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Thesp faces studio suits

Warner Bros., Sony sue actor over screeners

Carmine Caridi, the actor whose Oscar screeners are alleged to have made their way onto the Internet, may have escaped criminal charges, but he’ll soon face his day in court.

The 70-year-old Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences member was sued by Warner Bros. and Sony on Wednesday for copyright infringement due to his violation of a written agreement promising not to share his screeners with anyone else.

Caridi had admitted to the FBI that he gave all of his screeners for the past three to five years to Russell Sprague, an Illinois resident who is alleged to have collaborated with others to convert Caridi’s VHS screeners into digital format and post them on file-trading services.

Sprague is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with 10 John Does. The unidentified defendants are believed to be as yet-unnamed alleged collaborators of Sprague’s who helped put the films online.

Sprague is in the process of being extradited to Los Angeles, where he is expected to be arraigned in the next couple of weeks.

The 51-year-old electrician has not yet entered a plea, but after his bail hearing in Chicago, he told reporters that he had only made copies of the films for Caridi and that he played no role in putting them online.

Reached at his West Hollywood home, Caridi declined to comment on the lawsuits. His attorney was out of the country and could not be contacted.

Other studios identified by the FBI as having had screeners distributed online linked to Caridi were Fox, Disney and Universal. Spokesmen for Fox and Disney said they were still evaluating their option to file civil suits of their own, while a U spokesman did not return calls for comment.

WB’s and Sony’s lawsuits come just a few days after Sprague was arrested last week and the FBI officially fingered Caridi as the source for a number of pirated films found online (Daily Variety, Jan. 23). Although the thesp told authorities he had no idea his movies were being pirated, the allegations would clearly put him in violation of an Academy agreement he signed last year in which he pledged “not to allow the screeners to circulate outside my residence or office.” Both studios included copies of Caridi’s signed contract along with their complaints.

All Academy members were required to sign such contracts after limitations on screeners were put in place in November due to piracy concerns.

Warner Bros.’ suit cites illegal copies of its pics “The Last Samurai” and “Mystic River” found online, while Sony’s complaint references “Big Fish” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” Both are asking for a minimum of $150,000 in statutory damages for each pic, along with any profits the pirates may have made, although it seems unlikely that Sprague or any of his alleged accomplices would have profited as illegal films are generally distributed online for free.

Asked about the identify of the John Does, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said that investigations were continuing into the activities of those affiliated with Sprague.

He also noted that Caridi may not be the only source of Academy screeners found online. “We’re separately investigating several other people as well,” he said.

(Timothy M. Gray and Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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