Finally we are up to the trial. There is plenty I want to say about the trial but I still have not been giving the green light to publish the book that would document the 7 day trial. (Update: See below) Things got a bit wacky with COVID. The avian flu I caught in 2014 was very similar to covid and that damn near took me out. There were days/nights since the Indictment that I wished it would have. But spending time with my family and reuniting with old friends in Mattawamkeag, (One in particular, You know who you are, see I told you I wouldn’t mention your name), all kept me alive and kicking.
In the Summer of 2019, I told you that it was revealed that Heidi pleaded to Mail Fraud (that’s how the Government was able to tack on the charge with Juice, that will send me to the Stripy hole for a serious amount of time). The other thing that happened was that Anthony Berry was released from probation early after serving 37% of his time. The Federal Government doesn't do anything for anybody for no reason. What’s one of the most famous lies? “I’m here from the Government and here to help you.” But I digress.
Conjucture Time! Last one, I promise: At that some point in the Summer, Johnny Pockets was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for the Walmart Theft Ring. So Bonus! With just a slap on the wrist for being involved in one of the largest theft rings in Maine, Anthony Berry also got out of probation way early! That’s some fine horse trading there, Anthony, you haven’t lost your touch.
One final thing that happened just days before the trial, needs some backstory explanation: Heidi and I were involved in a three-way relationship 2012-2014. I’m not going to tell the 3rd person’s name or even, if it was a male or female. But the relationship was 100% consensual.
The U.S. Department of Justice tried to twist that information into that I forced Heidi to be in that relationship. So in spite all the Government’s talk of not tolerating racism, sexism or prejudice of any kind, there are people who still work within our Government that do not hesitate to use something like an alternative lifestyle to blackmail or extort whatever information they need. Personally, that to me is disgusting and reeks of brazen hypocrisy.
While it is disappointing to realize that this case has never REALLY been about copyright, it doesn’t stop the fact that I will continue to fight for copyright reform. Hell, I’m a convicted pirate so I got the street cred. I do regret the people that were hurt by my actions. I tried to keep them out, I really did. I hope someday they will understand.
Some things to look forward to: Jonathan Tardiff (better known is this blog as Johnny Pockets) will be announced as indicted after I am incarcerated. He closed his jewelry shop in Rockland in 2020 and tried to scrub the internet of its existence. But everyone knows that is not possible. For the last six years, Mr. Pockets has been living the good life while Homeland Security was watching old movies. (Memo to Special Agent Loren Thresher: Johnny Pockets had the money you were looking for, you should have just asked me, I could have shown you how to ‘Deep Google’ it)
Me? I’m going to continue to write, except after June, my new pen name will be inmate 13550-036. When I’m released I will make films again and, like I said above, fight for Copyright Reform. Maybe I'll even weigh in on REAL Criminal Justice Reform. Because you know, for all their lip service, the US Government is not going to do shit.
I was indicted on two counts of criminal copyright infringement in January of 2019. Honestly, I was quite excited. I can fight for something I believe in which is Real Copyright Reform, possibly go to jail for a short time but continue to fight. To me it was just a way to discuss the very real problem of “Orphan Works”.
However, the night before there were signs of a real problem. The prosecutor at that time, James Moore had filed a motion of detention because he wanted to convince the magistrate Judge that I was a Danger to Society.
I was ready to go to Jail, demand a speedy trial and go on with the fight. My Lawyer talked me out of it. “Doug, this could take years, it’s a complicated case. You don’t want to go to county Jail”
So I was released on bail....and I waited…. And waited….And waited....
Aside from several more failed attempts by Mr. Moore to have me detained nothing much happened until the Mail Fraud charges were stacked on. My Lawyer said, “This gives them some juice. Jim really wants you in Prison.”
Why did Mr. Moore want me in prison so bad? This wasn’t a violent crime and I believed they would have a hard time finding damages. Conjecture Time: The Government was running out of time. The statute of limitations on the Walmart Theft Ring was up in October, 2019.
So the Trial was set for October. I said to my lawyer, “I thought it was a complicated case. Find a way to extend it.”
His answer: “The date’s pretty solid. The Government wanted to have it earlier…”
I’m sure they did.
Heidi had actually pleaded guilty to mail fraud in April of 2019. The Government kept it sealed until just before the trial. I have ideas on why they did that, too. But let’s keep going with this factual thread first.
