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Acad pirate walks plank

WB, Sony forces Caridi to cough up $600k

Hollywood may have received a better tool against screener piracy than any secure DVD system.

Former Academy member Carmine Caridi, who gave his screeners to admitted pirate Russell Sprague, who then copied them onto DVDs and illegally distributed them, has been ordered to pay $600,000 after losing default judgments in civil suits filed against him by Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures.

Each studio sued the 70-year-old thesp for pirating two pics — “The Last Samurai” and “Mystic River” from WB and “Big Fish” and “Something’s Gotta Give” from Sony — sent to him last year as Oscar screeners.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson awarded both studios $150,000 for each of their films, the maximum penalty allowable by law, and called Caridi’s conduct “particularly egregious.”

In a plea bargain with federal authorities last spring, Sprague said Caridi regularly provided him with screeners for the past three to five years. Illinois resident pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal copyright infringement last April. He has yet to be sentenced but faces a maximum of three years in prison plus fines.

Caridi lost both suits on default judgment because, according to court documents, he never responded to the complaints filed last February. He also wasn’t present in court for Wilson’s ruling.

Neither Caridi nor his former attorney returned calls for comment.

Former Acad member signed contracts upon receiving his screeners last year that he wouldn’t share them with others. He was booted from AMPAS last February for violating the agreements.

News comes as studios are preparing to send out screeners this year with the same watermarking technology that let them track Caridi’s pirated screeners back to him. Plans to use a secure DVD system from Cinea fell apart after the Dolby subsid couldn’t send machines to the studios in time to test them.

Hollywood won another piracy case Tuesday when a federal judge ordered a Malaysian resident and his company MasterSurf to pay the studios $23.8 million for operating a Web site, Film88.com, that charged users to watch pirated pics.

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