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Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Hollywood backs down, will use screening tapes

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

Jack Valenti, the motion picture lobbyist who incited a revolt in Hollywood when the major studios barred DVDs or videotapes from being distributed for awards consideration in an effort to thwart piracy, announced on Thursday that movies would be sent out to Academy Award voters.

The compromise, expected for several days, means that only the 5,600 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will receive videotapes only -- not DVDs -- and the tapes will be encoded so they can easily be tracked if they end up online or sold on the black market. But while the compromise was meant to appease major studios worried about piracy and the boutique studios that feared their movies would not be seen by Oscar voters, it has caused a backlash among other organizations that give out awards and will not receive the tapes.

Lorenzo Soria, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globe awards, sent a letter to Valenti, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, saying "it is inherently unfair to provide screeners to one organization and dismiss the needs of the others."

The Screen Actors Guild said in its letter to Valenti, "The implication of your action is that you regard Screen Actor Guild members as less trustworthy than Academy members."

And several of the smaller film companies affiliated with large studios who were among the first to complain about the ban are preparing a response which they expect to release yesterday.

Valenti said in an interview that only academy members would get the videotapes because it is a group that encompassed all movie industry disciplines and was one of the only groups that could provide expulsion as a mechanism to punish offenders.

"I think people value their academy membership more than their children," he said.

He said that all members would be required to sign a pledge to not distribute the screeners to friends or family members. If the screener is found online or sold on the black market the person who initially received it will be expelled from the academy.

Like the Recording Industry Association of America, which sued 261 people in an effort to thwart piracy, the motion picture group has the right to sue anyone who distributes content illegally.

And some recent studies suggest that piracy in the movie industry is conducted largely by insiders. In fact Valenti has often said that of the 68 screeners distributed last year, 34 were pirated. Academy members were also then barred from giving out screeners.

Despite that, Valenti said the association would not sue academy members.

"That has not been brought up," he said. "We have zero plans to file civil or criminal suits."

Several studios were adamantly opposed to sending out screeners but later changed their minds, including Warner Brothers Pictures, whose chief executive Barry Meyer came up with the idea.

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