Gauls attempt tricks to foil piracy

Disposable discs make secure screeners

PARIS — Like Motion Picture Academy members at Oscar time, voters in France’s Cesar Awards have gotten used to receiving dozens of movie DVDs ahead of Gaul’s kudofest, which takes place Feb 21.

But this year they won’t need to make shelf room in their private movie library for Gus Van Sant’s Palme d’Or winning “Elephant,” nominated for a best foreign film Cesar — and not because of any screener ban.

In an industry first, the pic’s Gallic distributor, MK2, sent out throwaway discs that oxidize, becoming unreadable 48 hours after opening.

Gallic rapper M.C. Solaar used the state-of-the-art technology, known as Flexplay, for the recent promotion of his latest record. But this is the first time it has been used to distribute a feature-length film.

“We did it as a symbolic gesture against piracy,” MK2 topper Marin Karmitz tells Variety. “It is hypocritical to tell young people not to download films on the Internet while giving free DVDs away to people in the industry.”

Karmitz goes on: “It is a way of trying to raise awareness of piracy in France. Piracy doesn’t only concern the big American blockbusters — it harms all creative endeavors.”

The DVDs manufactured by Technicolor Home Entertainment Services, a division of Thomson, cost between x2 and x3 ($2.57 and $3.85) apiece, compared with around $1.92 for a normal blank DVD, Karmitz says. The chemicals used for the oxidizing process don’t harm DVD players, even if the disc is left inside, experts say.

MK2 isn’t the only Gallic film company with the bit between its teeth over piracy.

In another initiative, UGC recently created a trick DiVx Web file posing as a downloadable copy of Jan Kounen’s new actioner “Blueberry,” which bowed in French theaters Feb 11.

A few minutes into the film, deliberately made to appear as poor quality as possible, Kounen and the pic’s star, Vincent Cassel, pop up on the screen, urging viewers that they’d have a much better time watching it at their local theater instead.

In order not to alienate fans who have spent three days or more downloading it, the fake file contains a “bonus” with exclusive footage from the film shoot, turning it into a collectors’ item.

The file — which was more about promoting Blueberry than attacking piracy — was the brainchild of UGC multimedia director Driss Boubekeur.

“As far as I know this is the first time that p-to-p (peer-to-peer) networks have been used to promote a film,” Boubekeur says. “The idea came from the simple observation that lots of people are connected to the Internet, lots of people download films and they want to see ‘Blueberry.’ ”

Measuring how many people have actually downloaded the file is currently impossible, Boubekeur says, but a Web site, which invited fans to click on an address that links to where they could access it, recorded 20,000 clicks in two days, he notes.

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