Fri, Oct 03, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US filmmakers slam MPAA's new anti-piracy effort

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

Independent filmmakers on Wednesday strongly criticized a decision by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to stop sending out copies of new movies in advance of the awards season in an effort to halt piracy.

The Independent Feature Project, which represents 9,000 independent filmmakers, said that the decision would severely hurt independent films and filmmakers.

In recent years, studios and independent companies have distributed copies of new movies on DVD and videotape before the Academy Awards season, to enable voters to watch the films at home instead of going to a theater or screening room. The so-called screeners have been especially beneficial to smaller independent companies, which cannot compete financially with the big studios but have earned numerous Academy Award nominations because many voters saw their films at home.

On Tuesday, the Motion Picture Association halted distribution of the screeners in an effort to curb piracy, a growing concern among studios.

The director Robert Altman said in a phone interview that his own films, like The Player and Gosford Park, as well as acclaimed independent movies like The Piano, Shine and Boys Don't Cry, would have failed to receive Academy Award nominations and would have suffered at the box office had advance copies not been available to voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"The members of the academy would not have seen these films," Altman said. "There's so much opposition to this. I've been on the phone all day. It's got to get overturned. It will create this separation between two kinds of product: studio product and independent product."

"It's just a stupid assumption that this will stop piracy," he added.

The Independent Feature Project said in a statement that the ban on screeners was an "ill advised and hasty course of action." The group said that there were ways to stop piracy, including watermarking and individually numbering screeners so that those who seek to pirate films can be traced.

"We're very sympathetic to the issues of piracy," said Dawn Hudson, executive director of the Independent Feature Project/Los Angeles, "but the ramifications of this action by the MPAA are extremely damaging to the independent film community. They have just created more obstacles for independents to reach an audience."

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