Dallas Buyers Club sues Voltage for not sharing proceeds.

It is 12:30am and I really do not have time to go into this, but I just learned that Dallas Buyers Club, LLC is suing Voltage Pictures, LLC in Montgomery County, TX for, among other things, not paying fees to Dallas Buyers Club for the licensing fees owed to them.

[Hat tip to SJD @ FightCopyrightTrolls for breaking the story.  Her link to the lawsuit can be found here.]

It appears from the TX case filing (Cause No. 15-06-06049) that Voltage Pictures, LLC approached Dallas Buyers Club, LLC and offered to pay for the license to act as Dallas Buyer’s Club’s agent so that they can sell the film abroad and… so that they can file lawsuits against John Doe Defendants across the US. Part of this agreement appears to be that Voltage Pictures was permitted to use Dallas Buyer’s Club’s name.

082516 Voltage-DBC Power of attorney

…and skipping down a bit:

082516 Voltage-DBC Exclusive Agent

Well, now we learn that Nicholas Chartier and Voltage Pictures are being sued because after making all of the sales and suing all of the John Doe defendants for copyright infringement, Voltage Pictures is accused of cheating Dallas Buyers Club out of their earned licensing fees.

I feel as if I just fell down a rabbit hole…

Thus, whenever we saw a Dallas Buyers Club, LLC lawsuit, and whenever we represented a client against Dallas Buyers Club, LLC, we were really representing them against… VOLTAGE PICTURES, LLC?!?

This brings me to the Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC cases.  Did Voltage Pictures, LLC make the same licensing deal with the Fathers & Daughters movie producers, and are they also not paying them the money that is due to them?  When we see a Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC case, are we really representing clients against the makers of the Fathers and Daughters movie? Or are we representing clients against VOLTAGE PICTURES, LLC who is parading as Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC and claiming that they are Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC, when really they are not?!?

This also makes me ask who the attorneys for the Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC are really representing? Are Josh Wyde and Gary Fischman suing on behalf of Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC? Or are they suing on behalf of Voltage Pictures, LLC pretending to be Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC?  I know Josh is watching this blog, so please feel free to comment.

Who is their client? Voltage or Fathers & Daughters Nevada?

Last question, and then I’m going to sleep. Will Voltage Pictures, LLC soon be sued by the real Fathers & Daughters copyright holders for failure to pay the licensing fees, proceeds, and sales from the monetization of the Fathers & Daughters movie copyright? Have the same facts that are coming out with the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC lawsuit also transpired with the Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC copyright holder?

One more thought — a while back, I was concerned that perhaps the shell companies that were created for various movies were not properly funded. [Well, okay, I backed away from that accusation, but that was on my mind.]  The original thought was that production companies made movies, and to limit their liability, we understood that they set up shell companies as limited liability companies so that if something went wrong or if, say, Dallas Buyers Club caused damage to someone and they were sued, fined, sanctioned, or otherwise held liable for damages from their activities, those damages would be contained to the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC limited liability entity, and they would not trickle “up” to what I thought was the Voltage Pictures, LLC production company.

However, now we see that Voltage Pictures, LLC is NOT the production company, but a LICENSEE (one who signs an agreement to acquire a license to sell or act on behalf of the copyright holder [the licensor]). Thus, this brings me back to the entity that was formed to sue John Doe Defendants in federal court. Dallas Buyers Club, LLC, and Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC (the two Voltage-related companies that are currently on my mind). Are they properly funded? Who owns them, and who are the real parties acting through them? Voltage Pictures or Dallas Buyers Club? Voltage Pictures or Fathers & Daughters? Who is providing the funding for them?  And did they properly notify the court of this arrangement when they filed the lawsuits against the John Doe Defendants?

