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Upload, Me Hearties, Yo Ho: 'Black Swan' Leak Proves Need to Educate Artists on Piracy

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Entertainment industry types hate piracy—not just the act, but the word itself. “Piracy,” the thinking goes, calls to mind Johnny Depp, two-time People magazine Sexiest Man Alive. The preferred term, “content theft,” presumably evokes less sensual thoughts. (Unless, of course, those thoughts are of the thieves in “Ocean’s Eleven,” whose cast includes not one but three former Sexiest Men Alive.)

Unfortunately, the face of piracy at the moment is not Depp but Wes DeSoto, a Screen Actors Guild member who, according to Wired magazine, pleaded guilty last week to leaking the film “Black Swan” online. In May, the FBI reportedly raided DeSoto’s Los Angeles apartment after learning from the Motion Picture Association of America that the actor was allegedly the first person to post several films—including “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech,” and “127 Hours”—to the content-sharing website ThePirateBay.org. According to court documents obtained by Wired, DeSoto pleaded guilty to only one copyright infringement charge, related to “Black Swan,” and is expected to face a sentence of three years’ probation.

The DeSoto case is galling because SAG has put such a heavy emphasis in recent years on fighting piracy, as have the MPAA and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Creative unions and the companies that employ their members recently joined forces to launch the Creative America initiative, aimed at raising content-piracy awareness among working artists. That effort was announced in July, just three months after the DeSoto case was first reported.

One would think that enumerating the ills of piracy to working artists would be like preaching to the choir. But the DeSoto case proves why it’s important. The movies that DeSoto is accused of uploading to the Web are presumed to have come from awards screeners provided to guild members eligible to vote for last year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. SAG, the Directors Guild of America, and the Writers Guild of America West each have high-profile awards ceremonies in advance of the Oscars, and studios provide many of the unions’ voting members with disc or digital copies of nominated films, before many of those movies have left theaters. Come awards season, thousands of working artists have it within their power to leak those films to the Web.

There is no indication right now that the DeSoto case will change the ways that awards screeners are distributed to guild members. “Screen Actors Guild Awards has always taken the concern for piracy very seriously and continues to work with the studios in those efforts,” Kathy Connell, producer of the SAG Awards, told Back Stage. Fox Searchlight, the studio behind “Black Swan,” did not respond to a request for comment. But it seems likely that studios and law enforcement will be keeping their eyes on those screeners as they head to voters later this year.

Pictured: Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"

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I can only hope that SAG takes whatever action is available to the Union to expel Mr. DeSoto as a member. I also hope that when the Federal Court imposes its sentence it requires Mr. DeSoto to reimburse every cast and crew member their lost residuals do to his uploading the movies to the web. I urge every cast and crew member who worked on these productions to write to the Federal Judge urging the imposition of restitution as well as the harshest sentence allowable by law.

SAG expulsion at the very least! Also, screeners should have serial numbers embedded and recipients recorded. This has to be something every artist has to be aware of and consequences of leaking understood. It should be incumbent to all in the industry that this is their livelihood and protected at all costs!

I worked on 200 productions in the industry. I saw background take pics on sets where we had signed heavy heavy confidentiality agreements. I worked on Cloverfield and had people on other sets talk about it and would just respond- I did not think people who worked that were allowed to talk about it. YOu can see me in the making and Ive run into crew who since then have said it is OK now that it has aired. And that is just it- do not talk about work in the industry until after it has been shown, distributed or you have permission. If it is on the web already from production it is probably open for discussion. If the show has already been distributed fine. But the value of a copyright effects the value of your SAG card. I was non-union when I did most of that work and more respectful of that then thoes getting their pay checks from union jobs. I heard about a girl on Deadwood who got fired for posting pics on line, but she was also set up by the girls on set who were very mailicous and put the web site out on set so production could see. Unfortunately it is never safe to commit piracy. I waited to show pics of me from sets until the show was cancelled. If the images are of you- that is fine- but respect that no one should know anything about the film until it is released through proper channels or those who own it put it out there.

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