Policy holds until camcorders are illegal

In Hollywood’s ongoing war against piracy, there’s a new mantra: Blame Canada.

Canada?

Asserting that our neighbors to the north have become major suppliers of pirated pics around the globe, Warner Bros. is taking the unprecedented step of canceling all promotional and word of mouth screenings there until the Canadian government makes it illegal to take camcorders into theaters.

According to Warners, more than 70% of all pirated Warners titles released over the past 18 months originated in Canada.

“Within the first week of a film’s release, you can almost be certain that somewhere out there a Canadian copy will show up,” said Darcy Antonellis, Warner Bros. senior VP of worldwide antipiracy operations.

Policy, coming just as the busy summer box office season gets under way, will take effect beginning with “Ocean’s Thirteen,” which bows June 7. Ban also means that Canadian auds won’t get a sneak peak at “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which bows in July. Warners Bros. Pictures Canada will still hold press screenings for credentialed media.

Although Warners is the first to take such a hard-line stance, the other studios are just as frustrated by the Canadian situation.

For instance, 20th Century Fox has talked about pushing back the release date of its pics in Canada because most movies are typically released on the same date there as in the U.S., creating an opportunity for a camcorded copy to flood other markets before the film can officially open.Warners is the first studio, though, that’s willing to sacrifice a valuable marketing tool to take a stand.

“Word of mouth and promotional screenings are a terrific marketing tool, but unfortunately, we had to make some tough decisions until the laws change,” Antonellis said.

Ban on pre-release screenings also covers titles from Warner Independent Pictures. All divisions of Warner Bros. were consulted before the policy was enacted.

In 2005, President Bush signed a law making it a felony to camcord a movie in the U.S. Several other countries have followed suit, but theaters in Canada have no recourse other than to ask someone who is taping a movie to leave.

Warners Bros. Pictures Canada and Canadian theater owners have been working together in trying to encourage the government to take action.

Warner Bros. Pictures Canada also has been in close touch with the Canadian Motion Picture Assn. on lobbying efforts.

So far, though, those efforts haven’t produced the desired results — hence the ban on word of mouth and promotional screenings.

“This is an important step towards curbing piracy on a global scale,” said Warner Bros. Intl. prexy of distribution Veronika Kwan-Rubinek.

“Piracy is the leading issue the international film industry struggles with every day, and Canada is the first place to take action, as Canadian recorded content is distributed and viewed all over the world,” Kwan-Rubinek said.

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