EXCLUSIVE: Just as studios are getting ready to send out screeners for this year’s Oscar hopefuls, Warner Bros Entertainment today hit talent agency Innovative Artists with a wallop of damages over the “blatantly illegal” online distribution of films like 2015’s Creed.
“Beginning in late 2015, Innovative Artists set up and operated an illegal digital distribution platform that copied movies and then distributed copies and streamed public performances of those movies to numerous people inside and outside of the agency,” the jury-seeking complaint for copyright infringement and violation of Digital Millennium Copyright Act against IA (read it here).
“Innovative Artists stocked its platform with copies of Plaintiff’s works, including copies that Innovative Artists made by ripping awards consideration ‘screener’ DVDs that Plaintiff sent to the agency to deliver to one of its clients,” the detailed, 12-page complaint filed Monday in federal court adds, laying out the marked copies tracked to an IA client. “In some cases, Innovative Artists’ infringing copies of Plaintiff’s works quickly made their way from Innovative Artists’ platform to online piracy sites while those movies were still being made available to the general public exclusively in theaters.”
Needless to say, WB is very upset in what is a very unique legal action — even in an age when piracy is a predominant concern all over Hollywood. Seeking injunctions against IA to halt any possible repeat, Warner Bros also wants legal fees and any profits the agency might have received from the distribution activity or “at Plaintiff’s election, for maximum statutory damages.”
The closest similar situation to today’s accusations was back in late 2015 when a screener of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight appeared online and was traced by the FBI to a copy sent to Alcon Entertainment co-CEO Andrew Kosove. He denied having anything to do with the pic being leaked. This case seems more direct, at least according to WB’s complaint.
“Innovative Artists knew copies obtained from its digital distribution platform would be further disseminated,” the filing notes of the agency’s action and apparent of illegal ripping software. The court doc also adds that IA said it took the digital copies down from its platform after WB asked but long after the copying and online dissemination of the watermarked Creed, In the Heart of the Sea and other pics had occurred — and that this could be reactivated at a moment’s notice. Other WB films such as Best PictureOscar nominee Mad Max: Fury Road and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. supposedly also were up on Innovative Artist’s digital platform.
Innovative Artists and its General Counsel Jon Coronel did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment.
Today’s complaint noted that IA was a bit too loose with access to Warner Bros’ copyrighted material as well. “In one case, Innovative Artists granted an assistant at another company access to the digital distribution platform because the assistant had provided a screener to Innovative Artists for a title that was not already on the platform,” claims the filing by Kelly Klaus and Allyson Bennett of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
Many TV nets and streaming services like Netflix have turned to an online-only screener system in recent years after review copies of Game of Thrones and others were put online before the shows’ news seasons had debuted, but Academy voters still get their big-screen contenders primarily in DVD form — something other studios might want to be thinking about after WB’s experience here.
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