Is Warner Bros. Filming Audiences In An Attempt To Stop Piracy?

Here’s the creepiest complaint we’ve received in a long, long time. Reader Sam says he was filmed by a security guard contracted by Time/Warner during a recent showing of The Invasion at an AMC movie theater.

When he complained about it to customer service, they told him “Time Warner/Warner Bros had contracted a security company to film movie theater audiences around the country during the opening weekend of its movies in an effort to prevent piracy.” Ew! We think this is scary. If we saw some potential psycho filming us during a movie we’d be weirded out and we’d leave. Especially if it was during a (sort-of) remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Do not go to sleep. Warner Bros. will film you.

We emailed Time Warner for comment, but haven’t heard back. Here’s Sam’s letter:

Dear Consumerist,
Last night (Aug. 19) myself and a friend decided to venture to the local movie theater (AMC Lowes Georgetown 14) to catch the 7:35pm showing of The Invasion. The movie started on time with a moderately full theater and immediately I notice an older gentleman who looked to be about 60 standing in the corner of the theater. Sporting a black suit and a black briefcase, he began to film the audience during the movie. Every 5-10 minutes he would sweep the audience with his video camera, then turn it off and just watch us, then turn the camera back on and sweep again. Now being in Washington DC people are very security conscious and at first I thought he might have been Secret Service but he only stayed in the theater filming for about 45 minutes.

After the movie I went to the Customer Service desk to inquire if they knew about this incident. The manager behind the desk informed me that Time Warner/Warner Bros had contracted a security company to film movie theater audiences around the country during the opening weekend of its movies in an effort to prevent piracy. While I believe steps should be taken to curb piracy, this was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life, and I was not only person that felt this way. I overheard at least 4 other people complain to customer service about this incident, with 2 of them stating that if this ever happened again they would stop using this particular chain of theaters. I was quite surprised at the reaction of the customer service employee, he did not seem to to care one bit that people were opening telling him they would stop using this theater and he brushed off the criticism by shrugging his shoulders and just stared blankly back at those of us who were complaining and passed the blame to Time Warner/Warner Bros.

The question is, what does Time Warner/Warner Bros do with these video tapes? How long are they stored? Is there a massive database of these tapes somewhere? While I do know that laws allow for photography of people without their permission in public places but does this apply to a a movie theater since it is a private business? And if it is not allowed, I was not informed by AMC Lowes that I would be filmed during the movie so what are the legal ramifications of that action?

This email is also being sent to Craig Ramsey who is the Chief Financial Officer for AMC Entertainment and is listed as their Media Contact on their SEC filings and Craig Hoffman of Warner Bros who is listed as their Anti-Piracy press contact.


We’re waiting anxiously for Warner to tell us it’s not true, that they hired the creepy guy with the video camera to scare people who went to see a scary movie, because the idea that Warner Bros. will be filming us during a movie is enough to put us off the whole thing.

UPDATE: Sam writes to tell us that the CSR he spoke to originally was mistaken and the scary Warner Bros. thug wasn’t filming, but was, in fact, using night vision goggles. Sam writes:

This afternoon I received an email from the Director of Guest Services for AMC Theaters, I spoke with her on the phone and she was extremely apologetic about the incident. She also wanted to clear up some misinformation provided by the AMC Customer Service Representative. The man in the suit was not in fact filming the audience, he was using a night vision scope. She assured me that AMC would never allow filming of the audience. Apparently the Georgetown 14 theater has been recently hit by pirates and this was part of the effort put on by the studio to combat such piracy. I explained to her that if this type of audience surveillance was going to happen theater goers need to be notified and she wholeheartedly agreed.

She said that she would be discussing the incident further with the manager of the theater and the CSR that I spoke with after the movie and then speak with the studio about the incident to see what can be done in the future. I was also provided with free movie passes and was told that I would be receiving an official letter of apology from AMC.

While certainly not as creepy as the scenario Sam originally described, being watched while watching a movie certainly is distracting. When Sam asked the AMC what was going on they should have been able to tell him.