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Disney backs anti-piracy technology for Oscar DVDs

Walt Disney plans this week to back an anti-piracy DVD technology that stirred controversy last year in advance of the important Oscar race.

Disney said it would release DVD “screeners” — copies of movies sent to groups that vote on awards — only for DVD players made exclusively by a Dolby Laboratories unit, Cinea, and engineered to thwart illegal copying, Reuters reported.

Hollywood’s awards season is of major importance to the studios because awards help lure moviegoers to theaters, but increasingly screeners have been copied illegally and posted on the Internet or sold in street markets before a film hits theaters.

For years, Hollywood studios have sent screener videos and DVDs to members of voting groups so that if they cannot get to a theater, they can watch the movies at home before they vote.

Two years ago, the studios tried to ban all screeners, but the ban was unsuccessful. Last year, the Cinea players were not sent out soon enough to make an impact, and several non-Oscar groups complained that they were not being given the players.

Now Cinea plans to distribute 12,000 players to members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The DVD players are encoded with recipients’ names, and screeners sent to those people are specifically encrypted so they can be seen only on those particular DVD players.

Representatives for Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Pictures said their studios will not participate in the anti-piracy effort. Others were still considering their options.

The reluctance of competing studios to join in the Cinea effort could represent a challenge to Disney’s award campaign if Disney’s commitment to use only Cinea technology limits the number of award voters who see their films, Reuters noted.

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