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Recording a film is a crime at the state and federal levels

On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Whenever a big blockbuster film comes out, it’s easy to tell how popular it is based on the amount of internet discussion it generates. Some of the most popular online content related to recent films are screengrabs or short recordings of iconic scenes in the movies. Overeager filmgoers typically use their smartphones to record these scenes, though the video quality can be questionable. But that hasn’t stopped these types of content from getting attention on the internet.

While these seconds-long videos are a great way to relive cinematic moments, they’re also very illegal. Recording a movie is both prohibited by Missouri and the federal government, and anyone who violates the rules can face severe penalties.

State law on recording movies

A person who operates any audiovisual recording device or uses the audiovisual recording function of a device in a venue where a movie is being exhibited can be charged with violating Missouri law. The law prohibits not just cameras, but also devices that have a similar recording function such as smartphones. State rules also apply to any type of venue that can exhibit a film apart from a movie theater, such as a screening room or a drive-in theater.

Anyone convicted of operating an audiovisual recording device in a motion picture theater faces a class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $2,000 fine and up to a year in imprisonment. For a second or subsequent violation, the convicted faces a class E felony, which leads to imprisonment of up to four years.

Federal law on recording movies

It’s also illegal under federal law to use any audiovisual recording device to record a film. If convicted per federal rules, a person can be imprisoned for up to three years and will have to pay restitution to any victims who can claim economic damage resulting from the recording. This might include the theater itself, the movie’s producers and the cast and crew.

If a federal court convicts a person for a second or subsequent offense, the convicted will have to serve six years in imprisonment and must pay restitution to any victims.

Recording a movie’s most memorable moment might be prime material for social media. But it can also be highly incriminating. Those caught in the act should keep in mind that they face both state and federal charges, so they might want to carefully weigh their legal options.