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Seven arrested in the Revenge of the Sith pre-release piracy

Six men and one woman have pleaded guilty to US federal piracy charges, having admitted copying Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith a week before its cinema release. The film was subsequently put on the Internet.

Prosecutors believe the seven defendants, all from Los Angeles County, were not part of an organized piracy ring and only used copies of the movie for their own viewing. But after copies passed among them, the epic film ended up in the hands of an eighth person who put it on the Internet the night before its record-grossing theatrical release.

That person, Marc Hoaglin, 28, of Huntington Beach pleaded guilty in December to a felony count of uploading a pre-release copyrighted work onto the Internet. The seven other defendants pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor charges.

The illegal distribution of George Lucas’ latest film started during the week before its May 19 release, when Albert Valente, 28, of Lakewood took a DVD copy of the film from a post-production facility where he worked. The firm was hired by the studio for the post-production work.

Valente lent the DVD to his friend Jessie Lumada, 28, of Long Beach, who gave it to another friend, Ramon Valdez, 30, also of Long Beach. Valdez took Revenge of the Sith to the cable company where he worked and allowed co-worker Michael Fousse, 42, of Monrovia to upload it onto the company's internal network.

Dwight Wayne Sityar, 27, of La Crescenta, who also worked at the cable company, then burned the movie onto three CDs and gave them to co-worker Stephani Gima, 25, of Los Angeles. Gima gave the movie to her brother-in-law, Joel De Sagun Dimaano, 33, of Los Angeles, who brought it to his work at MGM Studios and lent it to Hoaglin, his co-worker. Hoaglin uploaded the movie onto the Internet.

The prosecutor said it was only a coincidence that Hoaglin worked at MGM, a competitor to Fox and Lucasfilm, which produced the Star Wars film. He uploaded the movie onto the Internet on his own initiative without any direction from MGM.

New US laws make uploading a film before its DVD release a federal crime. Hoaglin faces up to three years in federal prison when he goes before a judge on March 6 for sentencing. But since he pleaded guilty, prosecutors are recommending home confinement instead.

The seven other defendants, who all pleaded guilty to either copying or distributing the movie, are scheduled to be sentenced April 12 and could face a maximum of one year behind bars. Prosecutors are not recommending prison for any of them. They face a maximum fine of $100,000 each, but that could be commuted if they cannot afford to pay.

Any competition Revenge of the Sith faced from the online version did not keep it from earning $50 million at the box office its opening day. The box-office take set the record for the biggest opening day of any movie, and it was also the biggest single-day gross ever. The film went on to take $848.5m at the global box office.

Story filed 29.01.06

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