WTO RULES AGAINST CHINA'S FILM POLICY

The World Trade Organization ruled on Wednesday that China's highly restrictive policies on foreign movies, music, books and videogames violate an agreement it made when it joined the WTO in 2001 to provide open access to imported goods. The international body ordered China to bring its policies "into conformity with its obligations under those agreements." Presently, China permits only 20 foreign movies to be distributed each year -- and all of those must be handled by the official China Film Group. U.S. studios cannot set up their own distribution network as they have in other countries. The result has been a burgeoning underground bootleg industry supplying pirate copies of hundreds of movies that have never been shown in Chinese theaters. In reporting on the WTO ruling, Reuters noted that such "decisions always depend on the political willingness of the losing country to change its laws to comply. That said, China has become more involved with the WTO and is unlikely to ignore the ruling." But Lyle Vander Schaaf, a partner in the law firm Bryan Cave who specializes in WTO disputes, told the New York Times that China has "a poor record of compliance. They keep filing appeals."

REDBOX SUES FOX

DVD kiosk operator Redbox filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on Wednesday, claiming that Fox's effort to prevent Redbox from renting its movies for 30 days following their release amounts to "naked restraint of trade." In a statement, Redbox President Mitch Lowe accused Fox of "attempting to prohibit timely consumer access to its new release DVDs at Redbox retail locations nationwide." Fox responded that it had tried to negotiate a deal with Redbox that would have allowed it to purchase DVDs "on the initial DVD release date or with a 30-day window." It provided no details concerning the terms under which Redbox would have been allowed to purchase the discs on the release date. Fox said that Redbox's "lawsuit aims to limit Fox's ability to make legitimate business decisions, and Fox believes it will prevail in defeating Redbox's meritless claims."

FREE TICKETS TO AVATAR PREVIEW AVAILABLE ONLINE

In the latest effort to stimulate buzz for James Cameron's 3D sci-fi movie Avatar in advance of its scheduled December 18 release, 20th Century Fox plans to distribute free tickets on the Internet for a 16-minute preview of the movie at 101 IMAX theaters on August 21. Plans for the screenings were originally disclosed earlier this month at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego. According to details released by the studio on Wednesday, fans can request the free tickets (two per person) at the movie's website, AvatarMovie.com. "We expect a tremendous amount of interest from the fans who are aware of Avatar," Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder told the Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. The site will no doubt also attract interest from scalpers who are expected to begin selling the tickets on eBay once they are all handed out.

DISNEY CLAIMS SUCCESS WITH "COMBO" PACKS

Amid reports that consumers are holding off buying DVDs as they consider upgrading to high-definition home-theater set-ups, the Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that it is extending its "combo pack initiative," in which Blu-ray and standard DVD discs are sold together. The company had planned to end the combo packaging on October 6 but said Wednesday that it will extend that date to December of next year. In a study conducted for Disney by Lieberman Research Worldwide, 77 percent of consumers planning to "embrace Blu-ray technology" said that they approved of the combo packaging, which also includes a digital version that can be played on a PC.

SWINE FLU SHUTS DOWN INDIAN THEATERS

India's film industry (known internationally as Bollywood) has taken another blow following a decision by an Indian state government to shut down public places, including schools and multiplexes, beginning Friday to curb the spread of the H1N1, or swine flu, virus. The shutdown in the state of Maharashtra will occur over a public holiday on Friday -- ordinarily a big day at the box office. The capital of Maharashtra is Mumbai -- formerly Bombay -- the home of India's film industry (and the largest city in India). The decision has resulted in the delay of the release of two high-profile films that were scheduled to debut this weekend. India's cable news channels have been featuring numerous reports on the spread of the virus, with reporters appearing on camera wearing surgical masks.