Wow, when they say that there is “no honor among thieves,” they weren’t kidding.  First Keith Lipscomb is sued by Malibu Media, LLC for not paying them the royalties and/or funds received through Lipscomb’s Malibu Media, LLC v. John Doe lawsuits across the US, and now Voltage Pictures, LLC is being sued by Dallas Buyers Club, LLC for the same thing. I also want to point out that Liberty Media also sued their lawyer, Marc Randazza (although the circumstances were different, and if what Marc wrote in his defense was true (e.g., that they used his office desk to shoot adult films), both Liberty Media and Randazza are both to blame, but for different reasons). I also remember when Prenda Law Inc. stopped paying their local counsel here in Houston the fees and commissions he earned through the filing of the lawsuits.

So… in sum, is this the scenario of thieves stealing from thieves as we have seen before? Or is this an example of “copyright trolls stealing also from their own clients”?? Wow, this field of law has skeletons hidden in closets all over the place.

UPDATE: For more on this topic, SJD covered this topic in detail.  See FightCopyrightTrolls article, “How copyright trolls plunder both US citizens and… rights holders.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

Off Topic: “Group Buying” Through The Eyes of Piracy.

I was reading an article called “Collaborative Intellectual Property Purchasing” by a blogger called Close to Anonymity. In his article, he clearly describes the concept of “group buying,” and suggests that it is one method to provide a solution to the piracy problem. The problem is that in many circumstances [as the copyright laws and DMCA statutes are in their present form] “group buying” is illegal.

NOTE: While he approaches the topic from an honest and upstanding discussion on how to provide a “fix” to the copyright statutes, this article is a dark, cynical, and corrupted view of the topic from a jaded view of the law. This article approaches the merits and faults of group buying, but it does so by viewing it through the eyes of a “pirate.” Up front, I ask for the forgiveness from the author.

Collaborative buying, or “group buys” is something that you will find on various bittorrent websites (not public websites like Pirate Bay or what was KAT, but more often on “private” file sharing websites which host “private” trackers). To get access to these websites, you usually need an invitation and need to know someone who knows someone, etc. The private tracker sites are often topic-specific, so if you are looking for art-related books, you’ll go to one bittorrent website which hosts this kind of content, and if you are looking for business-based torrents, you’ll go somewhere else.

The idea as I have seen it in practice is that someone posts a proposed “Group Buy” on a forum for a digital product. This can be a DVD course, a piece of software, or anything that can be copied and shared online. This digital product costs, say, $100, so to get the price down to $10 per person, the user proposing the group buy will ask for ten people to commit to spending $10 a piece. I am not aware of how the funding happens (e.g., through an intermediary website), but one person will purchase the product on behalf of the group, and they will share it with the other users who participated in the purchase. I suppose the group buy participants believe that they are not “pirating” the software or the media because they each contributed a few dollars to purchase it, and in a way, they are right.  However, the law disagrees.

As for the legality of group buys, copyright licenses for multimedia products and software often think in “one purchase, one license, one copy, [or, one purchase, one installation]” terms. You see this concept of “one purchase, one copy” on full display when trying to view a digital copy of a book purchased by your local library via the Overdrive app.  If a library has purchased one copy of an ebook or an audio book, they can only allow that one digital copy to be “taken out” by one user at a time, even though the technology is there to share the ebook or audio book with all of their patrons at the same time.  It’s a silly model for a library to prevent all of their patrons from accessing the copyrighted content at the same time, and my best guess is that if they were to negotiate unlimited licenses, then the cost of licensing the content to the library would be significantly higher, perhaps on the level of a scribd, or a Netflix.com.  Thus, they opt to buy the “one copy” and they strictly adhere to the “one copy owned, one copy available for use” copyright model.

In the context of piracy and group buys, when one end user purchases the product and shares that product with ten other individuals (each of whom paid a proportional share of the cost of the product, and each of whom install the software product on their machines and use the same serial code to activate the product), when the software “phones home” to authenticate the same serial number for the ten computers, the software developer sees the 9 users as “infringers” and the original purchaser as someone the one who is responsible for the piracy, and they’ll deactivate the software for everyone.

Similarly, when group buying something as simple as a movie or a DVD title, the individual who breaks the copy protection on the DVD and provides copies of the cracked DVD to a number of his friends who contributed to the purchase is seen as both violating the DMCA laws (breaking copy protection), and violating the copyright statutes because that user copied the DVD without authorization from the production company.

