The WP-Board.com & WorldPlagiates.com Trading Sites Have Been Shut Down
June 10th, 2009For 18 months prior to today the sites known as WP-Board.com, WP-Board.net, WorldPlagiates.com and BigMouthShirts.net had been operating as illegal file sharing and trading websites - in clear violation of both Criminal and Civil Copyright laws.
They are now closed and I have control of the domain names, as well as all logs and records. They will not be returning as illegal file trading forums / boards / sites. The former proprietors, members and financial supporters all violated the Copright Laws of the United States and are likely to be sued.
Over the last 18 months these sites, the administrators of them, the file contributing visitors and the financial supporters, have done great damage to myself and many, many other small business persons world wide. The illegal posting of our content has caused many sites to close, revenues to drop as much as 60%, and people to be laid off.
One popular model recently had to drop out of college because the revenue she counted on for the last three years suddenly dropped when "TomTom" and "Platoon" (WP Admins and partners) started giving all her content away - not just a few pictures, but all of the content of her site. That, of course, caused subscribers to stop paying her and instead get the materials from the pirate website.
An entire section of the forum was dedicated solely to my work. It took me years to get any good at the pretty girl pictures business, and monthly it takes tens of thousands of dollars to maintain my sites and continue to produce successful, highly marketable content. The idea of these people stealing from me day after day was a huge thorn in my side. My mean side wanted to just drive over to "Platoon's" house and beat his head with a baseball bat.
The entire situation disgusted me and I decided to see what could be done through proper legal channels. It was a time consuming and expensive pursuit, but well worth it.
Step 1 - Identification and Evidence CollectionStarting the process was easy. It was to identify who was running the site - meaning who my target would be. "Platoon" is a 38 year old male in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. He is married and has a child in 6th grade. He filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and is on shaky financial ground here ten years later.
I hired a private investigator (former FBI agent) in Dayton to follow him and dig into his operation. This included going into his trash that was placed on public property in the alley behind his house and business. That was a goldmine of information, including printed receipts showing the full name and address of persons that donated to the WP-Board operation to help pay server and other expenses.
He went so far as to use a variety of fake return addresses for t-shirt shipping, but that wasn't enough to keep the skilled investigator from tracking him down.
The investigator, and others working with me online, simply located and organized a pile of rock solid evidence of copyright infringement (direct, contributory and vicarious) and many other actions that would take mister "Platoon" and his illegal file trading friends into court for years to come.
I am not using "Platoon's" real name in this outline. I agreed to that as part of a fast settlement discussed in Step 2.
Step 2 - Preparing to Sue or Settle.The next step was to plan the legal attack. This is where I'm very experienced. This is also where I have great lawyer back-up and I'll be ready to file in Federal Court if we can't settle with most of the violators first.
In the case of Platoon, a Federal Lawsuit was prepared claiming copyright infringement and unfair competition. The suit was not filed, just prepared. On the evening of June 9th I flew 1220 miles from my home in Colorado to Dayton, Ohio so I could personally confront "Platoon". The private investigator met me at "Platoon's" shop the afternoon of June 10th. There was no threats or physical contact except the normal introductory handshake.
In addition to the lawsuit I had with me a few copies of the solid evidence we had compiled. I also had a 7 page cover letter from me to him explaining who I was, what I knew, and what it would be like to be tied up in Federal Court as a struggling businessman with a small child. It also contained a proposed pre-trial settlement. The idea of me getting ownership of the domain names was not in that letter.
I was in his shop about 5 minutes. I left him with the letter and other materials and asked him to let me know by phone within two hours if he wished to accept the settlement offer or if I should have my people file the suit later that afternoon.
He called before the two-hour deadline passed and agreed to all my terms. He mentioned in that call he was leaving the entire file trading and sharing scene rather than face other angry webmasters like myself. At that time I offered a reasonable amount in cash for the domain names and sites. He accepted.
The more formal settlement gave me all logs, records, files, back-ups and other materials related to the WP forums. It also gave me access to the server by FTP to retrieve other potential evidence, as well as to the admin control panel of the forum software. It's all mine, as part of the purchase.
"Platoon's" real name will not be used here. In truth he seems to be a pretty good guy - hard working at his own shop building important items needed by our military. He seems to have been led astray by the other admin known as "TomTom" who hides in Germany and gets other people to put servers and other items in their own names so he isn't held responsible.
Step 3 - Hanging a PirateIn 1719 the Pirate Blackbeard (Edward Thatch / Teach) was decapitated in a battle with the determined men working with English pirate hunter Lieutenant Robert Maynard. When Maynard, and the crew of his ship "The Adventure", returned to Hampton Roads they had Blackbeard's head still hanging from the bowsprit as a warning to others. Upon docking Maynard presented Blackbeard's head to Governor Spotswood, who had it suspended from a tall pole on the west side of the Hampton River at a place now known as Blackbeard's Point, as a ghoulish admonition to would-be pirates.
That is my plan in the case of WP posters of my content. I'm going to hang a few out for the rest to see.
TomTom (Thomas Kossatz) is hiding in his little German rat-hole, after hanging Platoon out to dry, and now spending his time on other file sharing sites and some other pirate types are foolishly following his every word and acting tough behind the fake screenames, I know that the illegal posting and sharing of my content will not soon be stopped completely.
I've decided to "Discourage by Example". I'm going to actively pursue in the Federal Court at least 5, and more likely 8-10, of the biggest posters of my content.
