Senior industry figures have called for all UK distributors - including those operating independently of the Hollywood studios - to agree a common line on whether or not to send out screening tapes to BAFTA members this year.

The call follows Tuesday's controversial announcement by the Motion Picture Assocation of America (MPAA) that all its member studios, their specialty subsidiaries plus DreamWorks and New Line Cinema would abide by a ban on sending Oscar screening tapes this year amid fears that they are falling into the hands of film pirates (see separate story).

US studio affiliates in the UK will now be required to adhere to the ban imposed by their parent companies, but independent distributors would still be free to send out tapes.

However, Francois Ivernel, managing director of independent Pathe UK, said that independent distributors should discuss the issue together before deciding on whether to send out tapes.

"I don't think we should all do what we want - there should be real consultations between distributors." He added: "This cannot be an independent decision - it has to be a concerted decision from the industry."

Stewart Till, chairman and CEO of United International Pictures, commented: "I would be surprised if the industry didn't take a common stance - I would expect a common policy."

Many senior figures from UK independents are dismayed by the sudden move by studios to ban screening tapes, particularly as it comes just as the awards season swings into action.

The screening ban couldn't have come at a worse time, they argue. The Oscars and the BAFTAs have both switched to earlier dates, meaning that the awards season is shorter and there is greater pressure to get voters to see films.

"It's unfair to change the rules when films have already been scheduled for their releases," argues Pathe's Ivernel. "The key question is whether this is unfair to films released late in the process and that therefore have less visibility."

Pathe has a string of potential award winning films on its slate, including the highly anticipated Girl With A Pearl Earring - which set for a wide release in the UK in mid-January. That is less than a month before the BAFTAs.

Ivernel said Pathe was planning to screen the film intensively to BAFTA members, as well as premiering it at the London Film Festival in a bid to raise its profile. Pathe had also been planning to send out cassettes and DVD's to support the film - "but we will have to think about that now", added Ivernel.

Producer Duncan Kenworthy, chairman of BAFTA - but speaking in a personal capacity - said that he feared that voters might not see as many films without screening tapes.

"Ideally, we'd like our members to see films in the cinema. But people are incredibly busy and tapes allow you to fit in screenings into your own time. I'm of the belief that the better informed the membership, the higher quality the results of the awards."

There will, however, be winners to emerge if screening tapes are banned, said Till. "The winners will be the trade press with more advertising and screening rooms with more bookings."