LePass prompts outcry over indie theaters

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PARIS -- French artists' rights organizations the ARP (Association of authors, directors and playwrights) and the SACD (Association of authors, composers, playwrights) are up in arms over a new unlimited moviegoing pass offered by major Gallic theater chains MK2 and UGC.

The groups argue that MK2's "Le Pass," approved Tuesday by state film body the CNC, is a threat to independent movie theaters.

"This new deal will only lead to an increased weakening of independent movie theaters and to a destabilization of commercial relations between UGC and MK2 on the one hand, and other film industry professionals on the other hand," the groups said in a statement.

MK2's Marin Karmitz enraged the ARP and the SACD in February when he blamed the decrease in the profitability of unlimited filmgoing passes on their obligation to include state-run and art house cinemas in the deal. In June, MK2 pulled out of its three-way partnership with fellow exhibitors Gaumont and Pathe.

The groups argue that the new pass, which gives holders unlimited access to all 540 MK2 and UGC cinemas in France for €19.80 ($27.36), gives MK2 and UGC a monopoly over the sector, as the new deal will account for more than 70% of the unlimited movie pass market.

The groups also expressed outrage over the fact that UGC and MK2 have increased the price of the pass by 10% and said they are worried that the new bargain will lead to the creation of a "black market."

"We don't rule out that this new deal allowing anyone to benefit from a 'free' seat could promote the emergence and the development of fraud and a black market," the groups said, arguing that a cardholder could resell seats at prices less than normal ticket prices.

The ARP and SACD have asked both the CNC and new Minister of Culture and Communication Christine Albanel to reevaluate the new offer and make changes before the two-year trial period ends in 2009. Both the CNC and MK2 declined comment.
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