That committee believes Texas needs at least 1,943 separate felonies, to judge by their approval last week of HB 1871 by Keel. (Texas had 1,941 felonies before that committee recommended HB 151, which has run into trouble in the Senate.) HB 1871 would create a new state jail felony "if the person knowingly operates the audiovisual recording function of any device in a motion picture theater, while the motion picture is being exhibited, without the consent of the owner of the theater." The bill was brought to him, Chairman Terry Keel said at the hearing, by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Just a few years ago, that language would probably have only banned folks who were trying to pirate versions of the movie. Now, though, with many camera phones able to take short snippets of video, the plain language of the statute would make illegal merely turning such a device on while the movie is playing.
Actual movie piracy is already illegal, and a new law isn't necessary to prosecute folks for that. Instead, the proposed statute would make illegal short recordings that otherwise would have been allowed under "fair use" doctrine. It would even make illegal camera shots of audience members or subjects besides the movie -- merely "operating" the audiovisual function while the movie is playing would be a crime, regardless of whether you record any portion of a show. The sweeping language seems to scream "overkill," but the committee recommended the bill without amendment.
Another Keel bill, HB 1759,
CORRECTION: Okay, no wonder HB 1759 made "no sense to me." I need to correct my interpretation of this bill which, it turns out, I got exactly backwards. As a commenter pointed out, under current law there already is no probation for state jail felonies except for low-level, first-time offenders in drug possession cases, where probation is mandatory. According to Chairman Keel, who stopped me in the halls of the capitol to request a correction, the bill allows judges, only, to order probation, while juries would still not have that privilege. After combing through the statutes again, it's still awfully confusing, but I think I've confirmed his statement adequately to make a correction. As I often say in caveat, I'm not an attorney, and frequently struggle through the complexities of the statutes as much as anybody. This time I made a mistake. My apologies to readers and to Rep. Keel.
Both bills passed out of committee on unanimous 6-0 votes last Tuesday, with Keel, Denny, Escobar, Hodge, Raymond, and Reyna in favor, and the rest of the committee absent.