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'Painted' DVD unveiled too early

Netflix mistakenly sends to a customer a 'screener' intended only for awards season voters.

January 27, 2007|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Last week, with their toddler asleep in bed, Marco and Shaheena Simons finally had the chance to watch Warner Bros.' romantic drama "The Painted Veil" on DVD.

But they were stunned when a warning popped up on their television screen. It read in part: "Do not loan, rent, sell, give away or otherwise transfer to any third party for any reason."

It turns out the video they were watching was an awards season "screener" -- one of Hollywood's most coveted perks -- that they received from an unlikely source: online video renter Netflix Inc.

"The Painted Veil," starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, is still in theaters and isn't even out on DVD.

The screener was intended to be sent only to members of Film Independent, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the annual Spirit Awards in Santa Monica. Three years ago, hoping to increase access to little seen independent films, the group signed a deal with Netflix to send out screeners to its members.

Hollywood is especially sensitive when screeners of films up for awards get out to the public. Despite efforts by the studios and their lobbying arm, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, to curtail illegal access to movies, unauthorized copies of screeners have illegally made their way to the Internet.

Warner Bros., one of the most aggressive studios in addressing piracy and illegal access to movies, was not pleased that Netflix sent "The Painted Veil" to the Simons family, even if it was inadvertent.

"We take these matters seriously and are fully investigating the matter," a Warner Bros. spokesman said.

Once the studio determines what happened, it will decide whether to continue allowing screeners to be distributed through Netflix.

According to Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, "a handful" of unauthorized viewers received the movie because of a computer glitch.

"The intent of the service is to bring awareness to these small titles, and it serves that very well," he said. "I imagine anytime you have a system like this there will be a glitch, and this is a tiny one. The system is now secure."Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, credited Netflix with raising the profile of many lesser known movies.

"We really want to bring attention to this movie -- but in the right way," she said. "Everyone has spent a lot of time and resources making sure this is a secure site. Everybody is looking into what happened."

For Shaheena Simons, a civil rights lawyer who lives in Maryland, receiving a screener "was kind of strange and unexpected." Simons and her husband rely on Netflix because they have a young child, making it difficult to get out to the movies.

"It would be great if we could get all the current releases this way," Marco Simons said, "but unfortunately I think this is a one-shot deal."

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lorenza.munoz@latimes.com

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