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Craig Banaszewski, Ticket Broker for Hollywood Premieres, Fires Back at Studio Lawsuit

Variety logo Variety 12/22/2016 Gene Maddaus
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Craig Banaszewski has been offering VIP access to major Hollywood events — and for just as long, he’s been getting in trouble for it. Back in 2005, it was the ultimate event — the Oscars — and Banaszewski was busted for allegedly selling tickets to an undercover investigator working for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

His company — VIP Concierge — has stayed in business, selling tickets to private events, Oscar parties, movie premieres, and award shows. But on Wednesday, after years of complaining about Banaszewski’s services, several major studios finally had enough and filed a federal lawsuit against him, seeking to bar him from selling tickets to their events.

“I view this as Hollywood going to war against their fans,” Banaszewski told Variety on Thursday, making his first public comments on the suit. “It seems very elitist of the studios to be so ‘concerned’ about preventing fans from attending these events. Heaven forbid these Hollywood elites meet a real person!”

Tickets can run into the thousands of dollars, but they’re worth it for those who can afford to pay. As he explained to the Orange County Register in 2006, “We have clients who have more money than they can spend in Toledo, Ohio. … So they come here and have a first-class experience.”

But the studios don’t see it that way. Disney, Universal, Warner Bros., and Sony are accusing Banaszewski of illegally selling non-transferable invitations to private events, including sought-after premieres and TV show tapings like “The Tonight Show” and “Saturday Night Live.”

The studios allege that those who buy passes to such events can be caught and denied entry, but clearly enough of VIP’s clients are getting through the cracks in security to keep the business afloat. Banaszewski suggests he’s being singled out, noting there are “dozens” of companies offering the same service. “We’re not the biggest,” he said.

Banaszewski told Variety that the studios are not harmed by his clients’ presence at their events.

“At a premiere of 700-1000 guests, maybe there are two to six well dressed fans from various service providers,” he said, via text message. “These individuals would be well dressed and given instructions on all behavior guidelines. This is not the major emergency the studios are trying to portray it as.”

The lawsuit alleges that the studios have repeatedly written to VIP Concierge to demand that they stop selling tickets to private events, and stop advertising using their trademarks. In 2015, Lucasfilm complained that VIP was offering tickets to the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and Sony complained that the company was selling tickets to “Spectre.” Banaszewski finds the trademark claims especially ridiculous.

“Any photos that may have been on the site would have been the same photos that studios distribute and allow to be on thousands of movie-related websites with no issues,” he said. “They clearly do this because they desire publicity for their movie. Claiming damages when, if anything, we were actually helping to promote the movie is preposterous.”

According to the suit, Banaszewski has seemed to take the hint on occasion. In response to a cease and desist letter from Universal, VIP temporarily stopped offering tickets to Universal premieres on its site. But on other occasions, the company has struck a more defiant tone.

“This is clearly a public event,” VIP wrote to Sony in 2015, as quoted in the suit. “Under CA law, we are allowed to resell any public event, such as this, regardless of asking your permission or not.”

When challenged in court, VIP has typically backed off. In 2015, the company agreed to an injunction with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, under which it would no longer offer tickets to the Grammy Awards. In separate litigation, the company agreed to stop selling tickets to Victoria’s Secret fashion shows.

But VIP is still up and running. As of now, its site is offering tickets to Golden Globe parties, the People’s Choice Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the MTV Movie Awards.

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