Screeners on Web prompt justice

This article was updated at 7:44 p.m.

As studios and the MPAA do detective work to figure out the source of films popping up on the Internet, prexy Frank Pierson vowed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will act as judge if any members are found guilty.

Copies of Miramax’s “Cold Mountain” and Sony’s “Something’s Gotta Give” are available for download with “for your consideration” imprints. However, it’s not clear if these were from tapes mailed to the Academy or to other voting orgs that received copies.

An Oscar screener of DreamWorks’ “House of Sand and Fog” also was discovered on eBay and has since been removed.

Multiple file-sharing Web sites on the Internet offer copies of films that have been sent out as Oscar screeners. However, it’s still uncertain in most cases whether these titles are actually from screener tapes.

Columbia, Miramax and DreamWorks have been able to determine the films found on the Web are copies made from screeners that were mailed out. But in other cases, it’s still up in the air. That’s because file-sharing sites list not only films copied from screeners, but also films recorded with digital videocameras inside theaters, copies made off of post-production equipment and duplicates made from DVDs sent by studio homevid departments to reviewers and retailers.

Many of the sites had copies of recent releases “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “The Last Samurai,” “Love Actually,” “Chasing Liberty,” “Peter Pan” and “Cheaper by the Dozen” — but while the Web sites labeled several of the titles as “screeners,” they were not made off of Oscar screeners.

Year-round, Hollywood titles are available for illegal downloads on Web sites. But the current titles are getting more attention, due to the long wrangle over screeners (which began last October) and the fact that members of the Academy and other voting organizations signed pledges to take full responsibility for their tapes.

Screener tapes sent to Academy members included a mark making them traceable. At least one title — “Something’s Gotta Give” — has been attributed to Carmine Caridi, a member of the actors branch. Another title is said to be traced to a member of the Acad’s sound branch.

A spokesman for Caridi said the actor has no comment.

In his statement, Pierson said, “We are extremely disappointed that members of the Academy have been identified as possible sources of pirated motion pictures. We had expected that our members who signed pledges to safeguard their screener copies would be as good as their word.

“If it turns out that we have a few members who are willing to jeopardize not only their membership, but the future ability of other members to receive screeners, obviously we are prepared to follow through on our promise to remove them from the Academy roster.

“However, we will not apply sanctions without due process. We will give these members an opportunity to explain how their screeners got into the hands of pirates, and each investigation may take a certain amount of time. The board of governors of the Academy will make the decision on each case brought to our attention.”

Acad director of communications John Pavlik said that if members are found guilty, the Academy would not prosecute: That role would fall to the copyright owner, which means the studio.

Warner Bros. Entertainment senior veepee Barbara Brogliatti said, “This is a very serious matter and we intend to enforce our copyrights to the fullest extent of the law.”

While the Academy has no legal involvement, Pavlik said it has a moral one. Members signed a promise to take responsibility for the screeners and, said Pavlik, “The Academy has committed to the studios that these people would protect the screeners. It’s incumbent upon us to take appropriate action against those members who have violated their pledge.”

(Jonathan Bing contributed to this report.)

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