Members of theHouse of Representatives passed s.167 of the Family Entertainment and CopyrightAct of 2005, which among other provisions makes camcording a federal offenceand upgrades it from misdemeanour to the more serious criminal grade of felony.Multiple offenders face up to six years and/or a fine.

Special immunityclauses mean that theatre owners and employees who detain suspected offenders ingood faith will not face charges of false imprisonment or false arrest. Thelegislation was approved by the Senate last February and is expected to be signedinto law by President Bush.

Motion PictureAssociation of America (MPAA) and National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO)chiefs welcomed the move yesterday. "Over 90 percent of illegally piratedmovies are stolen by people who go to movie theatres and film the moviesthemselves with camcorders or other recording devices," MPAA chief Dan Glickmansaid in a statement.

"By making thiskind of action a federal crime, Congress today has struck a blow for the ruleof law and for justice."

"Movietheft constitutes an ever graver threat to the entire motion picture industry,including the cinemas operated by our members," Kendrick Macdowell, NATO'sgeneral counsel and director of government affairs, added.

"Thislegislation will permit theatre operators to combat movie theft at its mainsource, by intercepting and detaining thieves who brazenly attempt to copymovies from our screens."

*Americans Randolph HobsonGuthrie III and Abram Cody Thrush have been sentenced by a Chinese court totwo-and-a-half-years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Chinese Renminibi (RNB)and one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 RNB respectively after they werearrested last summer in Shanghai for selling and distributing more than$840,000 worth of stolen DVDs online in more than 20 countries. The case markedthe first joint counterfeiting investigation between US and Chineseauthorities.