I have zero animosity or hard feelings about Heidi pleading guilty. Just the opposite, as I have said before, my only regret was getting her involved in this mess. I love Heidi and I always will.
After her guilty plea was revealed, I met with my lawyer. The conversion went a bit like this:
MY LAWYER: “In an unusual move, the government has offered to let Heidi go if you plead guilty to the 3 charges.”
ME: “Then I’m pleading guilty.”
Slight pause. Thoughts of the Walmart Theft Ring peek through the clouds of my anxiety.
ME: “...But, what happens if the government doesn’t get the information they are looking for out of me? What guarantee would I have that they would not just charge Heidi with something else?
MY LAWYER: “No 100% guarantee, but the offer is coming from the government.”
ME: “Can I talk to Heidi first?”
MY LAWYER: “No.”
ME: “Can you talk to Heidi?”
MY LAWYER: “No.”
ME: “Can you talk to her lawyer and ask him if she wants me to plead guilty?”
My lawyer pulled out his phone.
MY LAWYER: “Let’s find out.”
I sat there while the two lawyers had a very brief legalese conversation. My lawyer hung up his phone.
MY LAWYER: “That answers that. No.”
ME: “Um, she doesn’t want me to plead guilty or…”
MY LAWYER: “He won’t ask her the question.”
As part of my bail restrictions I could not have contact direct or indirect with Heidi or the other 50 people named as witnesses in my case. At first I was very upset with Heidi’s lawyer… this was a potential chance to get his client free of the charges. No felony record for her at all. After several days of deep consideration, I decided to go to trial.
Months later, Conjecture time again: What if Heidi’s lawyer didn’t even know about the Government's offer to set her free if I pleaded guilty? Did I screw this up even worse?
I may never know and I still struggle with the decision to this day.
There was no doubt in my mind, the Government threatened to prosecute members of Heidi’s family to get her to plead guilty. I know this for fact because I saw the letter from Prosecutor James Moore sent to Heidi. It was very similar to this one he sent my lawyer:
The only difference between the two letters, was that Jim named Heidi's family members by name of who would be charged with conspiracy.
We are nearing the end of “Copywronged” but I’m trying to keep each blog entry a certain length. So next time more last minute tricks by the Government and more behind-the-scenes of the Walmart Theft Ring.
Yay! How exciting! Join us!
Because I had found two players in the Walmart Theft Ring that had been convicted and served their relatively short sentences, I was curious about Johnny Pockets. Why had he not been convicted? There was little doubt in my mind he put this whole thing together. So I did a little research and deep googled him. Which means basically going past the 1st page on google, most people don’t. I found out Johnny owned a Jewelry shop in Rockland and guess what? He was back selling on ebay. He was selling things like Rolex watches and very expensive jewelry. Well, that answers the question of Where all the money is. But what I couldn’t wrap my head around was: Why was law enforcement letting him own a business again and allowing him sell on ebay?!?! Did he somehow dodge the charges? Was he working with law enforcement like Whitey Bulger-style? Giving them information in exchange for no charges and allowed to keep breaking the law?
OMG. Then it hit me:
Conjecture Time: Johnny Pockets has painted me as either the leader of his Walmart Theft Ring or maybe I’m the “middle-man” between his little operation, and a HUGE, very sophisticated East Coast mafia-style Walmart Theft Ring. Maybe he sold me to Homeland Security as a dangerous guy, who threatened him and his family. I don’t know.
But how could law enforcement be falling for whatever crazy tales he was weaving?
One of those versions of the story falls in line and answers a lot of mysteries pertaining to my "case", but there are still holes and things I just don’t know.
I do know this final thing about Johnny Pockets: by looking at his numbers on ebay, Johnny had a hell of a good Christmas in 2018. When I realized all of this, I told the only person on earth that I trusted. I told Heidi, and I’m not sure when she started talking to Homeland Security, but shortly after Christmas Johnny Pocket’s ebay account no longer existed.
Lastly, just a few thoughts on Kunaki, which is a website where the user can upload any media file, (audio or video) and the artwork you want on your CD or DVD, and Kunaki will mass produce it and mail it out for a very small fee. A tremendous site and very efficient. There was much discussion during my trial about why I switched to Kunaki for lostmoviefinder.com. But because of my appeals I don’t want to say too much. Just that it’s a great site and if you create Indy music or films and want to distribute on physical media, take look into them.
