I’d like to bring your attention to very unfortunate developments that taint your good name and make hundreds of people suffer. I’m talking about a very serious legal system abuse aimed at extorting money from alleged file-sharers, and your movie “The Company You Keep” is at the center of this controversy.
You probably heard about copyright trolls before. If you did not pay attention to this phenomenon, here is a quick recap.
Online movie piracy may or may not be a problem for creators. MPAA cries foul and is ready to turn the Constitution into toilet paper. On the other side of the debate, intelligent and respected public figures think that non-commercial file sharing can even help sales, or at very least piracy is the symptom, not the source of the purported problem, and the solution lies in fair pricing, timely availability and convenience. I’m sure you understand that online copyright infringement is not a black-and-white issue. While I closely watch the debate on this topic and I do have my beliefs, I do not take extreme sides: moving the Overton window is not my job. In addition, I never advocated breaking the law, no matter how unfair it is.
There are certain lawyers who technically do not break the law either, but leech on the society and creators alike. Such lawyers conspire with technology people and some rights holders (more than 90% of them — pornographers) to extract quick settlements from Internet subscribers who allegedly use Bittorent technology to share commercial digital products. The majority of alleged file-sharers are young and or/poor, so a couple of thousand dollars is a very sizable amount for them. The settlements are extracted using threats of expensive litigation and insane maximum statutory fines ($150,000 per work)¹. This amount is equal to the life savings of an average American family. These obscene numbers are articulated in the complaints, so it is all quite believable and super-scary:
Once again, don’t get me wrong: if something is illegal to do, the consequences for doing it are justifiable. We do not whine when we break the speed limit, get caught and fined. Yet the punishment should be proportional to the crime. Literally ruining someone’s career, life or family for a song or a movie obtained illegally is evil. Threatening to ruin someone’s life because of this “crime” is equally evil.
In addition, the detection methods used to “catch” file-sharers have been never scrutinized by experts, many families run open Wi-Fi that can be used by neighbors or strangers, and some people think they download something legal based on the file title — only to find out that a mislabeled downloaded file turned out to be copyrighted material. I can go on and on. One of the most cunning features of the abuse is that the settlement amount is set just slightly below the cost of retaining a competent attorney. Many innocent people do settle for this reason alone. There are estimates that the toll of only the Bittorent strain of the copyright trolling legal plague is more than 300,000 victims in the US over a couple of years.
Note that we are talking about software that is never ideal; we are talking about people making small mistakes (the majority of us humans learn if friendly warned). There is no 100% culpability, never was. In fact, one troll lawyer publicly admitted that the error rate may be as high as 30%. Even assuming ridiculously low 1%, we have 3,000 absolutely innocent families harassed and being wrestled into paying by the purported officers of the court.
The majority of Bittorent cases are based on low-budget pornography or B-movies. There were only few cases when high-budgeted, well-directed movies joined the company and kept it for a while. “Hurt Locker” was the first blockbuster. “The Company You Keep” is being mistreated as we speak, chopping small bits off your reputation, Robert.
Some trolls stoop even lower: there are allegations supported by a solid proof that infamous Prenda Law seeded (uploaded) its own “copyrighted” files to lure file-sharers and subsequently sued them. It’s disgusting, but not surprising. Why not surprising? I’ll explain in three paragraphs below.
The TCYK lawsuits are not much less sleazy that Prenda’s. The copyright to your movie was obtained solely for the purpose of filing these shakedown cases. The mind-boggling detail is that the “entrepreneurs” (TCYK, LLC) who bought the copyright took a mortgage and are now working hard to get the return on investment by placing hundreds of harassing, threatening phone calls without any court oversight.
Copyright trolls preach in chorus that they protect creators by punishing law-breakers and deterring to-be infringers. But is it really so? I believe that the copyright clause in the Constitution was meant to encourage “fine arts and sciences” for the public good. Already mentioned $150,000 was set in the pre-Internet age to deter for-profit large scale infringement, not to threaten a teenager for sharing a pop hit or a movie that he cannot afford to buy.
