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Update: Closed DVD System May Thwart Awards Pirates

2 Sep, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) will greet the upcoming awards season with a closed-DVD-screener system to get movies into the hands of awards voting members and keep them out of the hands of movie pirates.

“The Academy has made arrangements for each member to receive a special DVD player that has been programmed to play encrypted screeners, which a number of studios plan to create and distribute to Academy members,” Academy president Frank Pierson wrote in an Aug. 27 letter to members. “If one of these screeners gets lost in the mail or intercepted by someone in the mail room, no one needs to worry that it will turn out to be the source of a pirated version on the Internet. The discs simply won't play on a standard DVD player.”

Members were given an option to return cards declining the players by Sept. 10. The letter also notes that the Academy will not require, as it did last year, that voters sign pledges to keep screeners close.

Cinea, a subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories Inc., developed the players and is giving them to voting members of the two organizations.

BAFTA has agreed to try Cinea's secure DVD players to try to ensure the security of films under consideration for the Orange British Academy Film Awards, to be held Feb. 12 in London.

AMPAS, meanwhile, is leaving it up to the studios whether to use the system, which allows secure encryption technology that lets the supplier tag discs so that as few as one person can view them.

“We wanted to be ahead of the curve with a system in our members' hands in case anyone decided encoded DVDs is how they wanted to go,” said AMPAS spokesman John Pavlik. “At least they'd have one in place. Whether anyone will use it or not is a business decision of Cinea and the studios.”

DVDs encrypted by Cinea's S-VIEW system will only play in an authorized Cinea DVD player, called the SV300. Since each player is individually addressable, distributors can target precisely who can view their content, from thousands of people to just a few. The players are backward-compatible with standard DVDs.

Cinea will fund the production and deployment of professional-grade players, as well as provide service and support for their deployment this fall, and has vowed to make the SV300 DVD players available under the same terms to any of the awards programs the studios target during the 2004-2005 awards season. A spokesperson said the company is negotiating with studios about applications for screeners and postproduction uses.

Some view the system as at least a partial solution to the leaks that have plagued Academy Awards screeners for years.

Leaks to Internet file-trading sites were so prevalent last year that the Motion Picture Association of America ordered a screener ban, forbidding its member studios to send discs to voting members. That prompted a lawsuit by some independent studios, whose leaders feared that awards voters would never even see their films. A judge overturned the ban, leaving the parties to work out a less risky way for voters to see the movies.

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