Next Time: Indictment, Detainment and Mail Fraud! Oh, what fun! Join Us!
I started this year by going back to school. My mindset was like “I can’t really do anything else, why not go back to school to finish those degrees I started decades before”. Plus I could keep a low profile while the whole nonsense of a “Federal Case” blows over. But that wasn’t meant to be. Around springtime, my lawyer said that the Government is gearing up to charge me and soon.
Of course, I’d been hearing that for 3 years. However, I wasn't real excited about the prospect of being dragged out of the class room in handcuffs, so I left school after the first semester.
The Government really did ramp up their investigations. Dragging my former employees in for 60 -70 - 80 hour interviews. Here is a few questions that were relayed to me by people who will remain nameless:
We just want to know where all the money is? (Um, they had all my bank records, what money could they be referring to? Maybe millions + that was allegedly involved in the Walmart Theft Ring?)
When did you notice Doug was having financial problems? (Why is that relevant in the Copyright Infringement Case? Maybe because they were looking for a certain date, like 10-03-14, when the Walmart Theft Ring was taken down?)
We find it hard to believe that Doug was selling his own TV show discs (During the 2017 “raid” on my house, they found thousands of single discs from Replacetvdisc.com project. Again, not sure what this statement had to do with Copyright, except a high volume of TV show DVD box sets were stolen in the Wal--- [you get the picture])
Speaking of the Walmart Theft Ring, around this time I discovered another conviction that actually happened in 2016. Jason Robinson was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison. The details released to the press are very vague, you have to dig a little deeper in the PACER system. Associated cases are sometimes linked in the system. But not in these two cases. The only connection I could find is in a memo on the pacer system about the joint restitution with Anthony Berry. I’m not saying the government was trying to hide the connection… Well, I guess I am.
Next time: Johnny Pockets rides again on Ebay and lostmoviefinder.com finds Kunaki!
The Motion Picture Association started my 2017 with a chilling “Warning” email: Stop doing what you are doing from Kevin Casey, an investigator for the MPA. He basically forwarded me a letter from their senior counsel. The odd thing about it was in the subject area of the email was this:
FW: Maine Case: Lostmoviesfound.com
This was 2017, at that time my case was not a widely known thing. There hadn’t been hundreds of Government issued press releases disguised as Newspaper articles circulating like there was after my indictment. To me, that meant the US Government contacted the MPA to send me a message and give me a “Warning”.
The next thing of importance that happened was Anthony Berry, Johnny Pocket’s “Best Friend” pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to transport stolen Goods. If you read the Prosecution version of the offense, there is no doubt that this is the Walmart Theft Ring case. Also, I wonder who Co-conspirator A is? Hmmm...I wonder….
All of these documents were UNSEALED on May 3, 2017. Seven days later Loren, and the rest of the Walmart Theft Ring Task Force returned to trash my house again. This time however they took every single computer or device they could find and new release DVDs/Blu-Rays. Which I can only assume came from many discussions with Mr. Berry and Mr Casey. In other words, they were looking for a “real” crime.
Since they took my selling stock of the EDGE Mobile Trading, I let that dream die too. I was beyond crushed. I decided to become a minimalist and own nothing. You can’t take something from nothing. This time they also seized the domain name of lostmoviesfound. So I waited for the Indictment…. And I waited…. And I waited.
Six months went by and all that happened was many, many offers of “Doug should REALLY plead guilty” from Mr. Moore to my lawyer.
So right before Christmas I started lostmoviefinder.com.
Here we go again.
2016 was basically more of the same. More offers to plead guilty with no acknowledgement of the legal debate, just plead guilty and allow the government to “help you”.
As Homeland Security expanded their reach by contacting members of Heidi’s Family and other past employees of EDGE Video, I repeated my mantra to Heidi. I will plead guilty, all you have to do is say the words. But again, she never did. Ever.
After waiting 6 months from when the 2015 Search Warrant was served, I started up lostmoviesfound.com. Because I already knew I was never going to plead guilty for copyright infringement, unless of course, I had to save Heidi from being prosecuted. But nothing happened. I had already lost the stores, had no way to make an income and believed, (And I STILL believe) what I was doing was legal.
