The Plot Thickens

FBI arrests the Oscar-screener pirate

by empire |
Published on

Oh how MPAA chief, Jack Valenti, must be smirking. He's probably had an entire wardrobe of t-shirts printed up, all emblazoned with the phrase 'I told you so'. The man said that Oscar screener tapes would feed movie piracy and, lo and behold, they did. Tapes sent to Godfather Part II actor Carmine Caridi appeared online within weeks. Far from allocating blame, we all put that down to something innocent: the misadventures of a delinquent relative perhaps - Caridi's 70 years old after all. Now, however, it turns out that the FBI have tracked the man's errant tapes to a well-oiled and highly efficient piracy operation. That Valenti must be positively bathing in righteous smugness. The feds raided the home of Russell Sprague yesterday, arresting the man who had been digitising the tapes and putting them online. More than 100 copies of pirated films were found in Sprague's house as well as equipment used to transfer the VHS screener tapes to DVD. The films, which appeared on file-sharing networks shortly after being sent to the voters, included titles such as Love Actually and Master and Commander - all traced back to Carmine Caridi via an electronic watermark on the tape. The actor's not looking as guiltless as initially assumed either, apparently Sprague supplied Caridi with shipping labels and Federal Express boxes to send the tapes out and then returned them after copies had been made. So yes, Valenti had a point. But does that necessarily mean that banning screeners was a good idea? No. Despite the legitimate problem posed by movie piracy and the increased risk of screeners appearing online, it can still be argued that sending out tapes remains an essential measure to ensure that voters are exposed to the full spectrum of eligible releases and are not forced to overlook less well-exposed films in favour of studio-backed titles.

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