MPAA and Indies Settle Pending Screener Ban Case; Terms of Deal Remain Secret
by Eugene Hernandez
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the coalition of independent film producers, including two chapters of the Independent Feature Project (IFP), have announced a settlement in the screener ban case. Last year, the indies won a preliminary injunction in Federal Court allowing the distribution of screeners by the studios and their specialty divisions. Federal Judge Michael Mukasey in Manhattan cited an unlawful restraint of trade in ruling for the indies back in December.
The two sides have settled the matter out of court preventing the case from proceeding to trial and avoiding what very well could have been an embarrassing public defeat of the MPAA and its member studios. As part of the settlement, both sides have agreed not to discuss the terms of the deal.
“I can’t comment on what the settlement says,” Levy-Hinte, one of the many plaintiffs, told indieWIRE on Monday. But he added, “I think [the MPAA] have learned their lesson — this is not a dead issue to us, we will continue to be vigilant to guarantee that independent films are distributed, marketed and advertised for awards in the most vigorous way possible.”
Levy-Hinte, an active member among the coalition of independent film producers, told indieWIRE that he personally was not in favor of keeping the terms of the deal secret. When asked whether there is cash component to the deal, he said simply, “I am not sure if I am able to talk about that.”
“Let us be clear that our aim from the beginning was to ensure the viability and survival of this industry — for independents and non-independents alike,” MPAA chief Jack Valenti said in a statement on Monday. “The threat of piracy is palpable, it is real, and we must move together to protect our industry — if not for the hundreds of thousands of men and women whose livelihoods depend on the business, then for the millions around the world who delight in our creative labors.” Continuing, the departing MPAA head added, “I am pleased that we have put this matter behind us, and look forward to working together with all segments of the industry to deal effectively with this menace lest we all are consumed.”
A first step towards the studios, the MPAA and the independents working together will be an April 12 meeting in Los Angeles that will include some 45 people at a two-hour session to talk about piracy issues.
“We urge the MPAA to engage in an ongoing process in which all constituencies of the industry are guaranteed a voice in the development of effective, fair, and legal anti-piracy policies,” said the Coalition’s Levy-Hinte, IFP/Los Angeles Executive Director Dawn Hudson, and IFP/New York Executive Director Michelle Byrd in a joint statement.
The matter with the MPAA has been settled for some time, according to Levy-Hinte, who said that both sides recently notified Judge Mukasey that they are declaring the litigation finished.
Plaintiffs in the case included Antidote International Films, Elemental Films, Forensic Films, GreeneStreet Films, Head Quarter Pictures, Independent Digital Entertainment, Independent Entertainment, Killer Films, Open City Films, Paradigm Consulting, Salty Features, Sandcastle 5 Productions, Sanford/Pillsbury Productions, Talking Wall Pictures, This is that Corporation, IFP/Los Angeles, IFP/New York. The coalition sought relief from the MPAA’s screener ban that prevented the distributed awards consideration tapes and DVDs by The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., New Line, and Dreamworks.
“We find it’s a victory because we were able to overturn the ban and we were able to put them decisively on notice that we have the power to confront their ill-advised policies,” Levy-Hinte said. “It was clear to the MPAA, I believe, that it was time to cut their losses.” He concluded, “The most important thing to take from is that we didn’t at all compromise our future ability to confront them,” explained Levy-Hinte.