Why should I not continue? Because a Bully with a Badge told me not to?
Besides I was never really “Warned” repeatedly like the Government likes to say over and over again. I was told to PLEAD GUILTY. My lawyer summed it pretty good during the trial, “if this was such a simple case to prove the government wouldn't need five cartons of exhibits and 50 witnesses to do so.”
The Orphan Works Trial was the first of its kind in the United States and that means one of these two were going on.
1. The US Government is trying to enhance the copyright law by making an example out of me as a warning to anyone doing the same thing. (Which is very doubtful at this point, it’s been 2 years since the trial and there are still hundreds, possibly thousands of websites selling the exact same titles on DVD, movies that have never had an authorized DVD release) *
2. This case was Pretextual Prosecution, meaning the copyright case is a facade for a real case. A more serious case and which for whatever reason… the US Government believes I was involved in. But they can’t prove it. Which I understand happens all time in law enforcement but what if I am not involved in this second case? How can it be portrayed as Justice?
Next time we talk about other developments in the Walmart Theft Ring as my case slowly crawls forward to an Indictment and Trial.
Let me start out this blog entry like this, the only time I physically met Johnny Pockets was that fateful day back in 2006 when I declined to buy his store in downtown Bangor. Though over the years I did hear about how much he hated my guts. From people like Fast Tony, who said “Johnny is really pissed at you cause you took over his rental space and never took the Needful Things decal sign off the front windows”
I certainly didn’t do it to piss off Johnny Pockets. But he didn’t own the rights to the title Needful Things, neither does Stephen King. Maybe the design of the font is trademarked by the publisher and Mr. King. But since I never heard from anyone about it (except Fast Tony). I wasn’t obligated to do shit. And besides I was trying to build up a “Stephen King” section of movies, books and collectibles at the location. Real Collectibles with legitimate signatures/autographs.
Also, when we opened the Ellsworth Edge Video store, many of our customers down there also went into Johnny Pockets “store” in that town. They would come back to Edge and say stuff like, “The guy at Needful Things sure doesn't like you.”
Around this time Johnny Pockets was convicted of two theft-related charges. Here are the links to the news stories and court documents:
Former Ellsworth pawn shop owner convicted of records charges
STATE OF MAINE v. JONATHAN L. TARDIFF
They kind of speak for themselves.
Jump back to 2015, and like I said, I was doing my best to move on in life. Working on EDGE Mobile Trading, doing a lot of writing, brainstorming new business ideas. Then on the morning of August 4th, we got the most unpleasant wake-up call.
Homeland Security with of course, the Brewer Police Department and who knows what other law enforcement agencies they dragged along, all came for Coffee and Donuts. Except, we didn’t have any Coffee and I assume they ate all the donuts before they got to 5 Cross Street.
This being not our first time at the rodeo, we basically stood around and waited for them to finish trashing our home. Leading the charge was Homeland Security Special Agent Loren Thresher, and I didn’t know at the time, I would come to respect Mr. Thresher. Aside from lying to me occasionally, I never felt like he was threatening me or trying to bully me like some of his peers in his line of work tend to do. I really got the impression that he was just doing his job, or perhaps, he was the “good cop” in the operation. Either way, I hold no animosity towards him or really anyone in the presidings against me. My goal in writing this blog is to explain my reasoning for never pleading guilty and my belief that this entire criminal copyright prosecution was a facade for a real criminal investigation. All of that said, if my side of the story is entirely told, and if the pretextual prosecution is 100% legal and society thinks the whole thing totally A-OK, then I will proudly go to prison and spend the rest of my days fighting for real copyright reform.
Back to that first federal warrant search, our third concerning the actual investigation. At some point, Loren came to me with paper to sign. It was a list of the items they were taking, computers, dvds, notebooks, duplicators, etc etc…
As he was reading it off, to me, “Yeah, yea, sure, just let me sign it.”
I just wanted them to fuck out of there. I hadn’t had any breakfast, it was already a long day.
As I was signing it. I mumbled something like “Same as before.”
Loren looked at me and said, “You’ve had search warrants served before.”
I was kind of dumbfounded, Christ, there were a lot of the same Brewer PD officers involved in this search. Really? 5 Cross St. had never come up, in their law enforcement knitting circle meetings???
