Boston film critic loses job over piracy

Sherman axed due to screener scandal

Paul Sherman, the Boston film critic who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting copyright infringement by selling DVD screeners, has been axed from his other Boston-area freelance gig.

Last week, shortly after the Justice Dept. announced that Sherman had pleaded as part of Operation Copycat (Daily Variety, June 22), he was let go from the biweekly Improper Bostonian, where he had been film columnist since 2000. He had also been a second-string critic at the Boston Herald but had not written for the paper since last year, parting ways for reasons both sides claim had nothing to do with his legal problems.

As a result, on Monday he went on “hiatus” as a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, of which he was a former president, permitting him to return should he resume reviewing at some future date.

In an email to colleagues,Sherman apologized for “bringing shame on the critics’ community” and said he was “intensely sorry for letting everybody down.”

Sherman was involved in selling DVD screeners from mid-2002 until he was approached by the FBI in mid-2005. He had been auctioning DVDs on eBay when he was approached by someone who offered to buy a disc if he could have it immediately instead of allowing the auction to proceed.

“I had no idea he was doing anything illegal with the discs,” Sherman said. “I don’t know if the thought of anyone cracking security codes and uploading a movie would have even occurred to me in 2002. All this guy bought were DVDs of what had been wide-release movies that had recently been readily available to see at every multiplex.

“That first movie he asked me to stop the auction of was even apparently ‘Out Cold’ — I know it never occurred to me that anyone would want to bootleg that.”

Over the next three years, that person provided Sherman a list of titles he was seeking, and Sherman would let him know what he had. Sherman sold some 117 DVDs to what turned out to be part of a so-called warez group, which made the movies available over the Internet.

Sherman maintains that he didn’t discover what was going on until he was approached by the FBI. “I told the agents everything I knew,” he said in his letter. “I didn’t know if I was going to get charged with anything, and they claimed not to know either.”

This winter he was contacted again and told to have his lawyers contact the U.S. Attorney office in San Francisco, where Operation Copycat is based. All this remained unknown to his Boston colleagues and editors until the story broke last week, when the Justice Dept. issued a press release touting some 30 convictions. Most were for the far more serious charges of conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement. Sherman pled guilty only to aiding and abetting such infringement.

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