Could the MPAA’s anti-screener campaign have turned out any worse? It has been a PR nightmare, it has called into question the very integrity of the Academy Awards, it has created a very public rift between independent producers, actors, directors, and critics against the “establishment,” AND it hasn’t even worked:
- Hollywood’s all-out war against movie piracy is turning into a big-budget bomb, with illegal copies of virtually every new release – and even some films that have yet to debut in theaters – turning up on the Internet.
Sophisticated computer users currently can download pirated versions of titles ranging from “Bad Santa” to “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” While some of the versions are crude copies made by camcorders aimed at theater screens, a surprising number are nearly pristine transfers.
The abundance of bootlegs arrives just as the movie studios have launched their most aggressive campaign yet to protect their business from the rampant downloading that has plagued the record industry. As part of this antipiracy initiative, the studios have done everything from banning the distribution of free DVDs to awards voters to stationing security guards equipped with night-vision goggles inside Hollywood premieres to spot camcorder users.
The steps may have made some thievery more difficult, but overall, piracy appears to be up from previous years, when an avalanche of year-end awards DVDs and videos, or “screeners” as they are called, flooded the entertainment and media communities. In fact, the new security measures seem only to have emboldened some pirates.
The Motion Picture Assn. of America says that last year it found at least 163,000 Web sites offering pirated movies. The number is likely to go up to 200,000 sites by the end of the year, said Tom Temple, the association’s director of worldwide Internet enforcement.
….As part of the campaign against movie piracy, the MPAA on Sept. 30 banned the seven major studios and their specialty film divisions from sending out free movies to anyone but the 5,800 Academy Awards voters. Oscar voters, furthermore, can only receive specially marked videocassettes and not DVDs, which provide better masters for bootlegs. The move infuriated the makers of lower-budget movies and less conventional fare, who feared the true motive for the ban was to bring Oscar attention back to big studio releases.
….The MPAA ban is now at the center of a lawsuit in New York, where on Wednesday a federal judge heard a full day of testimony on a challenge by a group of independent filmmakers to the screener edict. MPAA President Jack Valenti testified that the prohibitions were necessary to combat the illegal copying and sale of videotapes and DVDs.
But two independent film producers who are among the plaintiffs in the case testified that the distribution of screeners is essential to their strategy of marketing independent films based on good reviews, word of mouth, mentions on critics’ Top 10 lists and, eventually, awards nominations. [LA Times]