When corporations try to use copyright law to silence their critics

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com


But as Audrey Alford found out, actors can’t even sound the alarm about it.

Alford, co-founder of the New York-based Ivy Theatre Company, first saw the casting call for a Nick Jonas summer tour video partially quoted in an actor friend’s Facebook post in May. The job description, which had been posted on Actors Access, requested “stunning female models,” “the kind of girls Nick Jonas would have a crush on,” as in, “mainly Caucasian,” with possible, “ethnic flare, like Indian or South American.” A woman who looks exactly like “Emily Ratajkowski”, for instance.

“I wasn’t surprised because I’ve seen a lot of casting notices quoted and a lot of them are sexist and racist,” Alford told me. “But I was shocked at the level of objectifying and racist language that was used here.”

…On the morning of May 28, Alford received an email from Gary Marsh, founder and CEO of Breakdown Services, Actors Access’s parent company. At the time, Alford did not know who Marsh was, but she could tell from his title he was likely a big deal in Hollywood. A quick Google Image search confirms he has posed with his arms draped around the shoulders of Demi Lovato, Ashley Tisdale, Miley Cyrus, and the like. [Ed. note: See correction.]

“Yesterday you posted copyrighted material on social media,” the email read. “We also know you have illegal access to the breakdownexpress.com website. Please be advised that we are filing a complaint with Twitter and will be pursuing all available legal remedies.”

A few days after that, on June 1, Alford received a cease and desist letter from Steven P. Krakowski, a lawyer representing Breakdown Services, claiming the casting notice contained, “proprietary information of value which is Breakdown Services’ property,” and that the act of sharing a screen grab of it constitutes a “willful copyright infringement under federal law.”

The letter informed Alford that Breakdown services would be entitled to seek damages of up to $150,000 if she did not comply with the lawyer’s stipulations that she remove the screen grabs from her social media accounts and reveal the name and contact information of the person who provided Alford with the screenshot within 10 days of receiving the letter.

“When I first opened the letter, my stomach dropped,” Alford told me. “I felt really powerless because I knew I didn’t have the money to get a lawyer and fight any sort of lawsuit, even though I’m right. I felt like this company that has more money than I do will probably get away with it.”