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U.K. film exex fire broadside at piracy

They call for day and date releases, shorter windows

LONDON — The threat of online piracy to the movie business dominated the debate at the British Screen Advisory Council’s annual film conference in London on Thursday.

“We’re about to reach a fork in the road,” warned Icon U.K. chairman Stewart Till. “One fork leads to easy digital distribution, and if it’s done in a controlled way, film revenues could explode. But the other leads to uncontrolled pirated films with no legitimate revenues, and we’ll go the same way as the music business.”

“The new digital model hasn’t kicked in yet, except insofar as it enables piracy,” echoed Stephen Garrett, executive chairman of Kudos Film & TV. “The music industry was the canary in the mine, and we’ve spectacularly failed to learn any lessons from it.”

Patrick Walker, YouTube’s senior director of content partnerships for Europe, Middle East and Africa, suggested that the film industry needs to move more quickly to “develop new models to meet consumer expectations.” YouTube is “trying to work with the industry to protect rights,” he said.

Walker argued that the music industry ran into trouble because of “the big gap between acknowledging piracy was kicking their ass, and doing something about it” by giving consumers a legitimate way to buy music online.

Till argued that the solution for the film industry is to shrink the window between theatrical and online/DVD release to just 30 days; to promote day-and-date theatrical distribution worldwide; and for governments to adopt tougher anti-piracy measures to make illegal downloading as difficult as possible.

Several delegates expressed concern about the likely outcome of the current review of the U.K.’s Intellectual Property regime, initiated by Prime Minister David Cameron and led by Professor Ian Hargreaves.

Film industry lobbyists fear that Hargreaves’ report will recommend loosening copyright protection, to suit the policy goals of Google and Internet service providers.

These concerns were inflamed following a meeting earlier this week between Hargreaves and film and TV reps. They left with the impression that the review will be hostile to rights owners, and will favor the demands of web platforms for greater freedom to use unauthorized audiovisual content to grow their businesses.

Delegates asked culture minister Ed Vaizey for reassurance that the Hargreaves report would not lead the government to soften its anti-piracy stance.

“The views of rights holders are being taken very seriously,” Vaizey said. “The Hargreaves report will be the beginning of the debate. Reports don’t automatically become legislation.”

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