Thus, the copyright rules and the DMCA rules do need to be updated to stop piracy. I commend the author of the “Close to Anonymity” blog for proposing a viable solution to making products more affordable to end users while at the same time providing the content creators (the copyright holders) with extra money and sales through the group buy. The solution will not stop the “piracy problem,” but allowing for group buys on a large scale can at least mitigate (somewhat) the damage that copyright holders claim to suffer at the hands of piracy.

I am jaded somewhat, however, and I cannot stop the nagging feeling that group buying will never be legalized. The content producers will claim that group buying would hurt their sales, in that if the nine (9) users were unable to get together to purchase the $100 piece of software, if at least two (2) of them paid the full $100 for it, then the content producer would have made $200 in sales, whereas with group buying they would only be making a $100 sale. Thus, they would not go for such a concept.

Similarly, I cannot imagine the lawmakers [who are showered with benefits for voting in line with the MPAA / RIAA lobbyists] would ever try to make content more readily available to end users. If you look at the way lawmakers have voted over the years, copyright statutes only get worse and worse for the public, not better. Case in point (and I am going by memory here without checking this fact) — the statutory damages for copyright infringement were not always $150,000 in the US. This ever-increasing statutory damages limit is the doing of the lawmakers who I can only think had their pockets lined for voting in favor of harsher and harsher penalties for copyright infringement.  Between you and me, I am already of the opinion that the statutory damages for copying one video, music, or copyrighted work are already unconstitutionally high, but good luck getting a judge to rule this way.

Lastly, in the author’s article, he mentions the idea of a group buy for a $1.29 hypothetical song called “Hey Moe.” If the copyright holders knew that multiple individuals could purchase their same song in a group buy settling (e.g., increasing the price to $1.34 by having one purchaser pay $1.24 [a discount] and the other purchaser pay $0.10), while the solution proposed by the author would provide the copyright holder with a $1.34 sale, the “greedy” copyright holder would sulk at the $1.24 in lost profits by claiming that if such a group buy were not available, both purchasers would have paid $1.29 each for the song.

[How would they see lost profits? $1.29 x 2 sales = $2.58 in sales – $1.34 for the group buy sale = $1.24 in lost profits.]

Thus, the realistic result [if a “group buy” framework were legalized and made possible when purchasing copyrighted media] is that the “greedy” copyright holders would steeply increase the price of the media so that the “net” amount they make is the original $1.29 per copy that they would have made were there no group buy in the first place.

In sum, group buying is a great idea and it should be considered when revising the copyright statutes. But practically, because copyright holders in my experience are profit-driven to a fault (greed), and lawmakers are corrupt to a fault, I do not think we will ever see group buying being made legal in the near future.

However, for the pirates out there on private trackers, “group buying” will remain a viable method of obtaining new content to be shared first with the participants of the group buy, and then later with the members of the website. I am by no means encouraging or endorsing the practice, but with things as they are, group buying seems to be the most “ethical” (and still yet illegal) way to obtain content without paying full price for it, and bittorrent websites seem to provide the perfect forum for allowing such a practice to happen. In my opinion, if the bittorrent website only shared content with members who “bought in” to the group buy without sharing it with anyone else, that would be the closest to an ‘ethical’ solution (and yet it would still be illegal). A less ethical solution is to allow each user to buy in after the fact, making the product progressively cheaper-and-cheaper with every downloader “buying in” to the group buy, and thus crediting every previous purchaser’s account every time a new downloader “buys in” to the group buy after the fact.

But then again, through this example, I just made the point of the copyright holder. Eventually with group buys [after-the-fact], the product price would become infinitesimally small, and the copyright holder would only have made one sale of the product, which would then be shared with potentially hundreds or thousands of downloaders. This is copyright infringement in the classic sense — the unlawful copying or duplication of a copyrighted work, and one sale through a group buy would not adequately compensate the copyright holder for the purchase of his work.