I wasn’t going to say anything when Heidi spoke up, “Yes, there was a massive investigation involving this guy named Jonathon Tardiff and a large Walmart theft ring. Somehow Brewer PD thought we were involved in it.”
Loren just shrugged and watched me sign his paper.
After they left, I apologized to Heidi and we struggled to get through the rest of the day.
That night I shut down the website, findraredvds.com. The next day, Loren came back by with a Target letter and pointed to a list of charges that included Criminal Copyright Infringement, Mail Fraud, Wire fraud etc etc.
He said something like, “If you plead guilty to one of these charges, the rest of them will go away.”
Wow. How generous. That was a short investigation. I called my lawyer.
Six months went by. While there were lots of threats from the federal Prosecutor, James Moore. And very generous offers to plead guilty and that the sentence would only be house arrest. Probably.
I declined them all. I did ask Heidi several times, perhaps even on Day 1. “Do you want me to plead guilty? I will do it if they will let you go.”
She always said, “Let’s just find out what's going to happen.”
She never answered yes, and I asked her for years, even after I was indicted in 2019.
We discussed it a lot obviously and as Christmas approached I started Lostmoviesfound.com. Mainly because I needed the money and I legitimately thought I was right because of Fair Use, Orphan Works and Implied License. To stop now would be giving into Bullies and I don’t do good with Bullies.
I never have.
I always fight back.
2014 was a seriously whacked year. The economy in my opinion was still in the dumpster, the Edge Video stores were struggling and I caught some kind of Avian Flu. I went into the hospital around the end of January, and fell into a coma that lasted for several weeks. When I woke up around the beginning of March, one of the first things I asked Heidi was …”How are the stores doing?’
She replied: “They’re gone.”
At first I was really crushed, mainly because I never give up on anything and sometimes to my own detriment, I never give on Anyone. But after a fashion I felt this incredible relief and freedom to explore new ventures and my mind was already off to the races on what those things could be.
The only store that remained was the downtown store, which was only still open because my mother contacted the landlord and paid the rent while I was knocking on heaven’s door or the warmer place depending on who you ask. And so, with a small group of very loyal employees we tried to rebuild the EDGE “Empire”. While I did have a long recovery period, we were having some success. Because one of the profitable aspects of the downtown EDGE was taking in trades and reselling them on-line and other places We came up with this idea: EDGE Mobile Trading or EMT. My plan was to buy old ambulances and by using the Internet to advertise and locate items I started to travel the state buying and reselling. It was quite fun and had a lot of potential.
Then out of the blue in September of 2014, the downtown landlord asked us to move out. We weren’t behind on the rent, causing any problems (that we knew of) and actually, he wouldn’t even tell us the reason. Which is fine, it’s his building, blah. Blah, blah. Just another thing to adapt to.
We brushed it off and tried to focus on growing the EMT project. Then in October there was an interesting article in the newspaper, there had been a huge multiple law enforcement agency bust in Bucksport, which is just 20 minutes from Bangor/Brewer towards the coast. According to the article, it was a major theft ring that had targeted Walmart, Hannaford and many other corporate stores. Some lines from the news story like “a Frankfort woman, Jane Tardiff was arrested Thursday after she brandished a handgun at state troopers and federal agents who were serving the search warrant” and “Tardiff wasn’t involved in the theft ring but related to someone who was..” really made me think. The more I read the article the more I realized, “This is Johnny Pockets!”
To Be Continued….
CopyWronged Episode V: Brewer PD Strikes First or (...if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in...)
Early in 2011, Edge Video was visited by two representatives of the Brewer Police Department. They were investigating some...crime (They never did say what the crime was). They wanted to look at our records of items that had been traded in (or sold to us). In case you don’t know, all resale and pawn shops are required to keep records of stuff that they buy from the public and make that information available to law enforcement. We had a book that was basically the trades information printed off the computers as a receipt (it contained all the necessary information about the transactions).
The two officers looked through the book, came to me and said: “What we are looking for is not here.”
I replied, “I’m sorry, what are you looking for?”
One of them said: “What is on the computers?”
I said: “The computers are used mostly for DVD rental accounts and customer information.”
One of them: “We want to look at them”
I said: “I don’t think I can let you without a warrant. Not because we’re hiding anything, but because of the Video Privacy Protection Act .
