Screener mortis

Variety Editorial

The major studios have put up a united front in declaring an end to screeners this Oscar season. Behind that show of strength, however, lie conflicting agendas and a nagging sense of futility.

Banning DVDs and videocassettes is an attempt by the Motion Picture Assn. of America to deter would-be pirates. The specter of piracy is one concern all MPAA members share.

Such a partial, limited action though seems to us too little, too late when it comes to stemming the floodgates of worldwide copyright theft. It is analogous to the RIAA’s controversial initiative to sue 160 citizens who are regular downloaders of music from the Internet.

And in any case movie pirates stand to make more money from not Oscar contenders, but blockbuster blowouts. The move may not even score particularly high on the public relations front.

For one thing, Academy members will be greatly inconvenienced by the lack of cassettes and DVDs and the need to fight traffic to see a host of pics at official Oscar screenings. And studios will have to adjust quickly to get their messages out.

Indie companies and specialty labels within the studio system are livid about the whole thing, claiming the MPAA-sponsored move will unfairly harm their Oscar prospects. Some of them have already sent advance screener tapes to the post office and have already planned their Oscar campaigns around these screeners.

The most uncomfortable conclusion here is that the well-intentioned opponents of piracy have chosen the wrong platform for their crusade. The voters and the Oscars themselves may wind up the victims.

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