Studios hint at compromise over Oscar DVD ban. Hollywood's top moguls meet in response to the industry-wide backlash over their anti-piracy move

By Gary Susman
Updated October 17, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Motion Picture Association of America, which has faced near-universal opposition from Hollywood’s top directors and actors since its recent announcement of a ban on Oscar-season videos to awards voters, may be about to back down. MPAA chief Jack Valenti met Thursday via teleconference with executives from the seven major Hollywood studios that are MPAA members (along with execs from non-members New Line and DreamWorks) to discuss possible compromises to the ban, and while no decision was reached, some alternatives remained on the table, Reuters reports.

While Valenti, in announcing the ban on Sept. 30, said its purpose was to stem piracy, members of the art-film community — particularly from the MPAA studios’ specialized divisions like Fox Searchlight and Universal’s Focus — have said the ban will hurt their sparsely distributed movies at awards time, and at the box office. One studio executive said he’d rather see one jailed pirate than win an Oscar, a source told Reuters. Still, a source told the Hollywood Reporter, ”Everybody was hoping to find a way to [resume the use of screeners]. The question is, how do you get them into the right hands? Nobody has an interest in letting them get out to everybody’s relative.”

The Academy, which has been reluctant to weigh in on the issue out of fear of showing favoritism, floated its own proposal — that it send out the screeners itself to its voting members. That idea didn’t fly, according to the Reporter, since it would still not address the screener issue for other voting groups (like the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes-granting Hollywood Foreign Press Association), and since it seemed unlikely that the Academy, which has moved the awards ceremony up a month in 2004, would be able to handle the logistics of sending out the screeners. A more popular idea has been to maintain the ban on DVD screeners but to send out harder-to-copy VHS cassettes, electronically watermarked so as to be able to trace leaked copies back to the source.

It wasn’t clear when talks would resume or when a decision might be reached. ”We are still deliberating,” MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor said in a statement. ”There will be future talks and if there is something that warrants an announcement, we will announce it.”