Copyright Troll #1–John DeBoer Copyright Nazi
As promised I am here to talk about the two copyright trolls I have dealt with this year. It is now time to go public about this worldwide and internet wide epidemic. The reasons why no one has heard of this crud is because these folks are keeping it out of the media and keeping people quiet so they don’t speak up for fear of retaliation and threats. Bullying and abuse 101.
The troll of the day is John M. DeBoer from DeBoer IP (you can look up his site via Google Search). This guy is the worse of the two I have dealt with, and this is the one I liken to the Waffen SS or the KKK of the copyright world as you will see coming up.
I have read lots and lots of commentary about how terrible, frightening, or scary a letter from Getty Images is, but it is NOTHING compared to this piece of work. Next post will be about Getty Images and one of their little shill companies.
I will not be able to share some of the specifics in the post on some of the upcoming info since I am in statue of limitations of 3 years, and this guy could change his story and come after me again with his facts straight as they are not right now–his case is full of holes and wouldn’t hold water in court. I do have detailed documentation of his flaws along with links, screenshots, and tons of sources.
Welcome to Copyright Hell
I have been a writer and an author for quite some time now, and I had some idea about how copyright works and what it is on a basic level, but I wasn’t (and aren’t yet) making a living from my work, so I needed to start a in-home business. I was striking out left and right in the traditional labor market, so I needed to create me a job instead of waiting for someone to give me the time of day. My husband and I were going through a very difficult time.
I scrimped and saved to hire a designer to build me a website for the first phase of this business I had planned to run. I was on a tight budget, but I had a detailed plan about what was going to happen. Site built and some time (years) passes. I work with another designer for a more enhanced site and the custom artwork is transferred earlier this year. I am working diligently in trying to build the SEO and the content on this site and doing freelance work on the side.
One evening I get an email from a Diana Diaz who is DeBoer’s legal assistant. I scratch my head as I have no idea what this could be and I download the letter.
I am terrified at what I read. I was also in therapy for CPTSD (complex posttraumatic stress disorder) at this time and trying to get the business off the ground and my husband and I are still struggling. I am being accused of flagrant copyright infringement, stealing from and ripping off the photographer, and tampering with the alleged photo and being threatened with a subpoena for all my business property, litigation, and legal fees if I do not pay a settlement of $1320.00 by April 26. I received the email version of the letter on March 16. The hard copy arrived at my home/office on March 24.
What am I going to do? I don’t have the money to pay this! I certainly can’t afford a lawyer and to go to court. If this is for real, how am I going to be able to afford groceries, electricity, or even gas for my husband to get to work?
I have a full blown relapse of PTSD within minutes of reading the letter and a total traumatic stress meltdown. My stomach cramps and I have diarrhea almost instantly. I begin to sweat and shake. Horrible thoughts fly through my mind. I was beyond any capacity of rational thought. I even felt violated for some reason maybe because he knew my home address and email. I try to go to bed, but I have nightmares and insomnia, and my stomach hurts. The next day I cannot eat a single bite. I remain this way for 3 straight days. I get on the phone and call and text some of my close friends for some advice who are more savvy about such things than I am while I was in tears and completely gripped by fear. I would be perfectly okay to never darken the doorway of a courtroom in my entire life.
I try to contact these people (DeBoer and his assistant) by phone and email and leave voicemails. They never respond once. Now that seems weird especially accusing someone of something this serious. I document everything just in case.
Talking with my friends help me ground myself to reality and rational thought. They tell me this has to be a scam as such a matter like this wouldn’t be handled through email. I would have been served by certified letter or something, and it dawned on me after the fact with dealing with a matter of a debt collector who tried to file a lawsuit on a debt we didn’t owe in which case a police officer brought the letter. One of my friends looks up some information about this lawyer and they find that he is a known scammer.
Regardless according to the the individual voluntary arrangement, I removed the image from the website and off my hard drive to comply and take no chances.
