The New York federal judge presiding over the case brought by acoalition of independent film-makers to overturn the MPAA screener ban isexpected to deliver a ruling on Friday (Dec 3).

US district judge Mukasey adjourned court yesterday (3) followinga day of testimony and legal argument, saying he would return on Friday morningto rule on a temporary restraining order.

The Manhattan hearing was billed as a must-see event afterspecialty studio top brass including Focus Features' David Linde, Sony PicturesClassics' Tom Bernard and United Artists' Bingham Ray were subpoenaed toattend.

In the end none of the above showed up and the plaintiffs' caserelied on live testimony from producers Ted Hope and Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and a20-page declaration from Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein.

Hope, whose current awards contenders American Splendor and 21 Grams picked up five IFP Independent SpiritAward nominations and a special award yesterday, said that screeners played avital role in the success of independent films.

He cited as an example the Miramax-released drama In The Bedroom, on which he served as executiveproducer and which earned five Academy Award nominations in 2002.

"When I sit down with aninvestor they invariably look at my track record, how my films have performed,"Hope told the court, adding: "I can't say I've ever suffered piracy of mymovies. The hardest thing is trying to get people to see my movies, not thatthey would steal them."

However in what was arguably the day's most controversial twist,his comments were directly contradicted by Mark Gill, the newly-installedpresident of the fledgling Warner Independent Pictures specialty unit.

According to industry observers courtside, Gill recalled his timeas president of Miramax LA and allegedly testified that screeners had not beencrucial to the company's Oscar campaigns for In The Bedroom and Frida, adding that the ban should not harmindependents.

Earlier the court heard passages of a declaration filed by Gill'sformer employer Harvey Weinstein. An excerpt from a copy of the declarationobtained by Screendaily reads: "Screener copies are an important part of thesuccess of an independent film, both during the awards season and afterward."

A subsequent passage reads: "Without screeners most independent filmswill not be seen by nearly the same number of critical viewers during theawards season as will major release movies. Independent films will therefore bedisadvantaged now and in the future by the screener ban."

Later MPAA president Jack Valenti, the chief architect in theglobal anti-piracy campaign that has infamously trained its sights onscreeners, told the court: "Piracy has become a malignant fungus on the face ofour industry.

"I believe there will be a great reduction in piracy fromscreeners as a result of this policy," Valenti said, adding the ban was aone-year-only experiment.

The plaintiffs claim that the MPAA ban constitutes an unlawfulrestraint of trade under US anti-trust law and further claims that the MPAA hasconspired to eliminate competitive rivalry among the studios, conspired to usethat control to erect barriers against fair competition from small, independentproducers and conspired with the Academy to unlawfully disadvantage othercompeting critics' evaluation and awards events.

The MPAA deniesthe ban is in breach of anti-trust law and that is has conspired to eliminatecompetition.