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Big Brouhaha Over Digital Movie Cameras

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - The maker of the RED digital movie camera claims a competing executive hacked into thousands of emails and engaged in "shady business tactics" to develop and promote a competing digital camera.

RED.com dba RED Digital Camera sued ARRI Inc. and Michael Bravin in Federal Court.

Based in Irvine, Red Digital Camera invented the 4K "ultra-high" definition camera that was, in the words of the complaint, "an industry sensation" when it was released in 2008. It has been championed by David Fincher, who used it to shoot "The Social Network." It was also the camera of choice on the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, "On Stranger Tides."

Salon.com reported in October that three major manufacturers of movie cameras - Aaton, ARRI and Panavision - have stopped making new film cameras and will only make digital movie cameras from now on.

Salon cited movie technology website Creative Cow as the source for its Oct. 13 report.

In its complaint, RED claims that Bravin hacked into the emails after leaving (nonparty) Band Pro Film & Digital, which had been in talks with RED over potential joint ventures. At that time, RED shared information on the workings of its cameras, including its newest model, the RED Epic.

"Within the last year, Bravin was indicted on charges of unlawfully accessing the email server of Band Pro Film & Digital, Inc.," the complaint states. "RED is informed and believes, and thereupon alleges that on or about December 19, 2011, Bravin was sentenced."

RED claims that ARRI introduced its Alexa camera in 2010 to compete with the RED Epic, which went on sale toward the end of that year.

"In or about December 2009, Bravin resigned at Band Pro and in January 2010, he joined ARRI. RED is informed and believes, and thereupon alleges, that Bravin was employed as Vice-President of Market Development for Digital Camera Products and worked out of ARRI's Burbank office," the complaint states.

According to RED, from January to June 2010, Bravin used the email user name and password of Band Pro founder Amnon Band to get emails, including communications from RED owner Jim Jannard. It claims that Bravin used an ARRI computer to hack into the account, and also forwarded emails to ARRI colleagues.

"Bravin, without permission and unlawfully, accessed and/or copied thousands of emails from the Band Pro server, including emails from RED personnel, specifically including Jim Jannard. RED is informed and believes, and thereupon alleges, that Bravin's purpose in reviewing these numerous emails on a regular basis for a over half a year, at the same time ARRI was attempting to launch its Alex [sic] camera was corporate espionage and an effort was to gain confidential, proprietary information regarding competitors, including RED, to provide ARRI an unfair business advantage against its competitors, including RED, in bringing its ARRI Alexa camera to market," the complaint states.

RED claims that Bravin hacked into Band's email account to "gain confidential information related to the RED Epic to use for the advantage of ARRI for the release of their Alexa camera," and that Bravin "undertook this course of action with the knowledge and consent of ARRI."

It claims that ARRI executives Glenn Kennel and Bill Russell "had firsthand knowledge of Bravin's hacking activities," though Kennel and Russell are not named as defendants.

Bravin was indicted in August with computer fraud and email hacking and pleaded guilty to illegally accessing Band Pro's email server, in a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

RED also accuses Bravin of posting on an online public forum "related to all things RED," using both a real and an assumed name.

"During December 2009 and July 2010, Bravin used the forum to make disparaging remarks regarding RED and encouraging viewers to instead look for and purchase the ARRI Alexa camera. Among other things, Bravin falsely asserted that the ARRI Alexa camera was a superior camera to the RED Epic camera, and otherwise attempted to encourage Red users to use the ARRI camera and divert sales from RED," according to the complaint.

RED says that during a meeting at Red Studios in Hollywood it confronted Russell, Kennel and Bravin with proof that Bravin had posted the comments. But according to the complaint, "Bravin was never disciplined by ARRI for his actions."

The complaint also claims that despite "repeated protests from RED" ARRI aimed false advertisements at RED. Despite never mentioning RED by name, the company claims that ARRI advertising represented that ARRI's products were superior to other digital cinema cameras, in order "to undermine the RED cameras."

According to the complaint, ARRI went so far as to claim that the movie "I Hate You, Dad" was made using an Alexa, when it was actually shot on the RED.

RED is represented by Gregory Nelson. It seeks damages for unfair competition based on email hacking, invasion of privacy, conversion, misappropriation of trade secrets, false advertising, unfair competition under the Lanham Act, unlawful trade practices, intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, negligence, trespass to chattels and unjust enrichment. Neither RED's law firm nor ARRI responded to requests for comment.

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