Let the buyer beware!

Academy won’t thank Oscar voters who sell DVDs on eBay
By Thomas K. Arnold, Special for USA TODAY
If Punch-Drunk Love isn’t playing in your town, you can probably get a DVD copy on eBay, the online auction house.
One just sold for $122.
Antwone Fisher was up to $22.50 Sunday. Two weeks ago, a single copy of Gangs of New York fetched $150.
These films are still in theaters; none has been officially released on video or DVD. Bidders are vying for coveted “screeners,” or advance DVD copies, sent out by the Hollywood movie studios to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the press in hopes a film will be nominated for Oscars.
Selling screeners is not something the studios condone. “They are on loan from the studio, so they cannot be sold,” says Benjamin Feingold, president of Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, which released Punch-Drunk Love.
Still, eBay won’t do anything about screener sales unless the studio complains. Phone calls to eBay were not returned, but according to a statement on the auction site, “eBay policy does not specifically prohibit the listing of promotional items, but you should be aware that many rights owners take the position that the listing of such items is a copyright infringement. Listing such items could therefore result in the ending of your listing if the verified rights owner reports the items as infringing their rights.”
Feingold says he plans to contact Columbia/TriStar’s legal department. Columbia sent out more than 6,000 screeners.
“Screeners are for viewing by academy members only, and their right to view does not include the right to sell it,” Feingold says. “Any sale or purchase is illegal.”
An Oscar screener of DreamWorks’ The Ring sold for $41, but the auction for Catch Me If You Can was shut down a day after USA TODAY contacted DreamWorks.
But new auctions keep popping up, including one from a seller of Gangs of New York: “Due to eBay shutting down auctions I am selling this NOT as a DVD but as a FRISBEE. You may use is it however you wish, BUT I AM SELLING IT AS A FRISBEE.”
Though sellers contacted via e-mail did not respond, judging from item descriptions, they’re aware of what they’re doing.
“This special DVD is a collector’s item,” read the description for the copy of Catch Me If You Can that was shut down by eBay on Thursday. “Imagine watching the awards shows and knowing you actually watched a DVD that helped cast the vote.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences calls screener sales “problematic,” says spokeswoman Leslie Unger. “That’s why we don’t send them out from here. The studios develop their own lists.”
Motion Picture Association of America spokeswoman Marta Grutka says her organization is very concerned about the sale of illegal copies of movies online.
“If a movie has not been released on video or is still in theaters, and (consumers are) finding it for sale on an auction site, it’s more than likely an illegal copy.”