The logs, files, IP addresses and other things collected in the last 60 days make it so darn rock solid that a beginning lawyer fresh out of law school could win each case.
First I'll send a "Cease & Desist" letter. That letter is formal lawyer sounding information and offers a settlement. Some take it, some ignore it, and some in the past have even been dumb enough to try and fight and go into court saying they have a right to do what they want with my works. I've never lost a copyright suit.
I do the most basic work of C & D letters myself. If we actually have to file against any of these foolish people it will be handled by the lawyers that have been helping all along.
For now I have a successful business to run and enjoy. I'll be finishing other C & D letters and posting here as they are completed over the next several days. As I said - I don't just create them, I have to be exact and double check everything to make sure it can be proven in a court should the need arise.
I encourage you to check back here often. I'll post more as soon as time allows.
June 10th, 2013. The Final UpdateIt has been 4 years since I first posted this story and almost 1 year since the most recent update. Today is the final update as there is no additional news concerning the WP-Board website or the pirates that hung out at that place. Today I've removed all previous updates, pirate names and photos, and the comment box. Below I'll wrap up with a few details and opinions and then we'll move along.
In the first 12 months after the WP-Board trading forum closed we reached settlement agreements with around 122 persons. The vast majority of those matters settled for $250.00 or $500.00, with just three topping $20,000.00 each for the most agressive and malicious infringers. After all the attorney's fees, investigative costs, and other expenditures were accounted for, roughly 50% of the monies collected in settlements was given to charitiy. It wasn't meant to be a profit making enterprise chasing down and settling with pirates. It was done to make my own website itself more profitable as those wanting my style of content couldn't get it for free and ended up subscribing.
I didn't file any lawsuits directly related to the WP-Board cases at that time but I wish I had. I just got so busy with normal business needs that I decided to let things slide and concentrate on my websites. In some ways that was the smart move but in some ways it was very clearly the wrong move.
It was the smart move because immediately after the WP-Board closing my main websites started a growth spurt that increased monthly subscription sales by over 20% within 90 days. Correct, my main website broke its all-time subscriber record shortly after I was able to stop WP-Board from giving my materials away. Its important to service and maintain those paying customers (many of which had been getting the content for free from pirate sites like WP-Board) and keep them as recurring subscribers that enjoy my materials and continue paying. It is a business and we have to generate revenue to pay employees, models, rentals, travel and all the costs of running a popular website. It can't be done for free.
In some ways it was a bad move to not sue at least a couple of people over the illegal WP-Board postings of my materials. My original story here in 2009, and follow up postings over the next few months, named names and threatened lawsuits. When I failed to follow up on those matters by the next year a few of the former WP posters simply started posting again on other sites. Often on fourms and boards the pirates, or those encouraging them, would call me names or say I was all talk or comments close to that. I can understand how they would get that impression and its because of their actions or comments that I've now changed the tactics used to defend my business.
Another reason I feel it was a mistake to not sue a couple of the infringers is that it allowed them to do more damage to my business in the years that followed. Two persons that we caught posting in 2012 could be traced back to WP-Board accounts and postings there back in '08 & '09. I should have done more to stop them in 2009 so that they didn't feel they had gotten away with it. It was clearly that feeling of invinceability or anonyminity that convinced them they could start posting my materials again in 2012. They have now been sued for the most recent copyright violations but I regret not doing it back in 2009 when I first discovered them.
Like in many aspects of life I sort of learn as I go along through these copyright battles. Putting a stop to the posting of my materials on WP-Board back in 2009 was a good move for my business and the right thing to do. The lessons I've learned since then have me wishing I had handled things a bit differently back then - such as filing a couple of lawsuits to make a point in a Federal Court - but at least now I know that talk or threats are not enough.
The next time I found a big website forum with a large amount of my materials I handled it differently and went directly to filing lawsuits. That was an affective move as it showed the poster I was serious and would take a case to court, it showed the website owner that I was serious and would take action, and it showed other posters that I was serious and had the resources and attitude to take a case to Federal Court. The website took the section with my materials down very quickly after the Defendant informed them he had been sued for his actions on their site.
The pirates have now forced the issue and filing lawsuits is the tactic I must use to defend my business. I have no other choice.
I post on my site that the materials are protected by copyright laws and are not to be posted elsewhere yet some people continue to post the materials. I email people I find posting asking them to stop and/or delete posts but most refuse to stop and take to calling me names. In many instances I have a lawyer send a Cease & Desist letter that clearly explains the laws, the evidence we have, and offering to settle for a tiny amount if the guy will sign an agreement to never post again. Time and time again the guy simply refuses. Some times they send rude emails or leave late night voicemails (never calling during business hours) cussing and calling me names, but they refuse to stop and they force me to file a lawsuit to defend my business. That is not what I want to do. Its what they force me to do to defend my business.
I know that the illegal posting and sharing of my content will not soon be stopped completely. Even with that knowledge the fact is that as a small business owner I have a responsability to protect the business. Its the business income, my income, and the income of the employees here, that must be protected. If the website(s), and overall business, fail due to piracy and people lose their jobs, income and ability to pay their bills, I would not have been a responsable manager if I hadn't at least tried to mitigate the damage done by pirates.
If the business is attacked I have to defend it. If the roles were reversed and the pirate owned a website business that he put lots of work and money into and it was being attacked he would do whatever he could to defend it - because he has to protect himself and his family along with his employees and their families.
The fact that suing is better then just talk and threats is not the only thing I've learned in the past 4 years.