For ‘Avatar,’ three-strikes means a quick out

January 17th, 2010 | Categories: Media Wonk | Tags: , , , , ,

From the be careful what you wish for file: Twentieth Century-Fox’s Avatar, which is rapidly approaching the top spot among all-time global box-office grosses, and would likely be the biggest selling Blu-ray title to date when released at Christmas time, will actually be released on June 1st, at least in most of the world. Amazon France is already taking pre-orders, for 28.99 euros.

Why not wait until the most propitious time of year to release such a monster title in order to maximize sales? Because it would be against the law in France to wait beyond June 1. And if you release it in France, under EU rules, you’ve effectively released it throughout the EU. And if you release it in the EU, you’ve effectively released it throughout Blu-ray’s Region B, which includes Africa and the Middle East as well as Australia and New Zealand, where they speak a version of English. And if you’re going to release a movie with an English soundtrack in Region B, you might as well release it in Region A, which includes the United States, because it’s going to end up on the Internet sooner or later, probably sooner.

Welcome to life under France’s new three-strikes regime.  

Often overlooked in the hoopla surrounding the three-strikes provision in France’s Creation and the Internet law passed last year that established a procedure for cutting off Internet access for repeat copyright infringers, were other measures strictly regulating release windows for movies in France. Under the law, any movie released theatrically in France must be released on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as made available for authorized downloads, exactly four months after its theatrical debut.

Since Avatar was released in mid-December, Fox was technically obliged to release it on Blu-ray/DVD/ in mid-March April, although a separate provision in the law allows a distributor to petition for a one-time extension of the window in the case of very high-grossing films (or for quicker DVD release of  theatrical turkeys). That bought Fox another six weeks, to June 1, but that’s it. The fact that the distributors’ business interests might best be served by waiting longer doesn’t count in the law.

That’s the sort of thing that can happen when you invite the government to regulate an industry sector, especially the French government. It’s rarely subtle and it frequently end up cutting both ways.

For all the benefit the studios may get from France’s three-strikes rules–and at the moment that doesn’t actually look very promising–they could end up losing due to the loss of flexibility over how they manage their businesses.

Because of how the Blu-ray and DVD regions are drawn, because of the global nature of the Internet, the laws of France could end up, as a practical matter, dictating studio business strategy worldwide, particularly as digital distribution platforms become more critical to the bottom line. That, in fact, is precisely what French president Nicolas Sarkozy–so widely praised by U.S. content owners for his “leadership” in protecting copyrights online–set out to accomplish when he proposed the Creation and the Internet law back in 2008: to make France the world leader, not just in copyright protection but in promoting the digital distribution of culture.

Sarkozy may have gotten what he wanted. But as Fox is discovering with Avatar everyone else may have gotten more than they bargained for.

  1. January 17th, 2010 at 19:43
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Nice try but I just spent like 20 mins searching IMDB and couldn’t find one blockbuster film released in the last five years that was released on disc more than 6 months after the theater.

  2. The Media Wonk
    January 18th, 2010 at 16:46
    Reply | Quote | #2

    So, by that logic its U.S. street date should also have been announced by now. Seen anything on that?

  3. Grubert
    January 19th, 2010 at 04:39
    Reply | Quote | #3

    “And if you release it in France, under EU rules, you’ve effectively released it throughout the EU.”

    Not true. One title can have very different home video releases in different EU countries.

    Just one example:

    ’9′ (the Shane Acker animated movie) was released in FRANCE on January 13. In the UK it won’t be released until February 22. In Germany and Spain it’s not even announced yet.

    • Marius
      January 26th, 2010 at 00:49
      Reply | Quote | #4

      That won’t stop me from ordering the DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon.fr and they’ll ship it to me. They can’t accept orders from France and refuse orders from EU countries. And, in the worst case, I can send money to friends in France and have 10-20 discs shipped to me to sell in my country.

  4. Guillaume
    January 20th, 2010 at 11:05
    Reply | Quote | #5

    “Because it would be against the law in France to wait beyond June 1.”

    Not true “également”.
    Saying that any movie must be released exactly four months after its theatrical debut is an absolute mistake, une énorme erreur.

    There is a lot of mistakes in this poorly written paper

  5. Freak
    January 20th, 2010 at 16:17
    Reply | Quote | #6

    @1: that might be because the law just got passed

    @3: ’9′ doesn’t sound like a blockbuster much so that could be why

    @Guillaume: conveniently peppering your comment with french quotes makes me believe you’re fake. so is there any proof to what you’re saying about the misinterpretation of the law in this article?

  6. Freak
    January 20th, 2010 at 16:22
    Reply | Quote | #7

    ok, forget it, saw the more recent post.

  7. Tomas
    January 20th, 2010 at 18:45
    Reply | Quote | #8

    Separated isn’t a word. Seperated is the word you’re looking for. ‘Gotten’ isn’t a word either, but that has been so deeply ingrained in American language that it now probably is as good as a real word.

    • LGB
      January 21st, 2010 at 17:04
      Reply | Quote | #9

      Really? I am far from being perfect in English (not even too good in it), but I haven’t known anything about “seperated” it’s even not in my dictionaries. Are you sure is it “seperated” and not “separated”? Even the spell checker of my browser marked your “seperated” as invalid :) Also, I think this was not a grammatical post, so what’s the point to discuss about these now? It’s simply odd for me that some people always wants to discuss about spelling and not the meaning of something, which would be the important. :)

  8. Sydney
    January 20th, 2010 at 20:50

    The tone of this article is completely retarded. Three strikes regimes cause problems for habeus corpus, free speech, and collective retaliation, which are a completely different level of moral problem than this amoral econo-whining about business interests or disasterizing big ol’ guverment regulationz. This article effectively makes light of a serious issue. I’d rather criticize three strikes regimes seriously than allow the debate to get framed in this petty beggars’ manner that implicitly endorses the concept that these rights can be rightly bargained away to rejigger the economy. They can’t: uncensored internet access needs to remain a fundamental adult right.

  9. March 21st, 2010 at 10:35

    Hi,

    Now we know the release dates of Avatar are set around the end of April. Any comment on that ?

    This is a really innocent question, as a French I gave credit to your post. I have searched some more info and the four month window is actually mandatory (even if it wasn’t set by the law bay a professional agreement that followed).

    Well, whatever. So what do you think of this release date ?

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