Them: “Well, we will get a warrant and take all your computers”
I said: “I’m not trying to be a dick here, But I have to protect my customers' privacy and not get sued myself. I’m just saying, I think you have to have a warrant for a specific account, not a ‘blanket warrant.’ We have a lot of information on there. Why can’t we just find out the actual law and go by the book? You guys are law enforcement, isn’t that what you want?
Them: “We’re just going to come back and take all your computers.”
I said: “Ok.”
And they left. The rest of the story, the only perspective I can write about that is I witnessed personally because I was not at the store the day they “came back”. I have omitted some names. I apologize for the switching formats, I wrote this up from notes I had made right after it happened in 2011. At the end I put an update, the impact it had on our businesses and my thoughts on the whole matter.
May 24, 2011 (a Tuesday)
My partner in both business and life, Heidi Pugliese called me around 11am and told me Brewer Police Department was at the Brewer Store with a search warrant.
I said: “OK”
Approx one hour later. There was a knock at the door. I went to answer it, I heard someone say…”HELLO?”
By the time I reached the porch, Captain Moffitt was coming in.
Moffitt: “I’m Captain Moffitt of Brewer PD and I’m looking for stolen movies”
Moffitt: “Who are you?”
I told him my name.
Moffitt: “We were just at your store. Looking for stolen movies. We know they are here. Can we get them?”
ME: “I don’t know anything about stolen movies”
Moffitt: “It was a ‘Sting Operation, OK?” (He seemed very angry.) “Let’s just have them. We know they are here.”
ME: “OK, where’s your warrant?”
Moffitt: “Well, we can get a warrant, But we could also just get the movies and make this easy…”
ME: “OK, I’ll just call my lawyer.”
I start to go get my cell phone.
Moffitt: “No, I can’t let you go back in there…”
Moffitt: “You might destroy evidence or have a weapon. You’re acting kind of sketchy with me right now.”
I didn’t think I was acting “sketchy”, not compared to Captain Moffitt anyway.
ME: “Ok, can we go outside?”
Moffitt: “Yes, we can.”
We went outside, and another officer approached up the driveway.
Moffitt: “We need to secure the house.”
Moffitt: “To make sure it’s safe and that there’s no one else in the house.”
The other officer went into the house. He came back out.
Heidi Pugliese showed up.
ME: “Can she go get my phone?”
Moffitt: “Yes, an officer will go with her.”
She got my phone. I called my Lawyer. I told him what was happening. He told me to ask them if I was under arrest. They said no. I could leave if I wanted to. But there was no way I was going to leave my parrot in there with a bunch of strangers ripping through our house. Not gonna happen.
So I decided to stay while they got the warrant. Moffitt asked me, Heidi and J. (a part-time employee and relative of Heidi's) our names and Dates of Birth.
He left to get the warrant, Detective Munson and other Detectives/Officers I did not know sat at the edge of our driveway.
We found a ride for J. At that point they had looked inside Heidi’s car and saw movies. They said, “That car can’t leave.”
I sent texts to the people in the store. I told them they could leave by asking them if they were arrested.
I convinced Heidi to go get $ out of the ATM in case anyone was arrested.
I stood in the driveway for what was like 2 hours. No way I was leaving my parrot, Paegen.
Moffitt showed up with the warrant for the house and H’s car. He was unable to get one for the Bangor Store.
Moffitt asked if I would like to come in once they cleared a room. I said yes. I would like to go in the room with the bird cage.
Several other plain clothes officers showed up, a couple of uniform officers, all of them went into the house. There were also two people from Walmart Global Investigations at my house and I was told later, they had been at the store. That should have been clue #1 for how the next decade was going to go for me.
Moffitt came back out and said I could sit in a chair in the living room.
P Bird was screeching and screeching. The searchers were searching.
Moffitt (to me): “Do you want to save us some time and tell us where they are?”
Me: “the movies that were traded in today at the Brewer store?”
Moffitt: “Yes, in shrinkwrap”
Moffitt: “I don’t know, let me---”
Me: “They are upstairs in the front bedroom. On the shelf by the door with all the other movies”
He relayed that message to the Searchers and a couple of them ran up the stairs. I started to tell them where the rest of the DVDs that were traded in were, and they told me they would talk to me later. I sat back down.
Our cat was milling around during the whole process and trying to get out each time the Searchers came in and out of the house. I asked the female officer if I could put her in the bathroom and close the door. The officer said yes.
