3 Expected to Face Charges of Illegally Copying Movie Prints

Times Staff Writer

Federal authorities are expected to seek criminal charges against three employees of a Los Angeles motion picture postproduction facility, alleging that they illegally copied prints of movies such as “The Passion of the Christ” and “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” that eventually ended up on the Internet.

The U.S. attorney’s office is expected to announce the charges at a news conference this afternoon, sources said.

The federal criminal complaint, which the U.S. attorney’s office expected to file Wednesday, comes after a months-long FBI investigation into how copies of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” got onto the Internet.


Sources said the complaint alleges that three employees of Lightning Dubbs, which handles video and DVD duplication and Internet design for a Hollywood clientele, illegally copied prints of the movies. The three men were not accused of uploading material to the Internet or profiting from the sale of pirated material.

The FBI is investigating other postproduction facilities where thefts of movies may be occurring.

In recent months, federal authorities have stepped up enforcement of copyright laws by going after people who have illegally copied prints of movies.

A federal judge in September sentenced Kerry Gonzalez, a 24-year-old insurance underwriter in New York, to six months of home confinement for posting an unfinished pre-release version of the movie “The Hulk” on the Internet. Gonzalez had obtained a copy of the film from a friend who worked at a Manhattan advertising agency working on the marketing campaign.

In November, Manuel Villareal pleaded guilty in federal court in Los Angeles to making and selling a copy of “Austin Powers in Goldmember” before the film’s release last summer. He obtained the print as an employee of Deluxe Laboratories, a postproduction and duplication facility.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office are pursuing piracy issues on four fronts: illegal camcording of films at previews and other screenings, theft of prints at postproduction facilities, copying of awards-season screeners and uploading of movies to the Internet.


In the case of “The Passion,” Gibson’s controversial upcoming film about the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, an illegal copy ended up not only on the Internet but also at the New York Post.

In December, the newspaper published a story about obtaining a “rough-cut version of the film” that was screened to a panel made up of a rabbi, a priest, a professor of early Christianity, a Post movie critic and a reader selected at random to gauge their reactions.

Gibson’s attorneys considered filing a civil action against the Post, and the FBI immediately began an investigation. The newspaper returned a copy to Gibson’s representatives. George Hedges, Gibson’s attorney, said that at present there are no plans to sue the Post.

For several years the Motion Picture Assn. of America and studio chiefs have lobbied Congress to pass stronger anti-piracy laws. In the last year, federal law enforcement has dedicated squads of U.S. attorneys and FBI agents solely to investigating copyright infringement.