My Own Road to Learning
I look up some information about John DeBoer and I find out other information by looking up “copyright infringement scams” and other keywords like that. Then I find out about copyright trolling. I read blogs and articles for weeks and they mention a forum called ELI (Extortion Letter Info) and the blogs in question were bloggers, photographers, lawyers, authors, and artists alike. They even had programs to help people like me, and I sign up to become a member. Even law abiding people like me get these letters and there are tons of them (not everyone that has ever posted on ELI is innocent), so that was a bit of an eye opener. I find out that cases like mine are a dime a dozen. I was hardly the one and only DeBoer victim. Here are the threads on ELI:
For my intro thread about DeBoer and commentary on ELI click here.
Picking Apart The Letter
Even in my hyperactive state I remembered some things in the letter that did not seem quite right. After I was calm, rational, and logical–albeit very pissed off when I learned it was a scam, I was determined to see if there may be something that would be useful in my defense should it be necessary.
First off, I remembered that the length of time he asserted I used the “supposedly infringing” photo that was used on the site was incorrect to my knowledge. I go and look up the purchase of my domain, hosting, and the invoice I had from the designer who did the artwork. BAM! Score one for me. It is very incorrect. This made me more determined. Who knows what else he may have gotten wrong? I print out the receipts and start taking notes.
Next, he accused me of going to the photographer’s website, stealing the photo, stripping off the meta info, altering it, and using it for commercial use. I know this was untrue, and if I did something like this I would be a total dumbass. I never personally copied anything, so I contact my first designer and ask her some questions, and what she had to say helped my case.
She did a Google search based upon the intended use of commercial use with the ability to modify. She had gotten for a free download off of a site with the appropriate licensing information for the intended use. She did not recall which site or the keywords she used in the site as I am not the only client and some time (years) had passed. Please note, she did not and knew better than to copy it FROM Google Images. I never had possession of the original, unaltered image.
I would also like to add that the above accusation is what is called flagrant infringement. People do this crap, BTW, but I wouldn’t or would condone such a thing. In the copyright world, being accused of this is as bad as being accused of first degree murder. My designer knew better too as she is an artist and an author herself. But I did ask to be sure.
The language of the letter creates the aura of guilty until proven innocent, and I have to “prove” I am innocent (only to a judge not this Nazi), and DeBoer is not only my accuser, but he is also my judge and my executioner. The threat of the subpoena is just icing on the cake. He hopes I will try to “prove my innocence” in the event I provide the information he needs to incriminate myself. This kind of crap is why I liken him to the Waffen SS or the KKK. This is EXACTLY how they would handle a copyright case. This is not how the justice or court system in the USA works; maybe in Nazi Germany or Red Russia perhaps.
Next, I test the link to the photographer’s website that he is presenting as “evidence” against me. It is a dead link that goes nowhere. An oversight or flat out fraud? I don’t know. I try the link in a Tineye search and find zilch. I find the real link on the photographers’ website and do a Tineye search and find 200+ results including free sites and versions of the photo WITHOUT any metadata. Classic copyright trolling. 200+ other potential targets for this one photo.
What the photographers name it on their site and what DeBoer calls it in his letter do not match. Found this out via a search on their website and Google Search. Fraud or blunder?
I try looking up the fair market value. On the photographer’s website it is offered as a puzzle download for 99 cents. Someone at ELI found a full size version large enough to put in an office for $25. So he is demanding WAY more than the fair market value, and that’s also classic trolling tactic. $1320 for a photo that is less than $1 to $25? Are you kidding me? Since he or the photographers couldn’t be reached for comment there is no way to ascertain how they arrived at that number. Looks fishy to me, and a totally honest business inquiry I might add. Not responding would look like dishonesty to me on someone’s part at least DeBoer’s at the least.
I check out the copyright registration the was supplied in the letter. I do find the information, but the collection has an ambiguous title called “Webshots Uploads and some Dates in 2004”. Deliberately ambiguous? If was a photographer, that would make no sense how to name a collection. It would be like registering all of my ebooks as Amazon Uploads or some crap like that. Plus there is a change to one or more of the photographs where an American flag is added, and it’s prior registration is in 1991. So there is no way to tell if this is appropriate registration or not or if this is the right collection. As I had read in ELI from one of the posters above, this is the same thing with “Webshots Uploads and Some Dates” but with a different photographer. Something is fishy here. Looks like a one size fits all to me.
