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MPAA denies control over ban

Group claims it’s not responsible for banning screener videos

A lawyer for the Motion Picture Association of America denied responsibility Wednesday for a policy partially banning distribution of special video copies to awards groups, something small filmmakers said could ruin them.

THE LAWYER, Richard Cooper, made the denial as he urged a federal court judge to reject a demand by small filmmaking companies to order the distribution to resume. That would let awards voters watch films at home rather than at studio screenings.

“The MPAA has no control over the studios,” Cooper said. “It is a mere mouthpiece.”

Fourteen filmmaking companies sued the MPAA in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Monday after the trade group announced Sept. 30 that it was banning distribution of “screeners” because some copies had ended up on eBay or as bootlegged DVDs.

It later retreated, saying it would send copies to about 5,600 Academy Awards voters but not to the far larger pool that votes on lesser honors such as the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild awards and critics’ prizes.

The small production companies said their movies would lose awards and critical buzz and ultimately the financing they need to make films.

Judge Michael Mukasey said he’ll rule after a Dec. 3 hearing on whether to allow screener copies to be sent out in the next few months.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Cooper said the MPAA banned screeners to take “a stand on a matter that is a grave danger to this industry.”

“This case is about piracy” and the potential loss of thousands of jobs, he said.


On behalf of the independent filmmakers, lawyer Gregory L. Curtner accused the MPAA of using the piracy issue to protect big-budget films made by large studios from the growing success of independent films.

Curtner said small films aren’t pirated, so they shouldn’t be blocked from distribution to as many as 15,000 award voters, critics and reporters.

He said a restraining order “would simply restore freedom of choice to the film distributor to make a decision on a film-by-film basis.”

Outside court, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte of Antidote International Films Inc. found himself in a heated discussion with Simon Barsky, general counsel to the MPAA.

“You’re killing independent filmmaking,” Levy-Hinte said.

But Barsky called it a “fight about the survival of this industry” as moviemakers fear they might face the fate of the music industry, which he said has lost a quarter of its sales in the past three years from illegal pirating of songs.

“Right now there are holes in the bottom of the boat,” Barsky said. “My job ... is to make sure the boat doesn’t sink.”

Levy-Hinte countered: “What they’ve done is throw the independent filmmakers over the ship. ... This does not stop piracy. This stops independent filmmaking.”

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