In sum, the copyright system is broken, there is piracy, and until the content producers work with end users to make their content more readily available, or they price their products correctly to the point where they could capture the sale of a majority of those who would purchase their product, there will remain end users who might have purchased the product if it were more available or priced lower, but who instead turn to piracy to obtain that media because of the unavailability of that content for a price that the “market” can bear.

A rant about poor quality Hollywood content & distribution.

I thought that TAC’s response to my article last night deserved a spot of its own, so I am pasting it below.

In short, he’s right. As a lawyer, I get so caught up with each individual client and defending whether copyright infringement actually happened or not that I overlooked the big picture “elephant in the room” point — that if the movie production companies would actually make good content which would inspire someone to buy a movie ticket, and if they would make that good content readily available rather than blaming downloaders for a few bucks of loss of revenue, then piracy wouldn’t even be a problem.

I used to be a movie buff. I would see every movie in the theaters, and if there was something I missed, I would catch it later when it came out on DVD. However, the… pardon my language… “crap” that has been coming out of the theaters over the last ten years has lost me as a fan. I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie and felt that I got my money’s worth. More often then not, I leave the theater feeling cheated.

The internet created a problem for the movie companies where it enabled average internet users to share digital copies of movies which [by definition of being “digital”] are the identical quality as the files burned on DVDs from which they are ripped. They tried to stop the copying through creating privacy measures that blocked an individual from being able to copy videos, but individuals got around those protections.  Then they passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) statutes and made it a crime to unblock the copy protections, but people did it anyway.  Then they sued the downloaders and claimed they were going after the lost revenue, but instead, they went after statutory damages of $150,000 per instance of infringement.  In the process of suing downloaders (rather than suing the initial uploader or working to take down the infringing videos), with the birth of the Dunlap Grubb and Weaver, LLC Voltage Pictures, Inc. “Hurt Locker” and “Expendables” lawsuits, Voltage Pictures, Millennium Films, and other production companies turned their failed b-rated movies into a money-making extortion-like shakedown scheme where they asked for tens of thousands of dollars for what was really the loss of a movie ticket or a DVD rental.

The point is that Hollywood and their production companies spend so much time trying to clamp down and stop people from getting content that if they spent those same dollars finding new ways to make content readily available, they would stop the piracy problem (or at a very minimum, they would convert many would-be pirates into paying customers).  Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Redbox have the right idea of trying to find ways to get movie content into consumers’ hands, but even they run into licensing problems where the Hollywood movie studios won’t let them provide content to their subscribers (and thus great movies and TV shows are commonly lost to history).

[Case in point — The Stargate TV series (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Unvierse) — all AMAZING shows, but there was a point that Netflix took them down from their site citing licensing issues, and if you wanted to see them, you would have needed to either buy the DVDs on Amazon, or “look elsewhere” for them (meaning, piracy).  I would have happily paid more to Netflix to keep them available, even in a “click here to pay a bit more to see this video” fashion.  UPDATE: I am happy to share that Amazon Prime provides all seasons of these shows to their paying customers, so yes, Jeff Bezos is doing his job of making content available.]

This argument has gone around in circles for many years. Point being, the movie companies have obviously chosen that their focus will be to clamp down and spend their money to fight the losses from piracy rather than innovate and make good content that would inspire people to open their wallets and pay for a movie ticket or rent a DVD.

This is my point, this is my feeling, this is how I see things. I could be wrong, but who cares. Unless I see quality new content in the theaters (and not recycled old story lines), I’m not buying a ticket. Superman versus Batman?!? Really? Yet one more Borne Identity?!? Really? Ice Age in Space?!? Really? How many times can I hear the same story told over and over again? I’m honestly bored of all of this recycled media crap and I wish they would start looking for new and original content.

Thus, in all fairness and thanks to “That Anonymous Coward (TAC),” below is his comment to last night’s “We are winning the bittorrent piracy war against copyright holders, but what are the unintended consequences?” article which inspired this entire line of thought.