Once finding this out, I ponder on the last page of the letter where it refers to the threat of a subpoena. I have nothing to fear. All of these allegations have been proven false, and I didn’t use the photo on any letterheads, social media, email, or anything like that, so there is nothing to retain. I don’t fear any sanctions against me as there is nothing to store. The only places it existed were asked for the photo to be deleted. Done that, and I have since replaced the photo with a different one. Here is my post about and the text of the last page on ELI. Also check out this article I found about a business owner filing a racketeering suit against a patent troll for language in a letter similar to the last page of my letter. Things that make you go ‘Hmmm’.
Defense of fair use was indeterminable for me and I needed an attorney for that, but at this point it may not be necessary. DeBoer tries to make it look like it doesn’t exist in the commercial landscape, but I do believe it is untrue.
Phone Call with Oscar Michelen
Oscar is one of the founders at ELI and is a IP attorney who has had years helping people with his letter program with this kind of stuff. It takes a few tries to get in touch with him since he is such a busy man with his regular clients and all the people who need his help. He also has had experience dealing with this clown.
He also verified to me that he is 100% pure blooded copyright troll.
I talk with him a few minutes and send him all of my research and copy of the letter. I tell him some about what I find and that I may have some solid evidence of possible fraud, racketeering, and abuse of power in addition to false accusations with no real or fraudulent evidence.
He let me know that there is another person (without revealing specifics) that DeBoer demanded $25K for a single photo. So my problems didn’t look so bad, but I wonder if that person had the same threats and accusations that I did? I wonder if he got the threat of a subpoena too?
So, then I got onto his letter program. I wasn’t taking any chances although April 24 had long came and went and I never heard anything from DeBoer or his assistant. My fear turned to rage and it was time for me to go public about this. I had already started by sharing my story and the next on ELI. This is far more effective than going to court if I had the nerves or the money to do it. Even if I had that kind of money I would rather spend it on charity or publishing books, not wasting my time on thugs in three pieced suits like these.
Counter Attack Strategy
One of the things I am doing against this act of terrorism is reporting it to the world by posting about it on my blog and the ELI forum. I didn’t sign or agree to squat I am not bound to confidentiality. This is the very thing that DeBoer and people like him are doing to keep this hush-hush and out of the media–they learned well from their predecessors’ mistakes. The way they lift information about their targets is much sneakier than the way they used to do it. They have been successful for over a decade due to those reasons. The photo trolls lead the pack and that’s the home DeBoer belongs.
I looked up some common defenses and counter claims past victims had against patent, trademark, music, and video trolls in the past. Some of these trolls have been the RIAA, MPAA, and Prenda Law–and DeBoer exhibits some of these and possibly others:
Abuse of Power: What this means is using knowledge of the law and the system to intimidate, bully, and collect money without fully disclosing rights. The language of these letters make it seem as the aforementioned guilty until proven innocent and there is no other recourse other than “pay or be sued” or “to make it easier for yourself, just agree to pay”. This, of course, is a load of hooey, and that’s what they want you to think. Plus, there could even be the chance there is actually no case whatsoever (like mine), but it’s up to you to check and not take their word for it! I’ve learned that several times over before this happened.
Blackmail/Extortion: These two are closely related to one another in that something is wanted (usually money) to avoid some other kind of bad outcome. Read: Pay the money and “it all goes away”. In the illegal terms that includes harm or death to someone or their family. In the term of ‘legalized‘ extortion, the mantra is “pay us or we sue you”. In which case someone is threatened with public humiliation, litigation, and/or the loss of income or their business, property, or home. Instead of threatening to shoot you, they threaten to sue you, which in my opinion, is a lot worse – I mean, sueing works perfect in cases like http://sideeffectsofxarelto.org/current-xarelto-lawsuits/, but not against individuals like me. Furthermore if you wuss out and pay up, then they might be back with more “claims”.
Fraud: After looking over the letter and finding blatant inaccuracies that were made to be “evidence” and presented as fact to incriminate me, I am still wondering if it is oversight/incompetence or just flat out fraud. Here is the dictionary definition here and the legal definition here. I don’t know which is worse, being labeled incompetent or a fraud. Considering how “put together” it all seemed (which is much better than a Getty Images letter), I am going with fraud. He assumed (and probably hoped) I wouldn’t look into it and check and the threats and intimidation tactics would work and cover up any inconsistencies and bank on oversight on my part. I am glad I checked. If I found out later I had been had, I would be kicking myself for the next decade. Considering the letter contained false information and it was delivered by email and by snail mail there is possible mail fraud and email fraud. He even tried to have me submit this to my business insurance (if I had it) and file it as an “advertising injury”. Considering that the information therein was fraudulent, it could be viewed as attempted insurance fraud.
