Web copies unwanted blips for suit

This article was corrected on Dec. 3, 2003.

For conspiracy theorists, the timing is interesting: On the same week that a coalition of indie film companies stand before a Gotham U.S. District Court to protest the MPAA ban on screeners, a Web site is detailing illegal copies of some of their titles, with the claim that they came from screeners.

The Web site VCDQuality.com on Tuesday was providing details of several current titles available for download elsewhere on the Internet, including MGM’s United Artists release “Pieces of April,” Fox Searchlight’s “Thirteen” and Lions Gate pics “The Cooler” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” In each case, the site listed the source for the film as “screener,” with the Lions Gate titles listed as “DVD screeners.” Lions Gate did make its titles available on DVD; an MGM spokesman said the company had sent out “April,” its only awards push, to Academy voters in VHS tape format.

VCDQuality boasts that “April” comes from an awards screener, with the serial number (used to trace the culprit) blurred out. MGM says it’s still trying to track down the source of this copy.

At least one movie-news Web site on Tuesday proclaimed that this was the case with other titles. However, that’s not necessarily a given: Screening copies are sometimes sent to potential overseas distribs, for example, and are unrelated to awards.

The Web site also said “Kill Bill, Vol. 1″ is available from a DVD screener, and Miramax wouldn’t send that out on DVD, since the MPAA agreement stipulates tapes only.

Indie distribs are in court before Judge Michael Mukasey today for an antitrust hearing on the issue of screeners. The indies have long contended that their films are not targets for pirates, and that they should thus be allowed to send out tapes.

But the appearance of these titles, and the inevitable ensuing media attention, could undercut the indie and critics groups’ argument that smaller titles are not what the pirates are after.

On VCDQuality, the “crew” that provides a film copy can add its own comments. The “Pieces of April” copiers somewhat perversely argue for supporting filmmakers even while stealing and reselling their films. The crew that stole Fox Searchlight’s “Thirteen,” calling itself OBUS, writes of the film: “Another fine Academy release … if you get the chance watch movies like this (“Thirteen”) and “Pieces of April” in theaters, the filmmakers deserve your support.”

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