antiTainment NEWS: FBI Nab Suspect in Oscar Movie Leak Probe.

01-24-04 Keavin
The FBI made their very first arrest for movie piracy related to Oscar "screener" videos. On Friday a Chicago man was charged for allegedly pirating first-run movies that were sent out as “screener” copies to Academy Awards voters. 

The FBI arrested, Russell Sprague, 51, on Thursday at his suburban Chicago home after an investigation into the appearance of pirated Oscar screen films on the internet led agents to naming him as a suspect. 

Sprague claims that he copied the films simply as a favor for a friend, who is a member of the Academy. 

"I was requested by a legitimate Academy member to duplicate certain movies for him,''
Sprague said Friday. "I did it and the next thing I know the FBI is at my door.''

Sprague appeared before a U.S. District Court judge on Friday and was given until Monday to post a $25,000 bond. 

Now we know those warnings at the beginning of videos and DVDs about the FBI coming after you for pirating are indeed true; although, Sprague is the first individual arrested for pirating films supplied as “screeners” to Academy Awards voters.  (better put that label back on your mattress!)

The Motion Picture Association of America faced controversy late last year when they decided to put a ban in place on the distribution of “screener” videos and DVDs. The industry claims that piracy costs them $3 billion in lost revenue each year. 

The decision to ban “screener” videos was meet with an outcry from Academy members. Under pressure the industry relented and sent out a limited number of “screeners” this year. However, the films that went out this time were said to each carry a unique digital watermark, which identify where the leaked or pirated copy of a film originated. 

This watermark led authorities to veteran actor and Academy member, Carmine Caridi, a 69-year-old actor who has appeared in "The Godfather, Part II" and "NYPD Blue." The trail evidently ended with Sprague, who claims that he only copied the films for his friend and did not distribute them online. "That's baloney, they have an agenda," Sprague said after the hearing on Friday about his arrest and his accusers. 

He added that he believed in the concept of copyright and that it’s wrong to steal copyrighted material. "No one should make money on someone else's copyrighted work; I agree with that philosophy. But when they make an example out of me, that's over the top."

Sprague was charged with conspiring to violate copyrights for several films including "The Last Samurai," "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and "The Matrix Revolutions."

He was also charged for a separate violation of making equipment designed to illegally download and decode satellite-to-home television signals. 

Sprague is reportedly known in movie circles. He told reporters, following his court appearance, that he worked in Hollywood for 20 years installing audio and visual equipment in the homes of academy members, but then decided to move to Chicago in 1999 after he “got tired of the Hollywood scene."

If convicted Sprague faces up to 10 years in prison.