A fellow critic cops a plea

Copy cat  
By TOM MEEK  |  June 28, 2006

This weekend a shock wave rocked the Boston film-critics community when it learned that Paul Sherman, a long-time contributing critic for the Boston Herald, film editor at the Improper Bostonian, and former president of the Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC), pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting copyright infringement in a San Jose, California, court last month.

From 2002 through 2005, Sherman sold 117 “review” copies of DVDs on eBay before the discs were commercially released, netting $4714. Titles ranged from the revered and in-demand Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to the rogue flash-in-the-pan Out Cold. Sherman claims not to have known that he was complicit in an illegal mass-pirating scheme (referred to as a “warez” group on the Justice Department’s Web site), and selling to an ever-ready buyer who distributed the movies over the Internet.

“I was very wrong to sell the DVDs before they were in stores,” Sherman wrote in an e-mail. “I had no idea what . . . the guy I was selling them to was doing. I thought he was just some college student indoctrinated in the ‘you must go see the movie on opening weekend’ generation who had taken the same approach to DVDs, and got off on watching new DVDs the weekend before they came out. When I got a visit from the FBI a year ago, I learned that the guy was part of a group that was uploading the movies. I told the agents everything I knew.”

Sherman refers to himself as the “low hanging fruit” in the Justice Department’s “Operation Copycat” sting, which yielded 30 convictions. Beyond copyright infringement, selling prerelease copies of movies is a rupture in the tenuous trust between studios and media. According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), movie studios lost more than $6 billion as a result of piracy last year.

Sherman remains contrite, while pointing out that his legal bills have five-times exceeded the nearly $5000 he earned from eBay. Meanwhile, his career as a reviewer has all but come to a halt. The Improper Bostonian dismissed him after seeing a June 21 report in Variety (calls to the Improper were not returned), and he has withdrawn from the BSFC. Sherman faces fines of up to $250,000 and three years in prison when he is sentenced in October.

In a statement from the BSFC, acting president Loren King said, “I think I speak for all our members when I say that we’re saddened by Paul’s recent troubles and wish him all the best in dealing with it. He served the BSFC well as past president, and was an active and enthusiastic member.”

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