Gov't bans English-language imported discs

PARIS — Controversy is raging in France over a government crackdown on the sale of U.S. imported DVDs that allow consumers to see movies before their theatrical release.

Beginning Jan. 1, stores will have to clear their shelves of the offending discs or risk a brush with the law. The ban is detailed in a Culture Ministry decree that also shortens the window for DVD and video from nine to six months after theatrical release.

Titles affected include “Chicken Run,” which recently opened in French theaters, “Gladiator,” “Mission: Impossible 2″ and “The Perfect Storm.”

Until now, the French authorities have tolerated the sale of so-called zone 1 DVDs when they were in English only, on the assumption that few French people would bother to buy them.

Zone 1 discs that were dubbed or subtitled in French were already banned — ensuring that most French consumers waited to buy zone 2 DVDs, timed to come out after local theatrical releases.

But in the past couple of years, France’s burgeoning DVD market has grown into a multimillion-dollar business, with retail sales this year expected to reach 2.5 billion francs ($341 million).

The 1.5%-2% of those sales comprising English-language zone 1 discs and what they could rep in lost cinema ticket sales have also become a factor.

“The law was incomplete,” Jean Yves Mirski, managing director of France’s Video Editors Union told Daily Variety. “We are glad it has been revised.”

But in a double page spread on the controversy, the daily newspaper Liberation lashed out at what it called French government “protectionism.”

Store owners, whose shelves in the pre-holiday period are loaded with large numbers of zone 1 DVDs, are seething about the ban.

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