MPAA: No More Freebies

Hollywood studios' efforts to win large blocks of voters in the annual Academy Awards may have backfired on them. Free DVD screening copies sent out to voters may have found their way into the hands of offshore pirates, possibly costing the industry millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Since DVD rose to prominence as the video medium of choice, studios have sent out thousands of "screeners" of films nominated for awards. Some of those discs have been replicated and sold en masse, according to an October 1 story by The Wall Street Journal reporter Bruce Orwall. Bootleg copies of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers were available for $3 each in Beijing long before the commercial disc was released in the US. Orwall notes other recent films that have been copied from Oscar screeners include Catch Me if You Can, Chicago, Die Another Day and Gangs of New York." The unauthorized copies have been sold throughout Asia and in some European markets.

On September 30, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced that its members had agreed to stop sending out the free discs as a way to plug the hole. DreamWorks, not a member of the trade group, also agreed to the plan. Many independent distributors have also agreed, but not all. The plan was implemented by MPAA chief executive Jack Valenti, who noted that he received about forty DVDs prior to last year's Oscar race. That level of distribution throughout the industry is a sure path to piracy, he stated.

One Paramount executive we spoke with berated his colleagues for being "too lazy to see the films in the theaters . . . they even have special screenings just for Oscar voters. How much trouble can that be?"