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Everyone Wants A Piece of DVD

3 Oct, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Two unconnected events happened this week that got my mind a-thinkin'.

Earlier this week, the Motion Picture Association of America, the mouth of the Seven Major Studios, announced it would no longer be sending out screeners of films to awards voters because of concerns over piracy. In recent years, these so-called “Oscar screeners” — which contain only the movie, no extras, but typically come out long before most films make it to consumer DVD — have popped up with surprisingly regularity on eBay, the online auction house.

This morning, I checked my e-mail and found a promotional message from eBay, saying some of its most popular categories may now be instantly accessed via keywords. At the top of the list: DVD.

Now, I'm not saying that eBay condones piracy — they've actually been quite good in shutting down suspicious auctions once they're alerted by the studios.

But DVD has become so ingrained in popular culture that everyone wants a piece of it, and the bigger it gets the more vulnerable it is to mischief. Growing the number of DVD households is a good thing, but it also widens the audience for DVD bootlegs. And the nature of the digital technology is such that pirates can make beautiful copies virtually indistinguishable by the real thing. If there's a lag, it's in packaging, but even there we've made tremendous progress in recent years.

I was talking to a source the other day who told me a key catalyst in the studios' decision to stop sending Oscar screeners was an earlier event in China. No sooner had Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets hit the big screen than bootleg DVDs appeared throughout Asia, mostly grainy and wavy — the result of handheld camcorders smuggled into movie theaters, for years the preferred modus operandi of pirates.

But some DVD bootlegs were remarkably clear. Watching them, studio executives who had been given the contraband scratched their heads — until they saw the telltale disclaimer float across the screen.

It's great that eBay is embracing DVD. It's only natural, too, given their appearance at home video trade events to proselytize selling previously viewed DVDs on their site.

But the question remains, how many of these previously viewed DVDs really are previously viewed?

And, more importantly, who did the viewing?

The auctions eBay has shuttered are all for movies not yet issued on DVD. I wonder how many other bootlegs are being sold, without anyone knowing?

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