DVD Screener Piracy Could Be Stamped Out…But Not Yet

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Every year dozens of movies appear online in high quality, sometimes before their release date, thanks to the leaking of so-called DVD screeners. For pirates it's an annual feeding frenzy so one might think that Hollywood would deal with the issue. Unfortunately it appears that adapting to the digital world remains a problem.

When perusing various file-sharing sites throughout the year it’s not uncommon to find posts which inquire when users can expect to find DVD screener copies of brand new films for illegal download.

Indeed, the practice is so common these days that when one types “when do dv” into Google the search engine helpfully autocompletes the question.

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The point is that the leaking of DVD screeners online every year is all but guaranteed and there doesn’t appear to be a single thing that Hollywood can do about it. This past Christmas leaks descended into a massive free-for-all, prompting angry industry executives to slam the attacks on their industry.

So assuming that most or all Hollywood executives really do believe that screener leaks aren’t free promotion, why after years of unrelenting leaks isn’t their security much better?

Well, according to Variety it seems like a straightforward case of failing to adapt to the digital age, topped off with a fear of – wait for it – piracy.

The most obvious approach would be to stop sending out physical discs to Oscar voters, granting them access to streaming copies instead. However, according to the report studio executives are worried that providing multiple secure digital video delivery platforms will lead to confusion and even stop people from voting.

Perhaps the great irony here is that in comparison pirates have to jump through many hoops to get hold of leaked screeners online yet are able to do so in their millions, despite it not being part of their job. Viewing apathy is not part of the equation. Are awards voters really that disinterested in movies?

Apparently the MPAA is aware that forcing awards voters to use multiple video platforms could act as a deterrent to watching screeners so is reportedly working with an outside vendor to supply an app that will provide a single point of access.

Interestingly there is no such app available to the general public who are forced to subscribe to dozens of services if they want access to all movies.

But things get really bizarre when one reads about the discussions surrounding potential platforms for the distribution of digital screeners. Prime Focus Technologies offers a service called SecureScreener which it says eliminates the need for DVD copies.

“Have peace of mind with CLEAR’s Secure Player as it is unbreakable. It cleverly blocks any download attempt so you know your content is safe,” the company explains.

“And to top it, it offers high-quality viewing experience so your users don’t miss the DVD feel. No more wait for feedback – Access to information like who viewed, liked, shared, and downloaded your content at your fingertips, literally!”

The system even offers a double verification system involving a username and password combo backed up a special code sent to the designated viewer’s (voter’s) cell phone. But somewhat hilariously this is apparently too advanced for some awards voters.

“Some film reps are concerned that not all Academy voters have cell phones to receive text notification,” Variety reports.

But even for those that do, the studios are still concerned about how screeners will be viewed if delivered digitally.

Will voters watch the movie on a smartphone and lose the cinematic experience? will they watch on a tablet and miss out on a meticulously arranged soundtrack? One can hear Tarantino wringing his hands right now, torn between a pre-release of The Hateful Eight and an Ultra Panavision extravaganza being displayed on a 7″ tablet.

So while millions of Hollywood’s customers are yearning for content to be delivered to them digitally in every possible way, the studios appear to be hamstrung by fears that industry voters – the people one might hope are on the cutting edge – can’t be universally trusted with anything more advanced than a DVD.

Of course, times will eventually change and following the DVD screener debacle of 2015, a greater urgency is definitely required to avoid a repeat in 2016/17 and beyond. Whatever happens though, it’s likely that the DVD screener has a few more years in it yet. And that will be great news for pirates.

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