View Full Version : Legalities of filming things that are illegal

01-11-2005, 09:44 PM
So lets say I want to do a documentary on people who do mass pirating of CD's and sell them on the street. How do they get away with these expose's on the news magazines?

When the doc. is released, would I be required to turn over my materials to law enforcement? Could I be taken to court and charged with obstruction of justice, etc etc?

This is just a hypothetical question, of course. I would never associate myself with this kind of activity :)

01-12-2005, 07:55 AM
David Jimmerson will probably have a good answer. I guess the short answer is 'it depends, probably yes'.

I seem to recollect a journalist who was recently charged with obstruction of justice for refusing to disclose his source that lead to a CIA agent cover blowup. In Canada, about a year ago, RCMP raided an Ottawa journalist office because she had some information pertaining to RCMP's handling of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was shipped to Syria by US authorities on a tip from (yet unknown) Canadian authorities.

I guess you should be fine if you deal with the small stuff (yeah, I know "FBI investigates reports of illegal copying... blah blah blah", but in reality, they have hands full of other stuff). But if you stumble upon a national security-related illegal activities, you can bet they will want to know it all.

02-01-2005, 07:23 PM
Well HBO did a documentary on Prostitutes....Prostitution is illegal too!

I think if you don't have your camera all up in someone's face you may be okay for what your trying to do. You may have to blur the faces in post. I am not sure.

02-02-2005, 09:14 AM
Prostitution is illegal too!

The short answer: No it isn't
The long answer: It depends where.

In Canada, prostitution is not illegal. Before hordes of American sex-deprived males invade us: Running a common bawdy house (which seems to be a legal definition of a brothel up here) is illegal.

So, as long as you call up a prostitute and she comes up to your place, it's perfectly legal in Canada. If you (and other customers) come to her, it's illegal because then she can (and will be) deemed as running a brothel in her house/apartment.

Don't ask me how I know ;)

Just teasing. You can ask me. There was a big write-up on the issue in the paper a couple of years ago when a fairly high-profile prostitution case was on trial in Toronto. I found it interesting, mainly because prostitution, whatever your moral view of it is, is "the oldest profession". I think any attempts at eradicating something that survived 5000 years of documented history are futile.

Yes, I know, theft and murder are as old and immoral and illegal, but I guess it's the 'consenting adults' difference - if both parties agree to it, what's the issue?

BTW, when I lived in Vienna, Austria fifteen years ago, the ladies on the Gurtel were organizing their own trade union, mainly to ensure health benefits and protection (both legal and medical) from 'certain' customers. I think it's a better way to deal with the issue than make it illegal.

HMMM... sound like an interesting idea for a documentary ;)

02-03-2005, 01:28 PM
I don't have the full answer, but this may help:

My day job is shooting local news. We did a story a couple years back about people that raid the Salvation Army drop off section at night. We asked our legal department about the do's and don'ts, and were told (at first) that anyone doing anything in public is fair game, because there is "no expectation of privacy". However, we couldn't hide microphones across the street near the action, because of the strict eavesdropping laws in California, but video was fine. I staked out the place three nights, got great video, then was told by my news director that we had to mosaic the faces, because, "We were setting the people up for ridicule, and implicating them in illegal activities." Well, if I shot them actually doing it, then what's the problem? I was told that maybe, just maybe, we might get sued over a hypothetical case like, "Hey! I took the wrong stuff to the drop-off lot and went back to get it! You guys made me look like a criminal!"
This is a lame excuse, but lawyers of companies will always avoid a claim if possible. As for yourself, who is probably working with a small independent crew, I would consult some sort of legal entity if you're going to be using video of people doing shady things.