They started stripping out the computers and records they deemed important.
The searchers were here for about 25 min. to an hour. I sat in the chair, telling P. that she was okay. I eventually covered her up to try to calm her down.
As they wrapped it up. Munson (the computer guy) said to me: “I know you talked to a lawyer and do you want to talk to me?”
Me: “No. When will we get our computers for the store back?”
Munson: : “I don’t know. I will have to talk to the prosecutor and see who was going to be prosecuted. And I can’t talk to them until tomorrow.”
As they all left, he asked about the disc drive in the kitchen by the ipod and speakers.
Munson: “What is this?”
Me: “It is for loading music on the ipods.”
They left. I undercovered Paegen
In conclusion, I’d like to say this: While this event wasn’t the final nail in the coffin of Edge Video, it was the first nail of many more to come. Even though we certainly tried, we never did recover from the seizure. It took a year and thousands of dollars in legal fees to get our computers back. Many of them were broken and unusable. We had to move to another physical location because our store and online businesses were damaged. (We lost 2 promising selling sites: moviesfromtheEDGE.com & replacetvdisc.com). I personally started having strokes and would have 20 of them by 2015. Most of all, our spirits were crushed.
...And no charges were ever filed.
At the time our database contained over 30,000 local customer’s personal information, I asked my lawyer, “Didn’t Brewer PD break the law by seizing all of the video rental records?”
He replied: “That wasn’t for me to decide”
I did find out sometime later, that we weren't alone. Bull Moose (another local physical media retailer) had been paid a visit by mutliple law Enforcement Agencies and members of Walmart Global Investigations. As well, as many of the area's pawn and resale shops had received similar visits. Oddly, enough none of them were served search warrants or had computers seized. It would be several years before more peices of this blurry puzzle could be put together.
To be Continued...
Between 2007 and 2011 EDGE Video did very well. Both stores were doing well. They were two very different operations, with different clientele, but somehow they worked together. Even though the rest of the world was in financial chaos, EDGE was thriving. The storefront video rental business peaked in 2008, after that a lot of other video stores dropped off hard. Even the big ones, Hollywood, Movie Gallery, and Blockbuster all descended quite quickly. But I only saw opportunity. I wanted to more open more storefronts and really planned on expanding our on-line presence. The Internet and e-commerce was definitely the future.
While the two stores took most of my attention (and gave me the most headaches), I was spending every other waking moment developing on-line businesses. We had always sold on Amazon Marketplace and Ebay, as that was the business model: from Buying out stores and flipping the back stock product on-line to buying multiple new release rental copies and then selling the extras ones on-line. But I knew the day was coming when the rental market would be dead. We needed something else. Two of the business idea sites we came up with started to get some traction: moviesfromtheEdge.com (long ass title for sure, that was one of my first ecommerce lessons) and replacetvdisc.com.
Let’s talk about the origins of both sites, how they both ended with a untimely demise and their relevance to the current legal situation:
RIght from the beginning, EDGE Video was promoted as an ANTI-Big Chain store. We had a great team who excelled in customer service and was brimming with Movie/Video Game knowledge. It was designed to be a store for Movie lovers and a fun place to hangout. We basically kicked our local competitors collective asses. That would include Movie Gallery, Hannaford and yes, even Walmart. Really?, you might doubt me. But at the time Hannaford and Walmart both sold physical media (movies), we sold them cheaper and had a better selection not just the current dreck put out by Hollywood. I was told personally by some employees of those stores, that management was not happy with EDGE and said stuff like, "they must be doing something wrong or illegal." ...And that's when the seed was planted.
EDGE had a section in both stores called "Area 51", it was a couple bays of rare, weird, eclectic, and cult movies. It was very popular and brought in Customers looking for such movies. Because the Internet was still young, not everyone liked ordering on-line so special orders was also a big part of our business. For example, let’s say you are a customer and you are looking for a movie called Babes in Toyland, which was a 1986 Christmas movie starring a young Drew Barrymore. You watched it as a kid and couldn't find it anywhere on DVD. You come in and have us look it up for you. The exchange would usually go something like this:
CUSTOMER: “I’m looking for a old Christmas Movie with Drew Barrymore and the guy from the Bill and Ted Movies”
If we didn't come up with a title off the top of our heads, (yeah, alot of the EDGERS, were that good), we would cross reference the names on IMDB/Amazon/VideoETA.
