Feds investigate piracy of this year's screeners

With both screener troubles and tape delays, awards season watchers are experiencing a severe sense of deja vu.

In a potential repeat of last year’s case involving actor Carmine Caridi — the incident ended with him booted out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and liable to Sony and WB for $600,000 — the FBI has opened a new investigation into piracy of this year’s screeners.

Investigation concerns a copy of WB’s “Million Dollar Baby” that was found online and traced to an awards screener, as well as other Oscar contenders that may have been pirated.

Details were scarce as the bureau doesn’t typically discuss ongoing investigations.

“We’re looking into the compromise of ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and seeking to determine whether other screeners were pirated,” an FBI spokesman confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Feb. 27 gap between Hollywood and the rest of America will be exactly seven seconds.

Ending any lingering doubt, an ABC spokesman Tuesday confirmed the network again plans to beam the Oscarcast to the world on a tape delay.

“As has been the case in the past, there is a policy in place at the network to have a tape delay on all live entertainment events, and that includes this year’s Academy Awards,” the spokesman said.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC have extended the pact for the Oscarcast through 2014 (Daily Variety, Feb. 8). While ABC did not stipulate a mandatory tape delay of the kudocast in that agreement, the network retains the option of instituting a delay.

Last year, ABC inaugurated the seven-second policy on Oscar for the first time ever. Under the delay, there is a seven-second gap between what occurs at the Kodak Theater and what airs on ABC. So a network censor can bleep out any word — or indeed a complete speech — if he/she feels it necessary.

Last year, both piracy problems and the tape delay seemed they might be one-time occurrences. Clearly, that’s not the case.

This year, studios had planned to release encrypted screeners that were playable only with special DVD players provided by antipiracy technology company Cinea. When the Dolby subsid failed to produce players in time for awards season, studios went back to last year’s system.

That meant watermarked screeners that can be played on any DVD players but are traceable to the person to whom they were sent if they’re found in bootleg copies or online.

The studios send out awards screeners to various voting orgs, including the Academy as well as BAFTA and the guilds.

Last year, Acad members signed an agreement in which they accepted responsibility for the discs. While no one had to sign a pledge this year, voters of all orgs are being held liable.

Any award voters who are found to have willfully let any screener out of their control are likely to find themselves facing studios in court and possibly evicted from their org, as happened with Caridi.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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