Perfect pirated DVD copies of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," cloned from special Oscar screener discs supplied by the studios to MPAA members in the United States, are circulating in the United Kingdom, the Federation Against Copyright Theft said.
Complete with 5.1 surround sound, the DVDs' only blemish is a "for your consideration" Oscar message that pops up every 15 minutes.
"Two Towers" is in theatrical release in the United Kingdom, distributed by Entertainment, and trade reports suggest the super indie is suffering from sales of similar pirated copies of its other hit cinema release, "Gangs of New York."
Warner Bros. Pictures' "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" also is being pirated widely.
"I think it is extremely disappointing that people involved in the industry have let copies of Academy screeners go astray," FACT director general David Lowe said.
Lowe reported that FACT already has seized 40,000 counterfeit discs -- including more than 10,000 copies of "Two Towers" -- this month to date. He said he expects that figure to rise considerably by the end of the month, which traditionally is a quiet month for piracy. In 2002, FACT seized 700,000 optical discs.
The problem of Oscar screeners is not new, and some distributors are wary of supplying screeners to members of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, whose awards are set for Feb. 23. "It's just feeding the pirates," one exec said.
Lowe said the problem at the moment is confined to U.S.-derived screeners. "I have seen nothing to suggest BAFTA screeners are the source of these pirates," he said. "However, it is something we have warned about in the past, and another warning now would be timely to members of BAFTA."
MPAA chief Jack Valenti was philosophical about the news Friday. "This is all part of the perils and the hazards of going into the digital world," he said, attributing such piracy to "corrupt" individuals. "It's happened before; it will happen again. But we will find a way to thwart these thieves."
One solution is to put an ID on each title sent out so that the offending U.K. academy member can be identified. Distributors, however, are disinclined to meet the £50 ($81) per-disc cost, preferring not to send out tapes at all but hold cinema screenings instead.