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Investigation Continues Into Academy Awards Screener Leaks

19 Jan, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

As Academy Awards screeners proliferated on the Internet last week, Academy and studio executives continued their investigations into how the films have made their way from members to the Web.

At least four films had made it to the Internet in some form, including a screener copy of DreamWorks' House of Sand and Fog that turned up for sale on eBay. The tape was removed at DreamWorks' request.

The leaks started with a downloadable copy of Sony's comedy Something's Gotta Give early in the week, then Internet monitoring services working for Warner discovered a copy of The Last Samurai online. By week's end, Miramax's Cold Mountain was also circulating, and rips of Mystic River, Love Actually and 21 Grams were also rumored to be available, although Video Store Magazine was unable to confirm that by press time.

“We have identified the name of the member that tape [Samurai] went to, but beyond that, our investigation is ongoing. We have been asked by the Academy to inform them first before we took any direct action. They have the materials, and they are looking at them,” a Warner spokesperson said. “We take this quite seriously, and we will protect our copyrights to the fullest extent of the law.”

Spokespersons for Sony declined comment. A Miramax spokesperson could not be reached by press time.

Trying to stave off a total ban on screeners, the Academy made its voting members sign agreements not to circulate the screeners in exchange for receiving them. About 80 percent of the voting members signed the agreements.

“We thought our members would live up to their word. This is extremely annoying. Not only does this jeopardize the member's Academy membership, it jeopardizes any future discussions with the studios about sending screeners to Academy members,” said Academy spokesman John Pavlik.

Academy leaders have contacted the members suspected of leaking the films and, if the allegations prove true, will likely expel the culprits, Pavlik said.

The leaks are only more surprising in light of recent efforts by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to clamp down on screener circulation to curtail piracy. The MPAA put its foot down with a screener ban in November, but a federal judge lifted the ban Dec. 5 after independent filmmakers sued, contending the ban hurt their chances for awards. MPAA president Jack Valenti vowed to appeal the decision, but the judge would not let the ban remain in place during the appeal. It's likely MPAA attorneys will use the leaks to help make their case on appeal.

“It's certainly possible. I would certainly use the fact that screeners got out,” Pavlik said.

Chagrined at the leaks, Academy president Frank Pierson issued a statement: “We are extremely disappointed that members of the Academy have been identified as possible sources of pirated motion pictures,” he said, adding that the Academy would remove any proven offenders from the Academy roster, as promised.

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