The open letter to the founder of Hustler, Larry Flynt, presented below was accessible via www.anopenlettertomrlarryflynt.com up until recently. Apparently, the author of the letter let the domain name registration expire, probably thinking that his plea was not relevant anymore (it was 100% successful). If this is the case, I strongly disagree: this letter is well versed and expresses the thoughts that many (including me) have grasped only a year later, and this letter is positively relevant to the current situation. Therefore, I wanted to preserve this excellent write-up here.
I learned about this letter from TAC, who told me the story behind it:
Hustler made a porn parody of Avatar. They retained infamous Evan Stone after he went to a porn convention to drum up his business. Shortly thereafter, someone posted an open letter directed at Larry Flynt on the web, explaining how this would be bad for them in the long run. They directed Stone to drop the cases. Stone went out publicly calling them not nice things and saying they lacked courage or was it balls. He claimed he was done with porn, but then later was working for Mick Haig and had his name on some cases for Debbie Does Dallas. I think he had lost some luster being the copyright troll fired by Hustler after his big showing at the convention.
In a recent Slashdot commentary, a network admin working for a porn producer, articulated his thoughts about one of the vilest porn copyright trolls of today, John Steele:
John Steele is pursuing a business model that the industry does not support, and it doesn’t want the attention it is generating. I happen to have talked to some of the guys behind the content he is actually suing over and these are the most right wing nutcases you could ever hope to avoid. The majority of porn producers stay well clear. They listened to their geeks and saw how what was not working for mainstream content also would not work for them.
Putting all the pieces together, I find it very encouraging that most respected adult producers, those who value their fans and think about the future, despise the “business model” of copyright trolls, which
- does not solve the piracy problem;
- does not help to recoup (questionable) losses, instead bringing misery upon tens of thousands of US families (many of which have nothing to do with the alleged wrongdoing) and only enriches ethically challenged lawyers;
- immensely damages reputation and repels potential customers.
I plan to use this text to contact other big name produces (PHE, Inc., for example), who recently jumped on the trolling wagon possibly after listening to sweet speeches of scum lawyers — such as John Steele, Keith Lipscomb or Gill Sperlein, and did not think well about both apparent immorality and inevitable negative consequences of the awful decisions to employ the said scumbags.
An open letter…
Dear Mr. Larry Flynt,
I have been a fan of you and your work for a long time. I’m not sure exactly when you entered my awareness, but I’m betting I wanted to look at Hustler as soon as I found out what it was. When I learned about your life through The People vs. Larry Flynt, I was impressed that one person with enough willpower and focus could fight for what was right — and win. I congratulate you on all your success and sincerely wish you the best. However, I am concerned by something with which your company is currently involved.
I recently received notification from my internet service provider that my personal information had been requested as part of lawsuit filed by a law firm representing your company, Larry Flynt Publications, Inc. It stated that my IP address had been recorded as one that received a file via a torrent downloader, a program that downloads large files in pieces via a peer-to-peer network. I contacted the law firm listed for more information and received this reply:
We have subpoenaed your records from [redacted] because it was found that your Internet account was used to unlawfully download and distribute a film, [redacted], from our client (LFP Internet Group) and you are being sued in federal court. Your ISP is letting you know that we have subpoenaed your records and will be releasing that information to our office.
The letter seemed more concerned with frightening me than with explaining what had happened. I searched my computer, which did not yield the file. After a series of internet searches, I got a better idea about what, exactly, was going on.
Lawsuits of this type are based on the fact that torrent downloaders share bits of a file as they are downloading it. Some people claim that this constitutes copyright infringement, because downloaders are also distributing the file. In fact, most downloaders only upload what amounts to a few seconds of a video — a few drops from a whole swimming pool.
Yet these downloaders are threatened with the maximum penalty for copyright infringement, which can include fines up to $150,000, jail time, and payment of the plaintiff’s legal fees. The penalties are so high for two reasons. First, copyright law covers both those who prevent originators from making money off their intellectual property and those who make money from its illegal distribution. Second, there is no agency tasked with the enforcement of copyright laws. It is up to the victim to prove that his copyright has been violated, take the lawsuit to court, and prosecute the perpetrator.
