Czech student faces piracy charges over Simpsons film (update)


    A 19-year-old Czech student was formally charged on Monday with illegally recording The Simpsons Movie and posting it on the Internet, marking the first such prosecution in a country plagued by piracy. Prosecutors said the youth could face up to five years in prison and a fine up to 5 million crowns (€180,500).

    Nearly 100,000 people downloaded the Czech-dubbed bootleg copy after it was posted within hours of its Czech release on July 26, said Markéta Prchalova, director of the Czech Film Union Against Piracy (www.cpufilm.cz).

    Police searched the man's house in Kaplice on Saturday and confiscated a digital recording of the film on a notebook, a digital camera, and a ticket to a cinema in České Budějovice owned by the CineStar company (www.cinestar.cz) that was purchased the day the copy was allegedly made.

    "One ticket costs around 100 Czech crowns, so the total damage is about 10 million crowns," Kristina Maixnerová, press representative for the domestic distributor Bontonfilm (www.bontonfilm.cz), told Film New Europe. "The loss for Bontonfilm is estimated at about 5 million crowns."

    It is the first time Czech authorities have moved so swiftly to prosecute a piracy case, although charges are pending against a handful of offenders for copying several domestic films.

    The Czech Republic regularly screens premieres on Thursdays, which means Czech fans were among the first in the world to see The Simpsons Movie, one day before its premiere July 27 in its country of origin, the United States.

    On the same day in Australia, a 21-year-old Sydney man was arrested for illegally copying the film, which was downloaded by 110,000 users. Both copies have since been removed from the Internet.

    It was the second major scandal involving pirated films in the Czech Republic, after the domestic smash comedy hit Empties by Jan and Zdenek Sverak was illegally copied.

    In that case, the copy that was leaked was traced to the Czech Culture Ministry.

    The Simpsons producer, Twentieth Century Fox (www.fox.com), has promised to tighten security measures in Czech movie distribution as a result of the incident.

    Bootleg music and film sales are a bigger problem in the Czech Republic than anywhere else in the European Union, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents 1,400 record companies in 75 countries, said in a report July 24.

    "This is a very serious problem at the heart of Europe, which we have highlighted to the Czech government for the last three to four years, but with no results," said Stefan Krawczyk, European deputy director of the IFPI.