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Screener Ends Up on the Internet

A downloadable copy of 'Something's Gotta Give' reignites concerns about film piracy and videos sent to Oscar voters.

January 13, 2004|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

A copy of the hit movie "Something's Gotta Give" that was sent to an Oscar voter has turned up on the Internet, prompting an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences investigation and signaling a fresh setback in Hollywood's battle against movie piracy.

The academy said Monday that it learned last week about the unauthorized online appearance of the Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson romantic comedy.

A person familiar with the academy's probe said the offending videocassette had been sent to Carmine Caridi, a veteran film and television actor who appeared in "The Godfather: Part II" and played Det. Vince Gotelli on the television series "NYPD Blue."

The copy available on the Internet carried markings -- some clearly visible, others hidden -- that identified it as having been from the videocassette sent to Caridi, the person said.

Any number of movies eligible for Oscar nominations can be found on Internet downloading sites. But the academy said "Something's Gotta Give" marked the first time a so-called screener sent to an Oscar voter had been made available for illegal copying.

The academy's inquiry -- part of a newly instituted get-tough policy -- could end with the expulsion of any member found to be involved.

Caridi, 69, couldn't be reached for comment.

There has been an industrywide attempt to stop the spread of awards-season videocassettes and DVDs to movie pirates. A recent campaign to limit awards-season screeners was sparked by concerns that piracy was costing the film business more than $3 billion annually. The seven major studios agreed Sept. 30 to ban sending out such free movie copies to all awards voters.

However, under harsh criticism from filmmakers, producers and studio-owned specialty film divisions, the studios amended their plan Oct. 23 and permitted the shipment of encoded videocassettes to Academy Award voters only. Oscar voters were obligated to promise in writing that they would safeguard the tapes.

On Dec. 5, a federal judge overturned the ban, and the studios and their specialized film units immediately started manufacturing and shipping a variety of screeners to thousands of other awards voters.

The academy said Monday that it was alerted to the "Something's Gotta Give" problem early last week by Sony Pictures Entertainment, whose Columbia Pictures produced and distributed the movie.

Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis declined to say which Oscar voter was being investigated.

Davis said he had spoken briefly on the telephone with an academy member about how that member's screener had wound up on the Internet.

The member said he would call back to explain himself more fully but never did, Davis said. The academy then sent the member a letter asking for an explanation, but has not yet received an answer.

"I still have trouble believing that anybody would take the care of a 2003 screener lightly," Davis said. "It never occurred to me that anybody would ever let this happen. It's risking the whole ability of the academy members to get their screeners next year."

The academy required its 5,803 eligible Oscar voters to sign forms promising to safeguard their videocassettes before they could receive screeners. About 80% of voters signed and returned the forms.

"I agree to ensure that I know, at all times, the whereabouts of all screeners sent to me under this agreement," the form reads. "I agree not to allow the screeners to circulate outside of my residence or office. I agree not to allow them to be reproduced in any fashion, and not to sell them or to give them away at any time.... I agree that a violation of this agreement will constitute grounds for my expulsion from the Academy and may also result in civil and criminal penalties."

Sony said it would withhold making a decision about pursuing legal action in the "Something's Gotta Give" case until the academy's probe was completed.

"The threat of piracy is a real problem affecting our industry," Sony spokesman Steve Elzer said. "We did everything we could to ensure the secure handling of all of our screeners sent to members of the academy. We are very concerned about this situation, and have turned over all relevant information to the academy."

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