Keep your hands where we can see them! Warner Bros. Pictures (s twx) is resorting to drastic measures to prevent unauthorized video recordings of its newest Harry Potter epic. Security guards in Germany have been using night vision goggles in theaters running Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to find camcorders that might be otherwise hard to spot once the theater lights are off.
This isn’t the first time Warner has tried to protect Harry with peeping Toms. UK audiences were subjected to a similar treatment in 2004 to prevent the recording of The Prisoner of Azkaban. The measures caused quite a stir back then, and German Potter fans and privacy advocates are equally upset this time around. German officials have already announced that they plan to investigate Warner’s measures.
One theater-goer compared the presence of the night vision-equipped security guards to the former Eastern German “Stasi” secret police. Another confronted the theater owner about it and was told that this was done on behalf of the film’s distributor, Warner Pictures.
Warner has since officially acknowledged the use of the surveillance gear. The company said that it was restricted to 10 theaters that have been known to be visited by pirates armed with camcorders before. Security guards don’t take any video recordings of the audience, and theaters clearly warn customers about the measures, it told the German press. A theater owner told reporters that Warner threatened to stop the distribution of any future titles to her theater if she hadn’t agreed to the measure, according to a report by Die Welt.
Germany officials don’t seem too pleased about the surveillance. Saxony-Anhalt’s data protection commissioner Harald von Bose is investigating whether the use of night vision goggles violated Germany’s strict privacy laws, heise.de is reporting. Von Bose appears to be especially concerned that the measure is treating every audience member as a suspect. Another state official is already considering monetary fines against Warner, according to Die Welt.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released in the U.S. and a number of other countries on July 15th. A copy based on the Spanish release found its way online on July 19th, and it has been widely distributed via BitTorrent ever since.