TAC from that anonymous coward :
 

And there in lies the biggest problem.
People look at Popcorn Time, and don’t understand how it works. They might assume that its just an awesome service. It works like everyone imagines we should be able to get content.

The “war” has always been pointless.
Everything done to “stop” pirates, ends up punishing paying customers… and eventually when you hassle paying customers enough they look for other ways to get the content.
We’ve missed out on technology moving forward, because of screams that it MIGHT hurt the bottom line of an industry that has its own special ‘accounting’ practices that manage to make a world wide blockbuster look like it lost money.
They aren’t honest about their books, they aren’t honest about actual harm, they aren’t honest about why they refuse to stop punishing paying customers & creating more consumers that might turn to piracy because it meets their want for the content how, where, when they want it that the industry can’t seem to understand.

When they cling to an outdated business model, ignoring the consumer demand for access, they have forgotten they are in business to sell content… not impose pointless control over people who already paid them who get treated worse for playing by the rules.

Imagine what they could have done with all of the time and money they have dumped into the anti-piracy schemes (that never pay that well or accomplish what is promised) and had used it to “fix” the horrible patchwork of laws & rules to create a unified worldwide business model that makes getting the content customers want faster & easier. But then they would be making more money they they ever imaged possible… but would still be imagining there is a dollar out there they aren’t getting & end up harming paying customers chasing the imaginary dollars.

Unintended consequences of winning the war against trolls.

[2017 UPDATE: Little did I know that I accurately predicted what would happen, but I got the entities wrong.  Since the April 2016 breakup of the Lipscomb/Guardaley relationship, new Guardaley kingpin Carl Crowell has created a new entity called RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT which has reverse-engineered CEG-TEK’s proprietary DMCA copyright infringement notice system.  Many of you have visited this link thinking that RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT was somehow related to CEG-TEK (at first, I thought so too), but really it is an ‘evil twin’ competitor.  In sum, apparently my concerns about CEG-TEK becoming corrupted where one bittorrent click would result in tens/hundreds of infringement notices may have actually have happened, but I got the entity wrong.  It wasn’t CEG-TEK, it was Crowell’s reverse-engineered ‘evil twin’ copy of CEG-TEK which we now see in RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT. Still, read on so that you’ll understand the issues.]

Every pirate knows that the only way to block the copyright trolls from identifying their true IP addresses (and thus sending out DMCA copyright infringement notices, as outfits such as CEG-TEK have been known to do) is through the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) [, and not just any VPN, but a paid VPN provider which does not track their subscribers’ activities*].

In recent weeks, I have heard from various copyright trolls that bittorrent users are “winning the piracy war,” in that their activities have thwarted the copyright holders from learning who they are. Armed with what is becoming common knowledge of free software which can be configured to stream pirated content (e.g., Kodi, formerly XBMC), internet users who wish to “unplug” from the cable companies are able to do so in a way in which it becomes difficult if not next to impossible to be caught viewing streamed content**. Not only this, but many have even purchased Amazon Fire sticks which can be jailbroken to allow the Kodi software to be installed on it, and they are watching pirated videos from their HDTV without even needing a computer.***

But what is the effect of “winning the war” on those who are left behind and don’t realize that they need to use a VPN if they are going to bittorrent their favorite movie, software, or video game? This is the point of the article.

The unintended consequence of bittorrent users learning to use a VPN, or migrating away from bittorrent and towards free streaming services is that copyright holders [who for three years now have enjoyed easy settlement money] are realizing that there simply are not enough people to send DMCA / copyright infringement notices to in order to line their pockets with gold and dirty cash. As a result, it is my experience that they are becoming “less nice” and they are trying to make more money from fewer downloaders. Case-in-point: Girls Gone Wild DMCA notices used to ask for one $300 settlement for a whole page of 60+ videos, but now they are asking for tens of thousands of dollars for that same “click” of a bittorrent file.

