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12.22.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Screener decision sends filmmakers scrambling

A federal judge has told the Motion Picture Association of America that its ban on video "screeners" to some movie awards groups is a restraint of trade and is illegal. The movie producers had argued that widespread distribution of such screeners subjected their valuable motion picture assets to piracy.

Since the judge's decision earlier this month, a race has developed -pitting major studios against smaller independents - to get video copies of films into the hands of every awards voter possible before another judge gets a chance to overturn the decision.

Some of the largest studios aren't cooperating, however, causing an erratic awards season. Miramax, for example, began shipping screeners of four of its films to non-Oscar awards, while its parent Disney, along with Warner Brothers, said it will not send out screeners to people other than the Oscar voters who signed the legally binding promise to keep them secure from pirates.

The Motion Picture Association of America has vowed to appeal the judge's decision, which accepted the argument that the ban injured smaller, independent film producers. Rich Taylor, the association spokesman, said the appeal would be filed "some time in the next couple of weeks." That effectively means any court action will now come after the awards season.

Gregory Curtner, the lawyer for the independent studios and producers who sued the motion picture association to reverse the ban, warned that the studios might be legally liable if they did not send out screeners, because the judge considered the original ban to be a conspiracy.

"If they don't send out screeners, I'll take that as a sign that they've apparently continued their conspiracy, and I may need to add them as a party to the lawsuit and then seek an injunction against them," Curtner said. "If they continue to honor the ban, they're still conspiring, as far as I'm concerned."

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