Anyone remember the curious case of Jon Engle vs. Stockart from a few years back? What turned out to be an anti-spec work parable has become even more so, with an initial $660,000 judgment against the hapless designer.
Many of you will remember the weird tale of Jon Engle and Stockart LLC. For those who don’t, you can read the entire sordid tale here and here. For those who can’t be bothered to trudge through those two rather long-winded posts, let me recap. In April 2009, a young designer twattered that he was being sued for $18,000 by Stockart LLC (an illustration licensing company) and Art Laws (a legal firm specializing in copyright law). Engle claimed that not only was he being sued, but that the original work belonged to him, and that he was, in fact, being sued over his own work. Twitter reaction was fast and furious, with designer after designer retweeting his claim and asking for help. In what became the first Twitterstorm I’m aware of, both Stockart and Art Laws came under heavy fire from the growing internet mob. Death threats were sent, sites were hacked, legal defense funds were launched, #savejon hash tags trended on Twitter and general mayhem ensued as designers rallied around one of their own. It was the stuff internet legends are made of.
The other side of the story.
While everyone was losing their collective minds, I decided to reach out to Art Laws and try and get their side of the story. What they told me was an entirely different ball o’ wax. They claimed that a) Engle wasn’t being sued (they had simply billed him for work he had purloined – 68 images or so that were entered into various logo design contests (that’s the spec bit) b) they never contacted all of Engle’s clients as he had claimed, and c) all the work belonged to artists represented by Stockart. The further I looked into the story, Art Laws side of things seemed to be the only one that made a lick of sense. The owner of Stockart remained professionally calm throughout the entire affair, telling us only that the issue would be decided in a court of law, as opposed to the court of public opinion. And thus, this update.
Turns out Stockart did take Engle to court (Stockart.com, LLC v. Jonathan Engle, 10-cv-00588-MSK-MEH (United States District Court for The District of Colorado), and won (in an initial ruling) a judgment against him for just shy of seven-hundred grand. Nope. That’s not a typo. Seven hundred thousand dollars. The amount (to be approved by a higher judge) includes copyright infringement, libel, legal fees – the works. That’s a lot of cash for knocking off some internet images and entering them into a couple of design contests. I talked with Art Laws attorney Jamie Silverberg this morning and he give me the brass tacks – I’ll update this post if and/or when more details are shot my way.
So what have we learned, using poor old Jon Engle as an example? I think the message of my original post still stands – it’s best to dig a little deeper before grabbing the pitchforks and torches and pillorying some poor sod on the internet, whether it be via FaceBook, Twitter or blog posts. If you perform a Stockart LLC search on Google today – almost two years after the event – you’ll still pull up blog posts outlining how they were beating up on Engle. Sure, some posted retractions and corrections (with links to this blog), but the unfair damage was already done. Besides, retractions never get the same traction as the original outrage. I also think the almost $700,000 judgment should serve as a pretty graphic warning against knocking anything off, even if it’s only to enter some lowly logo design contest. This is serious, serious shit. Naturally, clients should take heed here too – keep in mind that some of the images Engle apparently knocked off, won the contests they were entered into.
That’s a pretty messy position to be put in.