"Knowing Joe, it wasn't really a surprise," said one of Joe's friends about the news that Joe had robbed two banks. "I don't think he meant anything by it other than he was just trying to get some good footage."
Whether the footage was any good remains to be seen, but Joe did successfully get (1) about $4,000 and (2) charged with a crime.
Joe Gibbons was a lecturer in video arts at MIT from 2001 until 2010, and his LinkedIn page states that he is currently a video editor with (appropriately enough) "Fugitive Productions." He has stated that his films are often inspired by his real-life experiences, and that when he "ran out of his own problems" he "started creating them" as a kind of research. It would appear that he is now working on a film about crime.
He has admitted, says the Boston Herald, that he robbed a bank in New York on New Year's Eve, presenting a note that said among other things "This is a robbery." The teller gave him about $1,000, he put it in a bag and then fled the scene. So, a pretty standard bank robbery, except that Gibbons filmed the whole thing with a video camera he pulled out of his pocket. He has also admitted that he robbed a bank in Providence the month before, although it isn't clear whether he filmed that one or not.
The New York Post reports that Gibbons has a history of stealing things, apparently always as part of a "prank" or, as he described his most recent operations, "research." In 1977, the Post says, Gibbons took a painting off the wall of a museum during a cocktail party and walked right out the door with it. He then sent the painting back, but said he was holding the frame for ransom on behalf of the "Art Liberation Front." In that case he was charged with theft, but the charges were later dropped. Whether the same is going to happen here remains to be seen.
Under New York law, "robbery" is (basically) using or threatening the use of force in order to take property from another, "in the course of committing a larceny." Robbing a bank involves an implied threat of force, I believe, even if you are only armed with a note, as Gibbons was. So he did that, and he got money, and he left with the money.
But it isn't "robbery" unless done "in the course of committing a larceny," and "larceny" means wrongfully taking another's property "with intent to deprive" that person of it or "appropriate the same to himself or a third person." And there are lots of New York cases holding no robbery occurred where the evidence showed the defendant didn't intend to take the property permanently. For example, taking the victim's sneakers, throwing them across the train tracks and telling him "you're going home barefooted tonight!" Not a robbery. People v. Parker, 466 N.Y.S.2d 700 (2d Dep't 1983).
Here Gibbons' history is probably going to be relevant, although evidence of what he did with the money will probably be a lot more relevant. Did he intend to keep it? Or was he going to bring it back, maybe "hold it for ransom"? Time will tell. In most cases, though, saying you only committed the crime for "research" purposes is going to be a complete non-starter. See, e.g., "Man Says He Robbed Bank as Part of Research Project," Lowering the Bar (Mar. 3, 2005) (discussing defendant who told judge he wanted to be caught so he could continue his crime research "in seclusion"; judge gave him nine years to do so).