EDGE: “There is musical from 1986 called Babes in Toyland."
CUSTOMER: "That's it!!!"
EDGE: "Well, we can order one but it’s out of print and very expensive.”
CUSTOMER: “Um, OK, I really want to watch it, how much is it?”
EDGE: “75 dollars.”
CUSTOMER: “Jeesh, well, ok, I really want to watch for Christmas, I want my kids to see it. Go ahead and order it.”
EDGE: “Um, it’s only on VHS.”
CUSTOMER: “Really? I don’t have VCR anymore. Why can’t you get it on DVD?”
(Pause, while EDGE types a little bit more on the computer.)
EDGE: “We can get one. But it’s probably going to be a copy, you know, a bootleg.”
CUSTOMER: “Is that illegal?”
Now the first couple times, I wouldn't know an answer to tell them, but after this happened more and more, I researched it heavily. This was when I discovered Fair Use, Implied License, and Orphan Works. I asked many Lawyers, on-line and off. No one could ever give me a straight Yes or No answer.
So we started ordering them almost as a customer service. Eventually we order lots of them. It was a very popular service and ended being one of the reasons Edge Video had an early success. After a couple years of ordering the same special order movies time and time again and getting all kinds of different versions of the films, I realized the quality of these products ranged from blank discs with a handwritten sharpie for title to a professional looking DVD with Full artwork. But they were all unauthorized Non-studio versions.
Not one EDGE Video store customer EVER complained about the quality or wanted a refund for a Special Order. They just wanted to watch the movie. And MoviesfromtheEdge.com was born. The website is always supposed to be an experiment and honestly, I liked researching the movies to determine what was potentially an orphan work, which ones were not on DVD, Public Domain, etc.etc. But as it grew and became “popular” I knew a legal fight may be on the horizon. I always thought it would be a civil case not a criminal prosecution. I remained very digilant with any potential rightsholder who contacted us to remove their property. In fact, one of the first encounters with a major studio was with a lawyer from Warner Brothers. It was about a movie called “Ode to Billy Joe”. He sent an email, basically a form letter. To cease and desist selling the movie on DVD. So I called him up and said is there anything else on my site that belongs to Warner? About a week later, he called me back with a list of 5 or 6 titles. I said I will remove them immediately and what do we do next?
He said “Nothing, I just want you to remove them, Warner will not pursue anything else. Thank you for calling me and asking me. We send out so many of these notices, most people and companies just ignore them”
Honestly, I was a bit disappointed, Because as we got better and better at making the discs, enhancing the website by producing content for the website and increasing the traffic, it was my goal to be contacted by a rightsholder and then turn the exchange into a pitch to distribute their film on DVD. I knew I probably didn’t stand a chance with the heavy hitters like Warner or Disney so maybe some smaller independent filmmaker might go for it.
But that plan never came to fruition and looks like it never will, but let’s move on.
When EDGE Video first opened, streaming was still on the horizon and the day when Streaming would crush every Hollywood business model was just a foregoing nightmare. Our TV on DVD section in the Brewer was extremely popular and grew very fast. We started out with one bay and eventually expanded into 10 or 15. The idea for the website came from an actual need. One of the major problems we encountered was when discs would get broken, or lost or stolen. That would make watching the rest of season very difficult and make for some very unhappy customers. Because we were already doing tons of special orders, we just ordered another season for just one disc.
I said to myself, “Too bad there wasn’t a site where you could order just one disc of a season”. So we made one. While it took awhile for the site to take off, Replacetvdisc.com was showing some great promise. We were getting referrals from Netflix, while they wouldn’t openly admit it. Some of our on-line customers told us that they had sent back a disc from their personal boxset by accident, they called Netflix, customer service couldn’t send back the personal disc but they would look up the replacement disc on our site, credit the customers account for same amount and refer them with a link to our site. I thought it was fantastic and had great potential. But the best thing happened around 2010, when someone in charge of development from Amazon contacted me and said they wanted to merge our site into Amazon and create a specialized storefront that Amazon would market. That would have turned Replacetvdisc into a real property and launched our revenues into the stratosphere. Then 2011 came screaming in and the Brewer Police Department wasn’t far behind.
To Be Continued.... Thanks for reading.