New York, Dec. 6 (Reuters): Independent film producers won a major court battle yesterday when a federal judge stopped big studios from enforcing the so-called “Oscars screener” ban that prevents advance copies of films being sent to movie award judges.
In his ruling, US district judge Michael Mukasey sided with independent film producers who accused the Motion Picture Association of America of participating in an anti-trust conspiracy to limit the smaller movie makers’ exposure during the annual award season.
Mukasey issued a preliminary injunction against the MPAA and refused the group’s request to stay his order.
The producers argued that the advance copies, known as screeners, allow voters and critics to watch competing movies at home rather than at studio screenings held only in certain locations. They said the ban threatened their livelihood by limiting their chances to get awards, thus hurting possible ticket sales and making it more difficult to get financing.
Mukasey said the independent film producers had shown they would be irreparably hurt because the award season had already started and the ban had already prevented them from sending out screeners in two competitions.
“Plaintiffs have shown they are at risk of loss of revenues as a result of the screener ban,” he said. Simon Barsky, general counsel for the MPAA, said the group would appeal, probably within two weeks.
MPAA chief executive Jack Valenti said the screener policy was aimed at curtailing movie piracy. “We know, without dispute, that in the past screeners have been sources for pirated goods both domestically and overseas. We will appeal because the impact and growing threat of piracy is real.”
Ted Hope, an independent producer whose films include In the Bedroom and this year’s art-house hit American Splendor, said he was thrilled with the ruling. He said he had run out during the hearing and notified distributors they could send out advance movie copies.
“It’s a win for the independents, but also a win for the whole industry and really for the film-going public because it assures a diversity of films can get out in the marketplace,” said Dawn Hudson, executive director of Independent Feature Project Los Angeles, part of the coalition that sued the MPAA.
In response to the ban, some critics groups like the Los Angeles Film Critics Association had cancelled their awards, and their immediate reaction to the judge’s decision was cautious given the vow by the MPAA’s Valenti to appeal.