MPAA, Academy Announce Compromise on Screeners

ON

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Frank Pierson and Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti announced today that a compromise has been reached on the issue of the distribution of “screener” copies of pictures in contention for 2003 honors. Both officials characterized the plan as a one-year experiment.

The compromise will allow screeners to be distributed to members of the Academy who sign a binding agreement with their organization which obligates them to make only personal use of them and to protect them from circulating or being copied.

Both Valenti and Pierson emphasized that the compromise should work on the one hand to allay the fears of film artists that smaller, less-widely-distributed pictures would not be able to compete for Academy Awards® on an even footing with larger studio productions this year, and on the other hand to give the studios some reassurance about the piracy issues that had originally led the MPAA to announce that no 2003 screeners would be distributed.

In a joint statement, Valenti and Pierson said “Defeating piracy in the digital world must be the prime concern of film communities not only in the U.S., but around the world.”

“The practice of sending out huge numbers of screeners without suitable protection produced grave dangers in the new digital environment,” Pierson added. “It could not have been allowed to continue.”

Pierson said that when the screener ban was originally announced, his organization had taken no position on the issue. “We had never been directly involved in the distribution of tapes and DVDs, and the Academy was prepared to maintain its distance from the subject. But as the days wore on, and more and more fears were expressed in news articles, op-ed pieces and letters to me from our members, I thought it might be appropriate for me to call Jack and see if a compromise might be worked out.”

“And let me emphasize,” Pierson said, “that at the time-somewhat to my surprise, frankly-every one of those pieces I had seen had emphasized the damage that could be done to our art form and to the credibility of our awards if the smaller films weren’t able to compete for Academy Awards, rather than awards in general. That was what prompted my phone call to Jack.”

“I came to him with a very specific proposal. We at the Academy had drafted a contract that our members would have to sign that was short and specific and carried a full set of teeth. I also showed him a cover letter designed to make our members fully aware of the new conditions with respect to screeners and piracy. And may I add that in the days since, Jack Valenti has worked like a man possessed to see that this compromise stayed alive. He never lost sight of the concerns of his members, but he demonstrated as he has so often that he understands that movies are an art form as well as a business.”

The Academy’s contract with its members specifies that in order to receive screeners they must agree to keep them under their control at all times, protect them from being reproduced in any fashion, and, at the end of the awards season, securely dispose of any they do not wish to retain.

Signers who fail to live up to the terms of the agreement face expulsion from the Academy as well as possible legal action from the copyright holders if a pirated screener is traced back to them.

The Academy will collect the names of those members who sign the agreement, and convey them and a designated secure shipping address for each to the studios. The studios, as in the past, will handle the mailings themselves.

Valenti emphasized that none of his companies is obligated to deliver screeners of any of its films. Each one will send only the titles it chooses to send, and some may choose to send none at all.

Recognizing that various other groups which annually vote motion picture awards have expressed disappointment at not being included in the compromise plan, Valenti emphasized that the MPAA would organize special theatrical screenings in Los Angeles and New York for as many of those groups as possible.

Both Pierson and Valenti said they hope that all those who work in any aspect of the movie industry see this as a worthy experiment. “I believe that even those groups who are not totally satisfied will recognize the urgent need to curtail the pirating of our industry’s finest works,” Pierson said.