France bans Region 1 DVDs

Until recently, French authorities have tolerated the sale of Region-1 DVDs when they were in English only, on the assumption that few French people would bother to buy them. But a new controversy is raging in France over a government crackdown on the sale of U.S. imported DVDs that allow consumers to see movies before their theatrical release.

Beginning Jan. 1, stores will have to clear their shelves of the offending discs or risk a brush with the law. The ban is detailed in a Culture Ministry decree that also shortens the window for DVD and video from nine to six months after theatrical release. Titles affected include ‘Chicken Run,’ which recently opened in French theaters, ‘Gladiator,’ ‘Mission: Impossible 2’ and ‘The Perfect Storm.’

Region-1 discs that were dubbed or subtitled in French were already banned—ensuring that most French consumers waited to buy Region-2 DVDs, timed to come out after local theatrical releases.

But in the past couple of years, France’s burgeoning DVD market has grown into a multimillion-dollar business, with retail sales this year expected to reach 2.5 billion francs ($341 million). The 1.5%-2% of those sales comprising English-language Region-1 discs and what they could represent in lost cinema ticket sales have also become a factor.

In a double page spread on the controversy, the daily newspaper Liberation lashed out at what it called French government ‘protectionism.’ And store owners, whose shelves in the pre-holiday period are loaded with large numbers of Region-1 DVDs, are seething about the ban.

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