To sue a single person, who did not make a cent, for up to six thousand times the retail price of a file seems to be a perversion of these laws. Yet such people are sued by the thousands. Because these files are so readily available on the internet, the majority of users do not understand the legal complications of what appears to be just another download. They do not understand that they are doing something wrong. When the average internet user is informed he has broken the law, he doesn’t understand the charges, since he likely still associates ‘copyright infringement’ with selling bootleg VHS tapes. Confused and presented with an ambiguous letter that threatens massive fines and jail, he is then offered a chance to settle. He has two reasons not to fight the charge in court: attorney fees and the prospect of testifying about his consumption of pornography. This system leaves the victim with contempt for the law and the people who exploit it. No lesson is learned, and the law and its punishments do not contribute to prevention.
These lawsuits are not designed to come to court, Mr. Flynt; they are designed to encourage a settlement. When a representative of a large group threatens to make trouble for someone, then offers to take a payment in exchange for stopping that trouble, and finally inflicts said trouble when payment is not received, it is known as Racketeering. It now appears that law firms are starting up specifically to run this racket.
At this point, I had to know more about the firm that your company, Mr. Flynt, would chose to represent your name and products. Given your auspicious and well-documented history with the courts, I assumed you would obtain counsel from an established expert in entertainment law. Instead, I was introduced to Mr. Evan Stone. I went to his law firm’s website and found almost nothing. Apart from some Orwellian generalities, the website is nearly empty, consisting of nothing more than a homepage. The only link — to contact information for Stone’s law firm — yields a 404 Not Found error. I checked to see if the domain was new, assuming it must be, and I found that it is nearly seven years old. According to Mr. Stone’s LinkedIn Profile, he bought the domain before he became an attorney, when he was working in a technical capacity at a local internet provider. His profile shows that he spent eleven years in various technical and entertainment fields. For the past three, Mr. Stone has worked for a small company that acquires and redistributes videos on the internet, specifically to “investigate copyright and trademark infringement” and “create a toolset and procedures to predominantly manage and automate the aforementioned tasks.”
Mr. Flynt, if your company is interested in preventing its property from being taken, it could have found a better man. Mr. Stone appears to have the technical and legal expertise to become a leader in the reform of copyright law for the digital age. Instead, he has chosen to create an automated process to make as much money off as many people as he can. Curiously, Mr. Stone has only been licensed with the State Bar of Texas since May of 2010. I found it surprising, since his firm is currently pursuing four different lawsuits similar to the one I was contacted about. That makes over 1000 John Does — with Mr. Stone planning on an average of $2,000 per settlement, two million dollars in less than seven months as a lawyer.
Mr. Flynt, I agree that wrong is being done when someone downloads a file from the internet without paying for it. I also agree that someone who willfully distributes copies of a file — for free or for profit — is infringing on copyright. I will never agree, however, that someone who downloads a file for a few viewings (and probably destroys it shortly thereafter) should be prosecuted so exorbitantly, and in a fashion that doesn’t help prevent future crimes from being committed. If Mr. Stone’s firm were interested in stopping crime, his subpoena notice would have also included an order to destroy the file. Instead, the intent of his lawsuits and of others like it is to make more money from copyright violations than the actual sale of the film would have earned.
Mr. Flynt, we are living in the future. We need to bring the laws and their enforcement into the future with us, especially when those laws are being applied to things that didn’t even exist when the laws were written. You have the fame, the clout, and the position to spearhead improvement of how trade in digital media is regulated, controlled, and tracked on the internet. At one point in your life, you fought until our understanding of the Constitution itself evolved to meet the demands of our time. You have another opportunity to change things. Please drop these terrible lawsuits, Mr. Flynt. Challenge the people in your company to care for your intellectual property better. Take steps to educate the public about illegal downloading on the internet, and work with providers to prevent it.
I want to thank you for your time, Mr. Flynt. I normally wouldn’t do something like this, but I can’t explain how angry I became when I started to uncover all that is going on. To me, “freedom” is more than simply a word to help sell cars. You have fought for real freedom your entire life, and because of your work, all Americans enjoy expanded rights. I believe that those rights are also a responsibility, and we have the responsibility not to abuse them at others’ expense. The law is designed to help and protect people, not to be used as a weapon.