Final ‘Tin Drum’ lawsuit goes to court

Monday, August 23, 1999

(Editor's note: A federal jury awarded an Oklahoma City man $2,500 on Aug. 25 after it found that police had violated his privacy rights by obtaining his name from a video store. After getting the name and address, police officers went to Michael Camfield's home to seize a rented copy of “The Tin Drum,” as recounted in this story.)

As development director of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Michael Camfield experienced perhaps his busiest week ever as an attorney last week.

The ACLU chapter filed the first federal challenge to drug and alcohol testing requirements for students in academic courses. It began its annual fund-raising drive. ACLU business aside, Camfield also spent last week preparing for another high-profile trial scheduled to begin this morning — his own.

Two years after three Oklahoma City police officers knocked on the door of his home demanding a copy of “The Tin Drum” he rented from a local video store, Camfield gets his chance in court to challenge the confiscation.

“I've been on the phone with The New York Times about the drug case, and, because I'm development director, I'm in charge of the fund-raising drive. And now I have my own case. So, I'm in hell,” Camfield joked in a phone interview with the First Amendment Center on Aug. 20.

Camfield's case — a federal lawsuit filed against the Oklahoma City Police Department — developed after an Oklahoma County judge's decision in July 1997 that “The Tin Drum” contained scenes of child pornography. The decision set off a countywide ban of the film, which won the 1979 Academy Award for best foreign film.

Besides seizing the film from Camfield's home, police also confiscated the movie from a library, video stores and other private homes.

In a series of rulings last year, U.S. District Judge Ralph Thompson determined that the First Amendment protected the movie and that the film did not violate the state's child-pornography laws. Last March, Oklahoma City officials agreed to pay $400,000 in attorney fees to two national video business associations and a local video store to settle other lawsuits over “The Tin Drum.”

With Camfield's case, a federal jury will decide a few remaining issues — whether police officers violated the attorney's privacy rights in securing his address from the video store, whether they unlawfully seized the video and if Camfield is entitled to monetary damages.