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Pirates See Booty in Rare or Unreleased Content

18 Apr, 2008 By: Chris Tribbey

Scott Hart, who runs the Web site MustHaveFilms.com, says he provides a service, giving DVD collectors the rare films they couldn't find elsewhere. That was before the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) helped shut the site down this month.

Hart's was just one of many mom-and-pop operations catering to those hunting down rare films that studios haven't released. Hart's Rowlett, Texas-based site carried hundreds of rare films, ranging from the obscure to the desperately desired.

There's the unsold TV pilot “Alexander the Great” starring William Shatner, Adam West and John Cassavetes, the 1971 Willard with Ernest Borgnine, and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Song of the South, arguably the most famous of unreleased Disney vault films? Only $15.95 — with shipping and handling, of course.

“My goal is to help others who are as passionate about movies as I am to be able to watch their favorite films whenever they would like,” Hart said. “I fully support the talent and the creative drive behind the titles and encourage studio releases of every film onto DVD.“Until that happens I try to help keep that movie alive and those talents in front of the film audience.”

The DVDs are not legit. Hart admits it. And his isn't the only site selling copies of DVDs that have never seen a legitimate release.

There's www.downunderdvd.com, which boasts more than 1,000 unreleased movies from a “personal collection” for sale, mostly film noir, adventures and Westerns. The Web site owner, Lane Carson, said being based in Australia has kept him under the radar in terms of copyright violations.

There's also www.cometwesterns.com, which specializes in ‘B' Westerns and serials that have never exited the studios' vaults. The owners of the Web site, Kathy and Tommy Hildreth, said they do not deal in copyrighted work, and they write on their site: “If you find a title that you feel violates a copyright law, or belongs to you, please make me aware of the situation immediately.”

Hart of Must Have Films disputes whether his sales are illegal profits from blatant copyright violations. The MPAA says they are working with law enforcement regarding Hart's sales.

“If he's saying he's justified to release these movies because nobody else has, that's not justification enough,” said John Malcolm, director of worldwide antipiracy for the MPAA.

Malcolm said the studios carefully study the commercial benefits of releasing catalog titles before pulling the trigger, and that the studios are doing their best to be responsive to genre fans.

Bill Hunt, editor of www.TheDigitalBits.com, said hardcore collectors will go to any length to get what they want, even if it is illegal.

“Most collectors would be more than happy to pay higher prices for authorized, higher-quality editions,” Hunt said. “But when the studios and distributors are otherwise unwilling or unable to release them, there's definitely a market out there for these titles any way they can be obtained.”

“It's a real shame that there are so many great films out there that are just fading into obscurity because the major studios don't deem them worthy of a commercial release,” Hart said. “I'll get a request maybe once or twice a year to remove a title, and so far I've never had any conflicts about the issue.”

“We have limited resources so we prioritize our targets,” Malcolm said. But he said sites such as Hart's will eventually get a longer look from the studios and the MPAA.

“I may have some sympathy for the movie lover who wants something they can't get legitimately,” Malcolm said. “That still doesn't give them the right to go into the studio's vault and take it.”

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