says.

John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theater Owners, says that film piracy - 90% of which occurs from videotaping inside a theater - "is a very sophisticated crime network. It began in North America, but as we began opening movies worldwide on the same date, it has moved to Russia, China, Hong Kong. Wherever there's a movie opening, there's someone with a camcorder."

And sharp-eyed ushers are benefiting. The MPAA and NATO say they will step up funding for a reward program for ushers who catch moviegoers with camcorders. Since 2004, 135 ushers have received about $60,000 in reward money.

Glickman reiterated last week's announcement that Hollywood took in $9.6 billion at the box office, a record. (Although rising ticket prices meant that attendance remained relatively flat for the third straight year.)

Fithian, though, said that studios left "hundreds of millions on the table" by refusing to release films more evenly throughout the year.

He said that April and September were "virtually empty" of big movies because studios were bent on opening their pictures during the summer and Oscar seasons.

"They look at their calendar and wait for May and say, 'OK, now we can open out tent-pole movie,' " Fithian says.

He said that last year's Spider-Man, Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean, which opened three weeks apart, could have done "at least another $50 (million) or $60 million if they'd opened in April and not crammed themselves into May. A good movie will be successful no matter when it is released."

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