MPAA proposes move to prevent piracy

The awards season has barely begun, but it’s already chock full of surprises.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America is working with the CEOs of the Hollywood majors on a plan whereby the studios would stop mailing out screeners of eligible films.

Studio execs have long been ambivalent about the process, preferring that their films be seen on the bigscreen. The new plan is not an artistic decision, but a business one: The screener cease-fire is proposed in the name of fighting piracy.

Every year, the studios mail out thousands of screeners, not only to voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, but to voting members of the guilds and organizations such as BAFTA and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

In the past few years, piracy of these screeners has proliferated, particularly of the DVDs. The majors have fretted about piracy, but wondered how to combat it. The mailing of cassettes really picked up steam in the early 1990s.

Studios would presumably adhere to the plan voluntarily, but the proposal has many steps to go before it’s a done deal. If it’s strictly a question of piracy, for example, could a studio mail out a film that’s already debuted on DVD?

There’s also a question of awards voters who don’t live in major cities. The Academy holds screenings in Los Angeles, New York, London and San Francisco, but it’s not clear how a voter in, say, Sydney or Rome could see a late-year debuting film.

The studios would save thousands of dollars in not sending out screeners, but that cost-savings is a minor consideration.

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