Oscar DVD ban may be relaxed for Academy members only. They'd get encrypted VHS tapes, while other voters -- the guilds, the film critics -- would still get nothing

By Gary Susman
Updated October 21, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Message from the Motion Picture Association of America to Academy Awards voters: We’re not so worried anymore that you all may be potential pirates. Everyone else in the industry is still suspect, however.

That seems to be the latest missive in the war over the MPAA’s ban on sending screener videos to Academy members and other year-end awards voters, a war that has pitted the MPAA and the major studios that are its members, who all say that the ban will stem piracy, against virtually everyone else in Hollywood, arguing that the ban unfairly tilts the awards playing field away from the more sparsely distributed movies that have grabbed awards glory (and box office bounce) in recent years. Three weeks into the ban, both Reuters and Variety are reporting that the MPAA may finally back down and allow a compromise, but a very limited one. An announcement is expected this week of a compromise that would allow the studios to send VHS screeners (not DVDs), encoded so that leaked copies could be traced back to their source. However, Variety reports, the screeners would likely go to Academy members only, not to groups that determine other awards like the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and film critics groups’ prizes.

Such a move would still leave many thousands of awards voters, most of them Hollywood insiders, without screeners. Critics groups are feeling especially hard-hit; the Los Angeles Film Critics Association has already canceled its awards over the ban, and the New York Film Critics Circle is mulling a course of action, Variety reports. But it’s the smaller films themselves that could be hurt the most by such a move. Last year, it was the film critics groups who helped put ”The Pianist” and its star Adrien Brody on the awards map; had the screener ban been in effect, the movie could well have gone unnoticed by both the Academy and audiences.