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FBI probing Oscar screener case

'It was a pretty professional job'

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LOS ANGELES, California (Hollywood Reporter) -- The FBI has confirmed that it has entered the case of the pirated "screener" videos sent to Academy Award voters.

Academy Awards

It is looking into four films -- "Something's Gotta Give," "The Last Samurai," "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and "thirteen." According to multiple studio sources, illegal copies of those films that have appeared on the Internet have been traced by their respective studios to screeners intended for use by character actor Carmine Caridi, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The studios have turned over information to both the Academy and the FBI, sources said.

"We are looking into it," FBI spokeswoman Laura Bosley said, offering no further details.

But sources close to the investigation said Caridi has been identified as a person of interest.

A veteran character actor, Caridi most recently appeared in the 2003 movie "Runaways," which has not yet been released, in the role of Officer Brady. He also has played the continuing role of Detective Vince Gotelli on "NYPD Blue" and has appeared in such features as 1991's "Bugsy" as Frank Costello and 1992's "Ruby" as Sam Giancana. His earliest appearances include roles in "The Anderson Tapes" and "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," both in 1971.

Any Academy member who fails to safeguard their screeners would be in violation of the letter of agreement that Academy members signed this year for the first time in order to receive the screeners, and that member could be disciplined with expulsion from the Academy -- a decision that must be made by the Academy's board of governors, which next meets February 3.

Illegally distributing copyrighted works is also a federal crime, which could lead to more severe penalties.

The copies on the Internet had been stripped of visible markings, such as the "for your consideration" crawl on awards-season screeners, according to other sources.

"It was a pretty professional job," one source familiar with the Net copies said. "It would be one thing if this was the case of someone who was naive and just threw it up on the Internet, but in this case all visible markings were removed."

However, because this year the screeners carried invisible markings for the first time, the studios were able to identify the Academy member for whom they had been intended.

The Academy has not confirmed Caridi's involvement. Academy executive director Bruce Davis said Wednesday that he had spoken to the Academy member involved, "but I haven't gotten an explanation." The Academy has requested a written explanation before it takes further action, Davis said.

Efforts to reach Caridi through his talent and commercial representatives at Artists Agency and the Tisherman Agency, respectively, were unsuccessful.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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