Euro commissioner: R.I.P. UIP

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s audiovisual chief said Tuesday he wants to do away with an agreement that has allowed Paramount, MGM and Universal to distribute films in Europe via United Intl. Pictures.

However, commissioner Joao de Deus Pinheiro said he would propose a transition period to avoid an abrupt impact on the market.

“You cannot change the situation just like that,” he told reporters. “Otherwise it will cause disruption.”

The move against UIP would be warmly welcomed by European filmmakers who are waging a campaign against Hollywood domination.

The European Commission granted UIP an exemption to EU rules banning anticompetitive business agreements in 1989. The exemption expired in July and the Commission has not yet said whether it would be renewed.

But Deus Pinheiro said a renewal could not be justified, especially since the studios were being allowed to act in a way that would not be tolerated on the American market. “Nobody can explain why (the exemption) was granted,” he said.

He contended UIP controlled 80% of film distribution in Europe — other sources put the figure at closer to 30% — and was able to dictate terms to cinemas, such as forcing them to buy a package of movies in order to procure a “Jurassic Park”-style blockbuster.

Deus Pinheiro said he would make a formal proposal to end the exemption after the commission completes a series of planned discussions, both internally and with outside groups, about EU audiovisual policy — probably in July.

The final decision will be made by the full commission.

Deus Pinheiro, speaking shortly before he attends a film conference in Los Angeles next week, said he was not trying to curtail U.S. exports since European demand for audiovisual products was increasing dramatically.

“What I want in this expanding market is more room for European works and fairer distribution,” he said.

The European Parliament in November demanded non-renewal of the UIP exemption , saying it had hurt European film producers. UIP responded in a statement that the parliament sought to “attribute unwarranted responsibility to UIP for the difficulties experienced by certain elements of the industry.”

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