It was bound to happen sooner or later: a man has had his Google Glass headset ripped from his face and been questioned by the Department of Homeland Security over suspicions of piracy in a movie theater.
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The Ohio man, who hasn’t been identified, was watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at an AMC theater on Saturday. He wore his Google Glass, he explains in a blog post at Gadgeteer, because it contained prescription lenses, but left the device turned off. It was the third time he’d worn it at that theater.
“About an hour into the movie… a guy comes near my seat, shoves a badge that had some sort of a shield on it, yanks the Google Glass off my face and says ‘follow me outside immediately’. It was quite embarrassing and outside of the theater there were about 5-10 cops and mall cops,” he says.
“Since I didn’t catch his name in the dark of the theater, I asked to see his badge again and I asked what was the problem and I asked for my Glass back. The response was ‘you see all these cops you know we are legit, we are with the ‘federal service’ and you have been caught illegally taping the movie’.”
He was held for several hours, he says.
Interestingly, copyright groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) haven’t made any public statements specifically about Google Glass (I asked for their thoughts quite a while ago, and will update if I get them, but don’t hold your breath).
In its guidelines for theater owners, the MPAA recommends that they ban filmgoers from using recording devices – including Glass, presumably – but not from bringing them into the theater. Indeed, just imagine the outcry if people had to hand in their phones – which can also be used for piracy – every time they went to the movies.
But as this case shows, while it’s pretty obvious when someone’s filming on their phone, it’s not always so easy to tell when Glass is recording. No less a figure than Google’s chief internet evangelist Vince Cerf (who I think we’re legally obliged to refer to as ‘the father of the internet’) has said the company will probably have to add “something very visible” to make it clear before the device launches fully later this year.
Google Glass really shouldn’t be much of a piracy threat, though. It has pretty poor video quality and a one-hour battery life when filming, for a start; and that’s before you consider the difficulty of keeping your head still for the duration of a whole movie. Professional bootleggers could probably do better – and without looking like idiots in the process.
And in this case, ICE was eventually convinced that the man wasn’t recording illegally, and he was allowed to leave – although a statement from a spokesman attached to the blog post makes it clear that this was, in large part, because the device had prescription lenses. All the same, the episode may actually bode well for Glass users, by setting a useful precedent: let’s hope theater staff take heed.