Racketeering: Copyright infringement does happen, unfortunately, but this is not where the racket is. For the definition of what a racket is click here (it’s not the country word for noise). There are several instances where I find it to exist in his and several other copyright trolls’ schemes and it has come up in the past and were successfully brought to justice. Within the letter the so-called settlement also included a “retroactive license” and paying that amount would “cure” the situation and if I wanted to continue using it, then I should make a separate agreement with the photographers. A judgement from the 2nd circuit states that this is invalid, but DeBoer is presenting that this still a common and acceptable practice. Not surprising after what else I have discovered so far. Further there is the seeding and entrapment scheme used by many copyright trolls where they seed the internet with pictures and wait for people to download them and then go on the hunt and collect–this is what Linda Ellis and others do too. Total racket. I also wonder if any of these photographers have any idea that their work is being used this way? Are they getting any of the money from these “settlements” and “enforcements”? If they don’t and they find out he would be on the hook for infringement. There are multiple photographers that work with him, so they all couldn’t be seeding, could they? It’s obvious someone is, and people who seed upload the full size image to wallpaper sites and voila–this comes from both ELI and intel from this photog. And due to these seeding and entrapment schemes, the proportion of alleged infringements is higher than the actual infringements so are these photographers paying him to “protect” their work from all those “evil people out there”? Then that is also a possible racket and one that Getty does. Educating people instead of extorting them would help solve the problem too, but that’s not what they want. Where’s the money in that?
I have taken a good course on copyright enforcement. When employing GOOD and PROPER enforcement strategies someone would make it very difficult or impossible for someone to steal their work, and if they did, then the artist would have a very strong case. Use of metadata, using thumbnails, shrink wrapping, encryption, and all of those other kinds of strategies help with this, but seeding and entrapment schemes make it easy for the unsuspecting and maybe even for the learned as this racket has turned the internet into a digital minefield–it’s like playing Minesweeper with digital photos is if you will. If you ever played that game, you know how hard it can be. If you have documentation, keep it forever, and take screenshots and links of anything that is free. If you don’t know, don’t download it or use it. This junk has even made it to where people are afraid to use anything at all. I was about there.
Of course the whole confidentiality clause in the email (that no one signs) that is not enforceable by law is also a racket.
I already mentioned the whole load of bupkis about the subpoena above and it is a racket even though the troll was able to sleaze his way out of it, and it didn’t stick to that one, but still… Plus, copyright trolling by its very definition is a racket as well.
The whole idea that I or anyone else caught in this web has no legal recourse, rights, and is guilty until proven innocent and passing it off as a judgement (when it is merely an offer) since no judge has actually seen it is a racket. Asserting there is no possibility of fair use whatsoever is a racket. Saying that if someone doesn’t pay by said deadline is going to ‘likely’ and ‘inevitable’ litigation (when more than likely the opposite is true) is a threat and a racket as litigation is expensive and would cut into their profits unless they have a solid case and one did a good job incriminating themselves. That is why most of these trolls don’t sue very often, and possibly the ONLY reason.
As of the time of this writing I still have not heard from this guy, but I am not taking any chances as I still have over 2 years left. I have everything documented and I am telling this story to warn others about this crap. There are plenty of people who have taken it to the blogosphere about this outrage, but it is still happening. One day at a time. Again, that is why I am not sharing some of the specifics of some of the information here. I have already handed it to IP and defense lawyers, so my bases are covered on that.
Next time I get to talk about Getty Images, the world leader in copyright extortion. It’s just that John DeBoer is a ten gallon Texas asshat and here is his award.
About the Author
AK Taylor is an award winning YA author who has been writing novels since age 16. Beekeeper, outdoor sportsman, avid adventurer, and animal lover. Taylor lives in the backwoods of Middle GA where she continues to write stories.