It is fine when copyright is used to facilitate monetization of the work of art. It may encourage creation. Troll cases monetize not the artifact, but the act of infringement. Any true businessman is always interested in preserving and expanding the basis of his income. Since this “business” is the monetization not of the artifact, but of the infringement per se, copyright trolls have a strong incentive to preserve, protect and extend their dairy cow. The more people involved in infringement — the better for the troll. Who wins? Creator? Yes, she can get a small cut of shekels at the price of reputational damage. Public? This suggestion would be laughable even for the advocates of stronger copyright protection. The answer is: no one, except ethically handicapped lawyers who run this racket. Think about it.
Below is the example of how trolls do their dirty work. Meet Chicago’s fine lawyer Keith Vogt, recorded while working hard protecting your work, Robert (in reality, a lying scumbag who uses the weapon of his legal education to take advantage of a layperson). Note that the person on the other side of the line is an unemployed man who is taking care of his disabled grandmother. Words fail me.
I will be glad if you acknowledge that you read this letter, and I will be happy if you do anything about the ongoing abuse. I suspect your lawyers will tell you that you can’t do anything as you don’t own the copyright. This is wrong. Your public statement can be used by attorneys defending against the predators, and since judges have finally woke up and smelled the “air of extortion,” it can and will make a difference.
What company do you keep, Robert? Make your choice.
Lawsuits and attorneys
As of today, 102 TCYK cases involving about a thousand of victims have been filed in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, and Louisiana.
This giant shakedown conspiracy is run by the following gang of attorneys whose parents failed them (in terms of teaching how to tell right from wrong):
- Todd S. Parkhurst, Michael A. Hierl of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym Ltd;
- Keith A Vogt of Takiguchi & Vogt;
- Richard E. Fee of Fee & Jeffries;
- Leon D. Bass of Taft;
- Van R Irion of Law Office of Van R. Irion, PLLC;
- Mark R. Anfinson;
- David John Stephenson, Jr. of Rocky Mountain Thunder Law Firm;
- Jay R. Hamilton, Charles A. Damschen of Hamilton IP Law;
- James Hunter Adams and Alexa R. Stabler of AdamsIP LLC.
Who’s the mastermind behind this assault on the US population? It is one of the TCYK producers, the owner of Voltage Pictures, a Frenchman Nicolas Chartier (the sole owner of the copyright). Chartier is one of the most odious figures in copyright trolling and a proven fraudster:
[Chartier] was prohibited of attending the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony after having contacted several members of the Academy so they would vote for his low-budget movie The Hurt Locker instead of the massive-budget Avatar.
He was behind the enormous assault on the US population — the biggest mass Bittorent lawsuit in history (“Hurt Locker”), in which he sued 24,583 Does, including a hockey stadium, a dead man and other unlikely targets. This monstrous lawsuit filed with the help from the “godfather” of the US copyright trolls, Kenneth Ford’s buddy Thomas Dunlap, a man lacking ethics no less than Chartier.
Chartier/Voltage Pictures are also behind a copyright terror attack on an uncharted territory: Canada.
In addition, Chartier is a total douche who at least on one occasion rudely responded to a critical email:
I’m glad you’re a moron who believes stealing is right. I hope your family and your kids end up in jail one day for stealing so maybe they can be taught the difference. Until then, keep being stupid, you’re doing that very well.
My mind is reeling. Robert, how in the world could you align your name with this douchebag in the producer list?
- Nicolas Chartier: producer;
- Craig J. Flores: executive producer;
- Bill Holderman: producer;
- Robert Redford: producer;
- Jonathan Shore: associate producer;
- Shawn Williamson: executive producer.
Also, I noticed some irregularities in the copyright registration that I can’t explain. Please chime in and discuss:
Look at another classic dirty trick by the trolls (Todd S. Parkhurst and Michael A. Hierl of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym Ltd). DieTrollDie wrote an article about it. In short, in what may be a retaliatory or pragmatic move (or both), TCYK dismissed only those Does from a massive case who filed motions to quash, and then filed individual lawsuits against them. You know who did this trick before? Right, Prenda. Congratulations to the Sundance Institute and Robert Redford: the company you keep becomes classier and classier.
¹ While it is not applicable to your movie, pornotrolls also exploit the social stigma and threaten to “out” hapless file-sharers and innocents alike to their families, neighbors and business colleagues/managers. Gay pornography cases have the highest settlement rate as many closeted gays, innocents or not, pay the ransom in order not to be outed.