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Solidarity on screeners

Variety editorial

This week’s out-of-court settlement between the MPAA and independent filmmakers is likely to prevent an antagonistic public battle over the screener ban. But there’s still plenty of PR work to be done on both sides.

On April 12, the MPAA will meet with studio reps, guilds and other orgs to discuss piracy. This meeting should be the first of many. It’s time for all parties to turn turn from internecine battles to long-term solutions.

Nobody disputes that piracy is a growing problem. At ShoWest last week, Warners international distribution prexy Veronika Kwan-Rubinek warned that the German film industry lost $100 million to piracy last year; the U.K. lost $120 million and Russia lost $275 million.

Since the screener ban flared last fall, the studios have taken a number of dramatic anti-piracy measures. They’ve gathered evidence tracing leaked Oscar screeners to Academy members (at least one of whom has been ousted from the org), disrupted a piracy ring at a post-production house and uncovered a Fox employee who was allegedly disseminating films online.

But as the studios forge ahead with these and other initiatives, the indies need to be given guarantees that their voices will be heard on security measures and digital formats. Filmmakers, whether working for indies or the studios, need to become a part of the process; if a studio is weighing whether to withhold screeners this coming year, the majors need to do a better job of communicating what’s at stake.

The MPAA, artists and the indies all need each other if they are to avoid the problems that befell the recording industry, which has resorted to lawsuits against its own customers in an effort to curb free downloading of music. That’s the kind of PR the film industry doesn’t need.

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