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Oscar Copy Found on EBay

Times Staff Writer

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, scrambling to crack down on movie “screeners” that have popped up on the Internet in recent days, had a new incident to investigate Wednesday: how an academy screener copy of “House of Sand and Fog” came up for sale on EBay Inc.

Security features on the tape identified it as belonging to academy member Ivan Kruglak, president of Valencia-based Coherent Communications, a wireless audio-video and data communications company. Kruglak, who received a 1998 technical achievement award from the academy for a wireless video assist system for motion picture cameras, expressed complete surprise at the incident.

“The first I heard of this was when I got a phone call from the academy,” Kruglak said in a phone interview. He said he had no idea how a copy of his tape ended up for sale on the Internet.

“I firmly believe someone at the duplicating house made themselves a copy before the studio sent it to me,” he said.

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The academy already is looking into how a screener of “Something’s Gotta Give” belonging to 69-year-old actor Carmine Caridi was used as the source of a downloadable pirated copy on the Internet. Caridi met Wednesday with an attorney; neither would comment on the matter. Another screener, for “The Last Samurai,” also has made an appearance online. The film’s distributor, Warner Bros., said it intended to enforce its copyright “to the fullest extent of the law.”

Meanwhile, Miramax said late Wednesday that it was looking into how an academy screener of its “Cold Mountain” became available for download.

Those incidents involved downloadable copies. In the case of “Sand and Fog,” the tape itself was offered for sale. DreamWorks SKG, the studio behind the movie, said the tape was removed from EBay after the studio contacted the auction site.

The rash of unauthorized copying comes amid a broad effort in Hollywood to crack down on movie piracy. A ban enacted in the fall by the Motion Picture Assn. of America initially prohibited the release of the popular screeners, though an exemption later was made for Academy Awards voters. Then, on Dec. 5, the entire ban was thrown out by a federal judge.

Seeking to deter unauthorized use of the free movies -- which have long been a favorite Hollywood entitlement -- the academy this year is requiring its 6,000-plus members to sign waivers agreeing not to allow the tapes out of their possession. In addition to any criminal penalties, those found to have violated the agreement face expulsion from the academy.

Academy President Frank Pierson said his organization would not apply sanctions “without due process.”

“We will give these members an opportunity to explain how their screeners got into the hands of pirates,” he said.

As of now, the academy has no intention of setting up a permanent system to handle cases of screener piracy. Academy spokesman John Pavlik characterized the investigations as informal.

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Times staff writer John Horn contributed to this report.


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