Studios ease ban on videos screeners

— Hollywood studios partially reversed their ban Thursday on special video copies for awards groups, capitulating to widespread criticism that the move would make it harder for smaller films to win Oscars.

The new agreement will allow "screener" copies to be sent to the approximately 5,600 Academy Awards voters, but not the far larger pool that hands out lesser honors.

That means groups that present the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, critics prizes and other movie honors will have to see films at theaters or at screenings arranged by studios. Oscar voters, meanwhile, can watch movies at home on copies sent by the films' distributors.

Trying to crack down on piracy, top studios and their trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America, pushed through an across-the-board ban Sept. 30. Association President Jack Valenti said screener copies sent to awards voters had popped up for sale on eBay and had been used to duplicate bootlegged DVDs in Asia.

But the association was forced to back down after widespread complaints that the ban would make it harder for independent arthouse films to compete against big studio movies come Oscar time.

Under the new agreement, Oscar voters will have to sign a pledge that they will not pass their screener copies on to anyone else. Oscar voters would be expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences if pirated movies were traced back to their screener copy.

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