I am also noticing that CEG-TEK is acting differently, perhaps in response to what has been described to me as a steep decline in numbers of “pirates” to whom they can send DMCA notices. In the past few weeks, it has been my experience that Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) is now sending multiple notices out to the ISPs for the same download. In one case regarding their Girls Gone Wild client that I mentioned above, CEG-TEK sent literally over 1,000 notices to one ISP for the alleged download of one bittorrent file.

At first I thought this was a glitch in their computer system, but then it occurred to me that maybe CEG-TEK somehow benefits from keeping the numbers of DMCA notices sent to the ISPs artificially high. Is there any benefit to them to be doing this? I have been racking my brain on this topic and I still cannot come up with a reason.

Honestly, here is my concern. When an animal is backed against the wall, what does it do? It attacks. If indeed we are winning the bittorrent piracy war, I am concerned that CEG-TEK will begin taking on new clients who thrive on stacking their bittorrent files with hundreds of adult films. Those who are sophisticated will understand exactly who I am speaking about.  

They will then trap the unsuspecting bittorrent user who “clicks on a bittorrent file” in their spider web, and that user will receive hundreds of DMCA notices which will scare the b’jeebies out of him.  Then they will give in to the urging of their less-than-ethical client, and they will agree to start charging more than the $300 per title that they currently do (remember, at one point, CEG-TEK used to charge $200 per title, and then at what I understood to be the urging of their client, they raised the settlement amount to $300 per title).  So they are pliable, as we have seen in the past.

In the end, just as we saw hints of this with the recent Girls Gone Wild debacle, CEG-TEK will morph from a $300 per title copyright enforcement outfit (lamb) into a $3,500 per title shakedown outfit (wolf) where they base their settlement amounts on the client’s ability to pay rather than what they believe is a “fair” amount to compensate the copyright holders.

Last, but not least, I learned that CEG-TEK threatened an accused downloader with criminal prosecution this week. For those of you who know me, I have spent almost every day since 2010 working on copyright infringement cases. NEVER until last week have I seen a copyright holder threaten an accused internet user with criminal charges for a copyright infringement matter.

In sum, the times they are a changin’. If we are indeed winning the war, what will CEG-TEK turn into in order to survive?  And, what will their copyright holders (who for the most part have been docile and lazy these past few years) do when their easy income stream dries up?


CONTENT CUT FROM THE ARTICLE:

*[UNRELATED PERSONAL NOTE: I am a fan of such VPN providers not because they make piracy more difficult to detect, but because I believe strongly in a person’s right to be anonymous. The amount of snooping that happens with internet trackers, cookies, and newer methods literally sickens me, and I do not believe that advertising companies and ISPs should have so much knowledge about their customers. For this reason, I have nothing wrong with sharing for privacy purposes that examples of VPNs that you can rely on can be easily found by searching “torrentfreak secure vpn” on Google, or just by going to TorrentFreak’s website where they review VPN providers which take your anonymity seriously. Just be sure to have some mechanism in place that if the VPN connection goes down, even for a second, that your real IP isn’t exposed to whatever site you happen to be visiting, or to whatever server you happen to be connected to. This is called a “DNS leak,” and there are easy ways to configure your system to lock down the connection if or when the VPN goes down, even for a second.]

** NOTE: There is a popular software called PopcornTime which I am sad to share has given our firm many clients who have been caught downloading mainstream movies (e.g., The Dallas Buyers Club cases, Voltage Pictures’ Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC cases, and most recently, Millennium Film’s London Has Fallen (“LHF”) movie cases, etc.). Most recently, I have been seeing new CEG-TEK notices for Millennium Film’s “Criminal” movie which the copyright holders have already started suing in “Criminal Productions, Inc. v. John Doe” copyright infringement lawsuits . The reason for so many getting caught is that PopcornTime appears to be a software which allows you to stream video content, but it uses bittorrent as its back-end to download the movies.

*** NOTE: The Amazon Fire sticks which have Kodi installed in my opinion can still get you caught for copyright infringement. The reason for this is that they connect directly to the internet exposing your real IP address. Most people don’t realize that they need to also configure their ROUTER to connect to the internet through their paid VPN provider.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.