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Studios Meet but Let 'Screener' Ban Stand

October 17, 2003|Lorenza Munoz and John Horn Times Staff Writers | Times Staff Writers

Representatives of seven major studios left in place their ban on the circulation of awards-season DVDs and videos after a Thursday conference call with Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Jack Valenti.

A spokesman for the MPAA said "deliberations were ongoing" but didn't offer specific dates for future meetings. Critics of the ban had hoped the call would yield a revision of the policy.

The Sept. 30 decision to ban the award "screeners" has met with objections from directors, the Writers Guild of America, critics groups and the studios' own art-house divisions.

Throughout the day, there was speculation that a compromise on the ban could be reached. According to sources familiar with the discussions, one idea was to allow screeners to be sent only to the approximately 6,000 voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Those movies would be encoded with the voter's name so that pirated copies could be tracked down and the owners of the tapes punished.

That proposal wouldn't allow studios and their specialized film units to send screeners to other organizations that bestow awards, such as the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. In addition, some say encoding could be prohibitively expensive.

Before the 90-minute conference call began, 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Chairman Jim Gianopulos urged that his studio colleagues stick together and support the ban.

Fox declined to comment Thursday.

The MPAA has said the ban was intended to curb illegally pirated movies generated from the screeners, which are circulated usually as soon as or often before the movies are released theatrically. But the policy was quickly attacked by a variety of industry players, who complained that it would unfairly punish smaller movies that have factored so heavily in recent Academy Awards.

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