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B.O. barriers threatened

U.S. exex, politicos fear vote may spark quotas on exports

Sacre bleu!

Just when Hollywood was starting to count on foreign box office to save its bottom line, France and 190 other countries have laid down another potential roadblock.

The Gauls, who have long supported a “cultural exception” to protect their films and other works from Hollywood incursion, scored a major coup with an Oct. 20 vote by the United Nations’ cultural body, UNESCO, backing such protections.

Only the U.S. and Israel voted against the initiative, with four countries, including Australia, abstaining. The vote still must be ratified by 30 member states to take effect, but the signs for Hollywood’s biz abroad aren’t good.

In the past two years, plenty of U.S. pics drew the bulk of their box office not from the domestic marketplace but from abroad. Overseas earnings for “Kingdom of Heaven,” “The Island” “Troy” and “Alexander” repped more than 70% of those films’ worldwide totals. The foreign market has become a bulwark against soaring production and marketing costs.

U.S. media execs and politicos fear the vote will spark new quotas on film and music exports, particularly in countries like France, where, in the first nine months of 2005, U.S. pics took 57.4% of the market share vs. 37.4% for Gallic films.

And many worry that foreign territories will look increasingly like China in their ability to control pic and TV imports — to the point that consumers wind up getting Hollywood content not through legal channels but through pirated copies.

The UNESCO vote hardly snuck up on Hollywood, though.

After the vote, the MPAA released a Sept. 9 letter from 14 business orgs to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing concerns about the convention.

The MPAA, the RIAA and the Independent Film & Television Alliance were among groups voicing concerns about intellectual property protection, among other things.

And MPAA chairman Dan Glickman issued a brief statement: “We share the concerns … that the Convention appears to be more about trade and commercial activities than about the promotion of cultural diversity.”

Sounds like a talking point for the campaign to come.

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