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11.11.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Motion Picture video “screener” ban altered

After weeks of hostility over a ban of video “screeners” that make it more convenient for industry members to judge motion pictures for awards, Hollywood’s major film studios have partially lifted their controversial prohibition, but failed to calm criticism and controversy.

Now the studio-backed Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) says it’s okay to send out specially encoded videocassettes—but not DVDs—to Academy members of films vying for Oscars. However, the ban continues to extend to other motion picture award groups.

The original ban caused a huge outcry from independent filmmakers, actors, directors, and the art-house divisions of the major studios. The groups claimed the ban created an unequal playing field in the competition for Oscars given out each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The major studios contend the screeners have been illegally copied, or pirated, and sold on the black market or distributed free on the Internet. Under the deal, any member whose ID’d tape fell into the wrong hands would be expelled from the Academy. Recipients of the tapes will be made to sign a contract.

Under a compromise, the MPAA will send specially encoded tapes to Oscar voters, but not to members of groups such as the Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Awards from those groups are handed out ahead of the Oscars and often influence choices made by Oscar voters.

Last week the Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax Films, called on Hollywood’s major studios to relax a controversial new rule. In the industry newspaper, the Daily Variety, Weinstein wrote that he and the chiefs of other studio divisions specializing in art house films want critics and industry groups to receive the tapes during awards season.

“Even though the Academy ban has been repealed, we do not feel that our mission is complete,” Weinstein wrote. “There is similarly no reason to discriminate against any members of the media” such as the critics or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Jean Oppenheimer, whose Los Angeles Film Critics Association will not give out its awards this year because of the ban. “We find those smaller (independent) films, and when we find them, that brings them to the attention of the Academy and the greater public,” she said.

The critics argue that it is impossible to see all the films vying for Oscars in theaters. “This is not a rescinding of the ban, so we are sticking with our decision, with great reluctance,” Oppenheimer told the New York Times.

For more informtaion visit Motion Picture Association of America.

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