Less than three weeks after he posted a copy of Universal’s “The Hulk” on the Internet, Kerry Gonzalez, 25, of Hamilton, N.J., pleaded guilty to a federal charge of felony copyright infringement.
The case marks the first time someone has faced criminal charges for making a Hollywood film available on the Web.
Described as “tired and exhausted” by his attorney, Matthew Portella, Gonzalez could receive up to three years in prison and a fine of $250,000 at his Sept. 26 sentencing hearing.
“Kerry certainly didn’t contemplate the magnitude of the consequences of uploading the movie,” Portella said.
“Hulk” began circulating online two weeks before the pic unspooled in theaters. That especially infuriated Universal because reviews of the unfinished “workprint” copy made their way onto fan sites, frequently complaining about the quality of the special effects.
When they learned of the pic’s Internet debut, U execs vowed to catch the leaker and contacted the FBI, which traced the online version of the film to Gonzalez, who is a junior level staffer at an insurance underwriter. Computers and the Internet, his lawyer said, are just a hobby for him.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which is prosecuting the case, the online version of “Hulk” originated from a copy given to an advertising agency working on the pic’s marketing campaign.
An ad agency employee loaned the copy to a friend who subsequently loaned it to Gonzalez, prosecutors said.
After disabling digital security features, Gonzalez uploaded the pic in an Internet chatroom where bootleg copies of movies are frequently traded. From there, “Hulk” found its way into various file-swapping venues.
By the middle of last week, Gonzalez learned the government investigators were looking for him, his attorney said. After getting in touch with Portella, Gonzalez arranged for his surrender to the FBI.
Citing Wednesday’s announcement by the Recording Industry Assn. of America that it would begin suing individuals who share music files, Rick Finkelstein, prexy and chief operating officer of Universal Pictures, said he expected more legal actions in the future. “This is the trend. This is the way the industry is headed.”
Vivendi Universal Entertainment exec VP and general counsel Karen Randall said in a statement, “Universal Studios will pursue aggressively and hold accountable to the fullest extent of the law those who steal or abuse its intellectual property by illegally uploading or downloading it on the Internet.”
Aware within minutes
Randall told Daily Variety, “We monitor the Internet vigilantly 24/7 for our copyrighted material. We were aware that ‘The Hulk’ had been posted within minutes.”
Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti, who has been outspoken about the dangers that Internet piracy poses to the movie biz, said, “We are impressed and heartened by the outcome of this matter and hope that it sends a strong message to everyone who contemplates stealing movies and distributing them on the Internet that they will be found and punished.”