Like the face of a worried Hollywood star, the Oscar screener ban has been lifted a little. After three weeks of opposition to the Motion Picture Association of America's ban on sending year-end videos to awards juries, which sparked massive opposition among filmmakers and actors, the MPAA has backed down just enough to allow screeners to be sent to Oscar voters -- but to no one else. The compromise, announced Thursday, would allow studios to send harder-to-copy VHS tapes, encoded so that leaks can be traced to the source, to the 5,600 members of the Motion Picture Academy, who'll have to sign pledges promising not to share or give away the tapes, upon penalty of expulsion from the Academy.
Hundreds of Hollywood's top creative folks had protested the ban, saying it would do less to stem piracy than it would to damage the Oscar prospects (and box office potential) of exposure-hungry independent movies. The lifting of the ban for the Academy alone will still leave many insiders unhappy, since the MPAA still won't allow screeners to be sent to the thousands of other awards voters whose year-end honors help bring obscure films to the Academy's attention.
According to the New York Times, Lorenzo Soria, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (which presents the Golden Globes), has sent a letter to MPAA chief Jack Valenti, saying: ''It is inherently unfair to provide screeners to one organization and dismiss the needs of the others.'' The Screen Actors Guild, whose awards are also televised, sent Valenti a letter that read: ''The implication of your action is that you regard Screen Actor Guild members as less trustworthy than Academy members.'' The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which threatened to cancel its annual awards if the ban wasn't lifted, stuck to its guns on Thursday, since its members still won't get the screeners they say they need to do their jobs.
Valenti told the Times he lifted the ban for the Academy because its members come from all movie disciplines and because it was one of the few organizations that could police its members with threats of expulsion. ''I think people value their Academy membership more than their children,'' he said. No doubt in the coming days, other awards groups will tell Valenti they'd be equally willing to expel members who leak screeners, but Valenti told Reuters there will be no additional changes to the ban. ''We're not going to wobble,'' he said. ''This is it.''