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RISKS AND REWARDS

Posted By Vance Van Petten, Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, February 9, 2016

In my last column for Produced By, I addressed one of the downsides of awards screeners—every PGA member’s favorite benefit.  Specifically, I encouraged readers to see awards season films in the theater, as their producers intended, rather than relying on studio-provided DVDs.  Based on the truly outstanding set of ten films nominated by our members, I’d like to think that some of you out there heeded my gentle but passionate admonition.

But as the awards season unfolded, all of us were made aware of an even greater drawback to screeners: their potential for encouraging piracy.  As I learned to my horror, just before the holidays, an online pirated version of one of this year’s nominated films was traced to a screener sent to a PGA member.  After a thorough investigation by the studio, conducted with the Guild’s full cooperation and support, it was determined that no blame lay with the PGA member whose screener was uploaded; the DVD had been intercepted by a third party, a thief who had illegally uploaded the film. Unfortunately, the PGA wasn’t the only organization to see its members’ screeners stolen and uploaded this year.

When studios first started sending screeners back in the VHS era, the prospect of stealing content on such a massive scale as exists today was inconceivable.  Much as we all love our screeners, we have to face the fact that it’s a mode of exhibition better suited to the 20th-century than the 21st.That’s not to say that studios should end the practice of sending screeners but it does mean that all of us, studios and voting members alike, have to be smarter and more cautious in the way we approach this practice.

There are some common-sense steps that every PGA member should take in order to safeguard what is, after all, studio property. First and foremost, keep the Guild advised as to a current—and truly secure—place where each screener should be delivered. Once received, a member should never loan out screeners to anyone. (Yes, I cease being my mother’s favorite son during every awards season.) Don’t unwittingly tempt a visitor by leaving them out on your coffee table or bedroom floor. If you absolutely must take them with you while you travel, treat them like your diamond earrings and don’t pack them in your suitcase! And, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you’ve watched the screener and the awards season is over that the DVD can be shared with others; you are required either to keep it safely locked up or destroy it. (The PGA is happy to help you to recycle them.)

This should not be seen solely as a burden for our members; the studios also must take greater care in how they distribute their screeners. They are playing Russian roulette by sending multiple screeners to the same individual who may be talented enough to qualify for membership in several professional organizations.  Because this intellectual property is so valuable, signature and verification of delivery should be required in each instance. And, if the Academy was able to figure out a way to provide special DVD players to all Academy members a few years ago, there must be a way to figure out how the voters can securely—and easily—access and watch digital screeners.

Please don’t think that I am advocating the end of DVD screeners. To the contrary, I am advocating that they be treated as they are perceived by our members: like gold.  Obviously, since criminals have the same perception of their value, piracy is looming as the central industry issue of our time. Accordingly, we all have to work together to minimize the risk while we continue to enjoy the rewards.

- Vance Van Petten, National Executive Director

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