Confab panel looks at piracy and exhibs

'Hulk' bootleg appeared 2 weeks before pic's U.S. bow

AMSTERDAM — Several hard-luck stories and a single tale about a notable success dominated a Cinema Expo sesh on movie piracy Tuesday.

Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner Bros. international distribution prexy, detailed piracy woes with recent tentpolers “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” And U.K.-based piracy fighter Spencer Mott told of a Scottish DVD copy of Universal’s “The Hulk” that circulated a full two weeks before last weekend’s U.S. bow of the comicbook actioner.

But Paul Hanneman, exec VP of international sales and strategic planning at 20th Century Fox, was able to boast that distrib’s “X2: The X-Men United” repped the first recent event pic to get through its opening weekend without a pirated copy of the movie hitting the Internet.

Bad and getting worse

All participants in the trade show sesh agreed movie piracy is getting worse and must be stopped.

“If we lose this battle, less and less people will go to the theater to see movies,” Kwan-Rubinek said. “Why should they, when they can see movies online?”

Movie piracy worsened severely in just the year between the first and second “Harry Potter” releases, she said.

“I refer to it as thievery, because that’s what it is,” Motion Picture Assn. prexy Jack Valenti told the assembled exhibs in taped remarks. “(Piracy) broods over our industry like a very dark and clinging shadow.”

Mott, who heads the Federation Against Copyright Theft, noted pirates make no bones about their products being imperfect copies of Hollywood movies.

He said the “Hulk” copy came labeled with a cheeky disclaimer stating: “It’s not perfect. … If you want perfect, don’t buy from pirates. Buy from HMV (retail stores).”

‘X2’ success

The successful launch of “X2” was largely due to its simultaneous bow in an unprecedented 93 countries around the world, Fox’s Hanneman said. That got it into theaters before pirates could copy the pic.

But execs also stressed a new emphasis on antipiracy safeguards at movie studios and cinemas. Those include checking for camcorders at pre-release screenings and spot checks of projection booths at movie theaters.

Additional cinema safeguards include increased security during the delivery of film prints and the exclusion of non-essential personnel from technical “dry-run screenings” prior to initial public showtimes. It was at one such tech screening that a camcorder-wielding pirate copied “Reloaded” in an unspecified British cinema.

Before such incidents became public knowledge, exhibs assumed pic piracy was mostly the result of inadequate studio security, said Nigel Sharrocks, managing director of Warner Bros. Pictures U.K.

“Identifying the piracy source has had a galvanizing effect on the U.K. (exhibition) industry,” Sharrocks said.

Indifferent enforcement

Conventional law enforcement still appears uninterested, however, said Roger Harris, a veep at U.K. exhib UCI.

“Government and the police have not yet recognized the problem nor been as supportive as they should be,” Harris said.

Aiming to spread its antipiracy message, Fox engaged cast and crew from “X2” in a series of public-service trailers. The studio also aims to hit the airwaves with a set of antipiracy TV spots in mid-July.

Cinema Expo 2003 continues through Thursday.