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Man pleads guilty to movie screener piracy

Sprague faces up to 3 years in prison for making illegal copies
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Illinois man pleaded guilty Monday to one count of copyright infringement for pirating Oscar screener copies of about 200 films including “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” and “Seabiscuit.”

Russell W. Sprague, 51, entered his plea in federal court. He faces up to three years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced July 28.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Johnson said he will ask to postpone the sentencing hearing, saying he needs more time to calculate how much money movie studios may lose from Sprague’s copying.

Sprague’s arrest marked the first for pirating of special videotapes and DVDs that are supplied in advance to Academy Awards voters, federal agents said. Many of the screener copies are of films that are in movie theaters or are still unreleased.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents studios, last year banned the distribution of screener copies over concerns about bootlegging, but partly lifted the ban after complaints from filmmakers, producers and independent production companies.

Federal agents said in court papers that the investigation began when Hollywood studios traced pirated versions of the movies to Carmine Caridi, a 70-year-old actor who appeared in the “The Godfather: Part II” and the ABC series “NYPD Blue.”

Caridi, who had been an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences member, admitted in an affidavit he sent Sprague, of Homewood, Ill., copies of several movies. He has not been charged.

The Academy in February expelled a member for violating rules designed to keep screeners out of general circulation. It did not say whether it was Caridi who was kicked out.

Sprague admitted in his plea agreement he was also sent movies by actor Nicky Blair, who died in 1998.