The seven major studios,their subsidiaries and DreamWorks and New Line will not send out preview"screener" tapes this awards season after committing to a MotionPicture Association of America (MPAA) anti-piracy drive.

The move was announced today(Sept 30) by MPAA president Jack Valenti, who cited a "determinedcommitment to combat digital piracy and to save movie jobs in thefuture."

The controversial decisionis the latest plank in the organisation's copyright war that has spawnededucational tie-ins, advertising campaigns, preview screening security andinternational cooperation on enforcement. It binds all MPAA members.

"The MPAA intends todeploy every weapon at its command," Valenti said in a statement.

"We have demonstratedthis through the development and launch of a public education campaignutilising public service announcements, theater trailers, a project with JuniorAchievement and one million students in grades 5 through 9 studying whatcopyright means.

"We will also, asnecessary, embrace and utilise law enforcement and technology, exiling nooptions across a broad front to ensure continuing employment for the almost-onemillion men and women who work in some aspect of the movie industry."

The move confirms what manyin the studio-affiliated independent sector had feared and binds thestudio's specialty divisions Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, MiramaxFilms, Paramount Classics, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Classics, United Artists, WarnerIndependent Pictures and Fine Line Features.

Most of the above will havebeen preparing awards campaigns and now face an uphill struggle to generateexposure for their contenders, as smaller films do not normally receive thewide releases enjoyed by major studio fare.

Their brief qualifying runsmay be missed by awards voters whose diaries are filled with other must-seescreenings and will now no longer be able to watch the films on preview tapes.

Several titles, includingUniversal's Seabiscuit andDisney/Pixar's Finding Nemo,will be available on consumer DVD during the season, effectively allowing thosefilms to bypass the ban.

Meanwhile independentcompanies - Lions Gate, IFC Films, Newmarket, Artisan, Samuel GoldwynFilms, Magnolia etc - will still be able to send tapes and DVDs out, amove which will surely infuriate the studio-affiliated independents whose filmsoften need the extra attention a screener can get.

The ban on screeners was metwith anger from many Academy voters who will now be swamped by screenings whichthey will have to attend before the Jan 17 nominations ballot deadline.

And several exasperatedmarketing executives were fuming that the MPAA should reach this agreement justweeks before the nomination ballots are in, when release dates are set in stoneand spending budgets have been fixed for months in advance. "Whynow'" said one. "Why not tell us months ago when we could haveplanned for it'"

At time of going to pressMiramax and Lions Gate had not returned calls for comment.