- Grove City, Pennsylvania

July 18, 2007

Theater employee sinks movie piracy attempt

By Christian Giggenbach

BECKLEY, W.V. — For Marquee Cinemas employee Christopher Payne, being nicknamed the “pirate slayer” by co-workers has little to do with one-eyed, peg-legged treasure hunters and more to do with stopping what experts call “the biggest threat to the motion picture industry.”

Payne interrupted the illegal pirating of the movie “Pride” in May — a federal crime — helped recover the camcorder used, and also received a $500 reward along the way. Not bad for the 16-year-old Woodrow Wilson High School junior.

Payne said he recognized the “big dude” with dreadlocks in his early 20s that night because of an incident at the theater just three days before.

“He was looking under the seats because of a lost wallet,” Payne said. “But we later found a camera tripod in the same area. I saw the tripod.”

When the man came back to the theater, an observant Payne noticed “a big jacket” wrapped around his arm. When the man sat down in the middle row of the sparsely attended movie, Payne kept an eye on him.

“He was filming the previews with his video camera,” Payne said. “We went up to the man and told him that was illegal and he got up and left. Once he got to the box office he started running into the parking lot.”

Payne said about six employees chased the techno-pirate into the parking lot and after cinema employee Nicole Coleman wrote down his license plate number, he handed the camera over to another employee, Vince Espinoza.

For his effort, Payne received a $500 reward from the Motion Picture Association and the National Association of Theatre Owners.

In 2005, Congress passed the “Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention” law, making piracy a federal crime.

General Manager Bill Favorite said the State Police have opened an investigation into the incident. He believes this is the first time an employee has thwarted a movie from being pirated at Marquee Cinemas.

“Christopher is an excellent employee and he was very observant to have noticed that,” Favorite said. “The pirating of movies is a federal offense and a felony. People don’t realize how much this costs everyone. You are stealing from local companies.”

A study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association in 2004 said the loss in revenues from pirated movies is about $6.1 billion worldwide and $1.3 billion in the U.S. China, Russia and Thailand were named as the countries where most pirated movies are sold. The study also described the typical pirate as “16 to 24 years in age and male.”

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When another co-worker starting calling Payne a “pirate slayer,” the nickname took hold and now most of his friends call him by this moniker. Living up to his new name, Payne also has a few choice words for any more pirates who may be thinking of swashbuckling their way to a fast buck while he’s on duty.

“If you are going to do it, then you better be sneaky,” Payne said. “Or otherwise I’m going to catch you.”

Christian Giggenbach writes for The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va.