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Man Arrested in Academy Award Screener Case

23 Jan, 2004 By: Hive News

A man accused of duplicating Academy Awards screeners and making them available over the Internet was scheduled to appear to answer charges in federal court in Chicago today.

Russell Sprague, 51, was arrested at his Homewood, Ill., home, where authorities found copies of 36 awards screeners and duplicating equipment, according to published reports.

Sprague is set to face charges of copyright infringement and illegal interception of a satellite signal.

The screeners he allegedly duplicated were traced back to Academy member Carmine Caridi, an actor who appeared in “NYPD Blue” as well as two of the “Godfather” movies.

Authorities told the Associated Press that Caridi had sent as many as 60 screeners to Sprague over the past three years, believing he was merely a film buff who just wanted to watch them.

The leaks started with a downloadable copy of Sony's comedy Something's Gotta Give, then Internet monitoring services working for the studios discovered copies of The Last Samurai and Cold Mountain circulating online.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) tried to clamp down on screener circulation to curtail piracy, putting 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.

Following the court order, studios sent watermarked copies of the movies on VHS to Academy and other awards voters.

Authorities reportedly used the watermark technology to trace the errant screeners to Caridi.

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