Vivendi Universal Entertainment took legal action against 24 year old Kerry Gonzalez after they found he had uploaded an unfinished version of The Hulk on the Internet several weeks prior to its theatrical release.
Gonzalez pleaded guilt in the summer and was sentenced at the end of last week to six months home confinement, three years probation, fined him $2,000 and ordered him to pay $5,000 in restitution to Universal. He had faced up to three years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for felony copyright infringement.
Gonzalez had obtained a “work print” of the movie that had been sent to a New York advertising agency. The print was missing some special effects, graphics, and a soundtrack.
The FBI traced the Internet copy back to Gonzalez through an encoded “security tag” on the print, which was widely thought to be a watermark burnt into the video image. This could have traced the copy to an individual but neither the advertising agency or the employee who has made this possible by passing him the video tape were named or action taken against them. The reasons for this are not clear but it adds weight to the recent AT&T labs research that much of the unauthorised video available on the Internet is sourced from within the industry.
After the pre-released version was uploaded, reviews started appearing on sites like Ain’t It Cool News slating the film for, among other things, its shoddy CG effects. Studio executives claimed that this could have depressed ticket sales, but the early criticism didn’t have too negative an impact; The Hulk grossed a $62 million in its opening weekend, a record for a June opener. It has earned $130 million so far, after costing $150 million to make.
Vivendi Universal Entertainment, commissioned several studies to determine what Gonzalez’s actions cost the studio. While assigning a dollar amount is an inexact science, the studio settled on about $66 million in a victim-impact statement to the federal court. The court moved to make Gonzalez pay $5,000, but it is not clear if Vivendi will take further action against him.
This kind of high profile court case will certainly make people think twice before uploading unauthorised video content to the Internet, or passing preview material to those who might.