Defending the Public Domain
Now that the restored Manos: The Hands of Fate Blu-ray and DVD have been out for a while, and just about everyone who pledged for a disc has theirs in hand, let’s look back a few years to something I couldn’t talk about at the time: the first major behind-the-scenes attack on our work.
This is from an email I received shortly before the first public screening of Manos (all errors are those of the original author):
"We have won our copyright battle. This simplifies things greatly from our perspective... In the simplest terms, $10K = film festival, and the future negotiations of "Manos: HD" as a cooperative venture."
"The $10K we require gives you the license to screen "Manos: HD" at the Aug. 4th Festival, and also guarantees you will be able to continue on with your restoration of "Manos: HD" in cooperation with Torgo Lives LLC."
"You will be able to restore all of the "Manos" elements we possess in order to make the best "Manos: HD" product possible. We are trying to get a deal done with you... if we wanted to shut you down and keep Manos away from you, we wouldn't even contact you from here on out, but begin with notifying the Kick Starter Lawyers… I wrote to you months ago via texts, emails, and FB NOT to spend the Kick Starter Donor money, on multiple occasions."
"The way we see it, you essentially have three choices:
a) Work with us, ink a deal with us, and go on to produce the most awesome "Manos" ever seen and everyone wins
b) Pack it up, return the donor's money, and move on with your life, having nothing else to do with our property
c) Bluff it out, and face possible repercussions from misuse of Kick Starter Donor Money, as well as any court actions we ourselves might be forced to take
We are sincerely hoping things can work out. It should ultimately be about people working together for something we all feel passionate about.
...Torgo Lives, LLC"
Just a sample of the correspondence that I was receiving in the summer of 2012. Two guys, partners at the time, were making a bold claim of control over Manos: The Hands of Fate, the Public Domain film we were restoring after a successful Kickstarter campaign (that part, of course, you already know).
We were only a few days out from screening a work in progress version of the film when they began a series of emails claiming that they owned the film and that I'd need to pay a $10,000 licensing fee to carry on with the screening — and my own work. When pressed for proof, they sent me nothing of substance that I could either research or act upon. Nevertheless, they prematurely proclaimed the dispute to be over.
I knew that no matter how patently false this copyright claim was, it could still cause real problems. In fact, as soon as it became clear that I wasn't going along with their demands, these two began to harass the film festival and the owners of the venue, demanding that $500 in licensing fees be paid, and even that security guards be posted to bar me from my own screening. As sure as I was that their claim was wrong, I wasn't equipped to prove it to the festival programmers, who had far too much on their plate to research copyright matters at the last minute. The public domain status of a work often is due to a lack of documents filed, a lack of notices appended — how could I stand my ground against a smokescreen of false claims and irrelevant documentation?
Luckily, by this time I had brought attorney Ian Friedman on board. I'd met him through a mutual friend and hired him initially to write and negotiate a set of distribution and screening contracts, but when it came time to defend the film's public domain status, he was more than up for the challenge. With his knowledge in entertainment and intellectual property law, he navigated us through what would become a massive and prolonged battle against first one, then two opponents in two different states.
When the opposition tried intimidating the people who screened the film, when they began threatening those who were making new work based on the film, and when fake, then real cease-and-desist letters began to arrive, Ian was there to help. He went to bat for us over the course of three years and laid the groundwork for many more people to exercise their creativity with Manos: The Hands of Fate over time.
As strange as it may seem, Ian did all of this from a completely different coast than I was on. It had no effect on his speed or efficacy.
I was so impressed with Ian’s work that I brought him on again for the duration of the Atomic Brain 4K restoration that we're currently fundraising. And, if you're working on a creative project yourself, I want to take this opportunity to recommend him for your intellectual property matters, licensing, or general counsel no matter where you are in the United States.
He's now working with Snyder Law, a firm that allows you to employ him on a monthly "subscription" basis that is perfect for ongoing projects, start-ups, and general business and corporate matters. This unique option (both hourly and flat fees are of course still available) allows clients to access legal advice through phone and email without having to worry about hourly rates. The subscription choice makes perfect sense if you’re running a project month-to-month or over the course of a year, as I am.
Ian's contact information: