Man charged with leaking Oscar screeners -- Russell Sprague denies charges he violated copyrights on ''The Last Samurai'' and ''The Matrix Revolutions''

By Brian Hiatt
Updated January 24, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

An Illinois man who describes himself as a movie buff was charged Friday with violating studio copyrights by leaking films such as ”The Last Samurai” to the Internet, according to published reports. After a federal court appearance, Russell Sprague, 51, admitted to the Chicago Tribune that he made copies of Oscar screeners (advance home video copies of movies contending for Academy Awards) belonging to a friend, actor Carmine Carmidi. ”I didn’t make copies to make money,” Sprague told the Tribune.

Sprague, who in 1981 faced copyright violation charges that were dismissed, told the Los Angeles Times he had ”zero idea” how the screeners leaked to the Internet. If convicted of the new charges, Sprague could be sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences imposed a ban on Oscar screeners last year, citing fears of online piracy. The academy lifted the ban after independent filmmakers complained it would devastate their chances for awards.