Warner Bros. Sues Innovative Artists Over Screener Piracy

Stallone in Creed - H 2016

Warner Bros. Entertainment claims Innovative Artists illegally pirated last year's Oscar screeners, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in California federal court. 

"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," writes Warners' attorney Kelly Klaus. (Read the full complaint below.)

Not only are the actions blatantly illegal, Klaus argues, but they're also especially egregious because Innovative is a talent agency "that claims to promote the interests of actors, writers, directors and others whose livelihoods depend critically on respect for copyright."

Warner Bros. says it discovered the practice after unauthorized copies of Creed and In the Heart of the Sea appeared online shortly after Academy screeners were sent out. Watermarks on the screeners traced pirated copies back to an Innovative Artists client, according to the suit.

"Instead of forwarding the screeners directly to its client, Innovative Artists used illegal ripping software to bypass the technical measures that prevent access to and copying of the content on DVDs," writes Klaus. "Innovative Artists then copied the movies to its digital distribution platform, where those copies became available for immediate downloading and streaming along with infringing copies of many other copyrighted movies."

Warners is suing for copyright infringement and violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and is seeking an injunction and maximum statutory damages.

Innovative Artists issued a lengthy statement in response to the lawsuit late Monday night, saying it was surprised by the suit: "Innovative Artists has fully cooperated with Warner Bros. from the first moment Warner Bros. informed Innovative that two award screener movies had been found on an Internet bit torrent site in December 2015. Innovative immediately permitted Warner Bros. to enter it's offices, interview it's employees, review its databases, and fully investigate the issues. As Warner Bros. well-knows, Innovative management immediately shut down all access to award screeners in December 2015 and Innovative immediately ceased any further activity that is the subject of the complaint. Warner Bros. is well aware, from its past experience with other industry entities, the sharing of award screeners is commonplace within the Hollywood community. Innovative was surprised, given its full cooperation with Warner Bros. investigation, that the complaint was filed without any communication from Warner Bros. without any prior contact with Innovative to resolve the claims. Notwithstanding that fact, Innovative is sorry for the improper sharing of the screener movies and will seek to resolve this matter with Warner Bros. on fair and reasonable terms as soon as possible. Innovative will have no further comment on this matter."