Italo court ruling fuels windows debate

Italo cell-phone users could download “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Dec. 27 after Hutchinson 3G won the legal right to distribute as downloads films it acquired from Eagle Pictures with a mere 10-day theatrical window.

The Milan court ruling adds a new twist to the spat pitting Italian exhibitors against Hong Kong-based Italo mobile phone operator H3G, which has 4.8 million customers.

Dispute erupted last month after H3G said it intended to offer “The Interpreter” as a download while the pic was still playing in local cinemas. Local exhibs pulled the Sydney Pollack pic from cinemas in protest.

Eagle Pictures tried to rescind its deal with H3G, which instead took legal action against the prominent Italo distrib.

Eagle Pictures reps were not available for comment.

“We absolutely cannot accept that a firstrun movie becomes available on mobile devices 10 days after its release,” said Paolo Protti, chief of Italy’s exhibitors org Anec.

“We reacted for ‘The Interpreter’ and will do the same with other titles,” the incensed exhibs rep warned.

The distribution dispute is turning Italy into a laboratory for thrashing out global guidelines for rights deals for cell phones and other wireless devices, a hot topic at last month’s American Film Market, where IFTA said it was drafting a model licensing agreement.

H3G has said it intends to become the world’s first company to offer a firstrun movie on a phone, at a cost of E9 ($10.50) for an unlimited number of viewings in a week’s time.

Earlier this month, H3G acquired Italo terrestrial TV station Canale 7, making entertainment content central to its expansion and claiming to became Europe’s first “mobile media company.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more