The Hollywood Foreign PressAssociation (HFPA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have strongly condemnedyesterday's (23) exclusive screeners ban U-turn between the MPAA and AMPAS.

Under the terms of thebehind-closed-doors deal, a one-year experiment will see VHS tapes go out onlyto those Academy members who sign an agreement pledging to safeguard theirtapes or face expulsion in the event of non-compliance.

"The Hollywood Foreign PressAssociation views with dismay and concern today's announcement that the MotionPicture Association of America will distribute awards screeners to members ofthe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but to no otherorganizations," HFPA president Lorenzo Soria said in a statement.

"This announcement comes 24hours after I personally expressed to MPAA president Jack Valenti, and inwriting to all Hollywood studio heads, the HFPA's condemnation of piracy andassured them that HFPA members would accept any security safeguards imposed onother groups.

"The fact that screeners nowwill be sent to about 6,000 people but not to the 90 members of the HFPAcreates an impression that issues other than piracy are involved. We are nowevaluating our options to have reversed a decision that we regard as unfair,completely arbitrary and an assault on the professional integrity of ourmembers."

Meanwhile in an open letterto Valenti, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) president Melissa Gilbert and chiefexecutive officer A Robert Pisano called for a full review of the situation.

A section of the letterread: "If you have concluded there is a piracy problem associated withdistributing screeners, do you honestly believe that problem is eliminated orsignificantly ameliorated by sending screeners to 6,000 Academy members whileexcluding the 2,100 SAG members who comprise the nominating committee for theSAG awards'"

The one-year experimentagreed upon by the MPAA and AMPAS demands that Academy members who want toreceive screeners sign a contract promising to keep the tapes under theircontrol at all times, prevent them from being reproduced in any fashion anddispose securely of any tapes they do not wish to keep.

A full list of Academysignatories and their addresses will go out to the studios, who as usual willbe responsible for mailing out the screeners at their discretion. Studiosmarketing departments have long coveted such lists, and few anticipated thatthey would ever had them handed over by the Academy.

A spokesman for the Academywas unable to provide details of lesser sanctions that may or may not have beendiscussed.

Valenti said extrascreenings would be arranged for other awards bodies, as it emerged that theLos Angeles Film Critics Association was sticking to its earlier decision notto hand out its annual awards in protest.

In a joint statement Valentiand Academy president Frank Pierson said: "Defeating piracy in the digitalworld must be the prime concern of the film community, not only in the UnitedStates, but around the world.

"What began some years agoas a courtesy to Academy members over time expanded to thousands of copiespassed through many hands outside our industry.

"Members of the MPAAinitiated and embraced this in the past, but sending out huge numbers ofscreeners without suitable protection produced new cautions, new dangers in thedigital environment that rendered this practice a severe threat to all who workin the film community and required some adjustments."

The announcement followsremarks two days ago by Tom Rothman, the co-chairman of Fox FilmedEntertainment, in which he sought to assure members of the HFPA that no suchdecision had been made.

Rothman is widely regardedin the industry as one of the prime movers behind the screeners ban and wrotean enthusiastic opinion piece in an LA daily two weeks ago in which he supportthe ban, which had been proposed by Valenti on Sept 30.

The British Academy Of Film And Television Arts has yet to make a statement due to time differences. BAFTA/LA was not returning phone calls.

The Directors Guild ofAmerica and the Writers Guild of America West both issued statements supportingyesterday's partial U-turn.

"We recognise the inherentdifficulty in balancing the important interests of ensuring access toindependent films while guarding the entertainment community from the seriousthreat of digital piracy and support the MPAA and the Motion Picture Academy intheir approach," DGA president Michael Apted said in a statement.

"The Writers Guild Westapplauds the MPAA's decision that ensures that Academy voters will continue toview all films," WGA West president Victoria Ruskin said in a statement. "Thiswill allow independent films the chance to compete on an equal playing field."