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2 arrested in piracy of Oscar `screener' films

Copies intended for award consideration are alleged to have been stolen from a firm where a suspect worked.

December 06, 2006|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Two cousins from Los Angeles have been arrested on allegations that they stole and made bootleg copies of Oscar "screeners" including "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Superman Returns" and "The Queen."

John Acas, 22, was arrested in his home Monday by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies after uploading copies to the Internet and attempting to sell the movies to an informant, authorities said.

Sheryl Demesa, Acas' 22-year-old cousin, was arrested the same day at an L.A. accounting firm where she worked as a receptionist. The firm received copies of films intended for members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Demesa allegedly took the movies, lending them to Acas.

Members of the Southern California High Tech Task Force, an anti-piracy group made up of several law enforcement agencies, investigated the case. Other films alleged to have been stolen included "Infamous," "Little Children," "Running With Scissors" and "Marie Antoinette."

The arrests came days after a federal judge sentenced Johnny Ray Gasca to seven years in prison for taping prerelease movies in one of the industry's biggest anti-piracy cases to date.

"This should serve as a reminder to all those participating in the voting process to keep these films safe from people who may seek to sell them for a profit," said Motion Picture Assn. of America Chief Executive Dan Glickman.

In 2003, the association, the studios' lobbying arm, attempted to ban the distribution of screeners in an effort to reduce piracy.

The ban was lifted after the group was sued by organizations representing independent filmmakers.

However, studios have tightened up on the distribution of screeners. Last year Walt Disney Co. mailed encrypted screeners that could be played only on a special player, but that practice was not widely adopted.

lorenza.munoz@latimes.com

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