NOTE: I would normally post this on the Hawaiian Letters & Lawsuit Forum of ExtortionLetterInfo.com. However, I want to make sure there is no confusion that I have written this entirely on my own accord without any involvement of my business associate, Oscar Michelen.
This question has come up a few times but I have intentionally been quiet on this matter out of respect to Vermont Woods. However, a reporter from the Vermont newspaper, Brattleboro Reformer, contacted me for information to write a follow-up article on the resolution of the Vermont Woods case and it made me reflect on whether I should stay silent or share what the portions of the case/situation that I know.
Part of me wants to provide a short, uninformative answer. I could say the case has been settled and the terms of settlement are confidential. I was informed of this but I was not party or witness to the final settlement agreement/arrangement.
Given that a reporter from the Brattleboro Reformer is interested in writing a follow-up article, I feel compelled to share a few pieces of information of what I do know about the case PRIOR to the settlement. As a matter of disclosure, I do not work for Vermont Woods and I am not associated with that business. They are people who have solicited my opinions in the past, contributed to ELI, and I have been an outspoken supporter of their position. But we are entirely separate parties and entities. I have no say in how they do business, they have no say in how I do mine. Most people know that I am not a lawyer, nor have I ever attempted to legally represent them or anyone. Given that Vermont Woods may not be able or willing to say anything about their current situation, I am under no such restrictions.
I also do not have any legal agreements with Vincent K. Tylor or his lawyer, James Stephen Street, that forbids me from revealing or discussing information I have prior to whatever settlement Vermont Woods signed with Vincent Tylor. I was not party or witness to the final settlement agreement/arrangement but I do have some relevant information because I occasionally communicated with Vermont Woods to share my thoughts and opinions on the case and their situation.
The truth of the matter is that the Vincent K. Tylor vs. Vermont Woods case was a protracted legal dispute with twists and turns. My reporting last year on the lawsuit Adam Gafni filed on behalf of Vincent Tylor was dropped when I publicly reported that Adam reportedly worked for a California law firm that I could not find registered anywhere in California. But I did find it registered in Texas and that was also reported. The lawsuit was quickly dropped after that report.
Vermont Woods was rightfully outspoken and unhappy about Vincent’s and Adam Gafni’s legal threats, tactics, and the extortionate amount being demanded. After some time passed, Vincent Tylor, through his Hawaiian so-called lawyer, James Stephen Street, filed another lawsuit against Vermont Woods. Vermont Woods, once again, became vocal and outspoken about Vincent’s and James Stephen Street’s legal threats and aggressive tactics asking for extortionate amounts of money to settle.
James Stephen Street, in particular, became unhappy at my critical comments about his extortionate ways against Vermont Woods as well as my comments about his not-so-illustrious, late-in-life career choices.
Because the 2nd lawsuit by Vincent Tylor wasn’t going away, Vermont Woods, at my recommendation, hired Oscar Michelen. He had the unpleasant task of handling the lawsuit and negotiate a settlement with James Stephen Street.
I unhappily removed one of my critical comments about James Stephen Street and his age as a favor to the process. Peggy was instructed to remove every critical, unflattering remarks she ever wrote about Vincent Tylor and James Stephen Street to help ease tensions to facilitate a settlement. It didn’t appear to be sufficient for them to negotiate some cash settlement amount. James Stephen Street “motivated” Vermont Woods to remove every remark and commentary that was intended for the general public.
In my opinion, James Stephen Street, in particular, tried to control/restrict/eliminate critical comments made about him online (presumably to try to keep his online reputation clean and untarnished) and punishing Vermont Woods for having supporters like me that were highly critical of him and his aggressive tactics. It would be unfair for me to blame Vincent Tylor because we have written about him for years and never once has he tried to restrain ELI’s or its users ability to speak out freely. And while I do not have definitive proof, it was only when highly-critical and insulting remarks were made about James Stephen Street did this notion/insistence to have HIS name removed come about and work its way into the negotiation conversations.
Vermont Woods was conflicted about how to handle the legal dispute. They asked me for my non-lawyer opinion. They also consulted Oscar for legal advice. Because of the protracted public battle where many people were following the case, James Stephen Street and Vincent K. Tylor seemed to be open to a settlement while still suing Vermont Woods in a Hawaiian federal court. Vermont Woods understandably wanted closure on the matter. Ultimately, I believe everyone was motivated to settle.
During the negotiations stage, Vermont Woods asked my opinion regarding the terms of a proposed settlement and whether or not they should agree to them. While I was supportive for them to financially settle the matter and put it behind them, I strongly disapproved of some “draconian terms” being proposed. I was very outspoken that they should not agree to such draconian terms and have them removed.
While I won’t get into the specifics of what I consider “draconian terms”, I believe Vermont Woods was “motivated” into an excessively speech-restrictive agreement masterminded by James Stephen Street, not just a standard confidentiality of financial terms agreement. It appears Vermont Woods is now unwilling to publicly speak, write, or otherwise express any opinions whatsoever about Vincent Tylor and his lawyers. This is what I consider a serious and excessive restriction of speech. When a party is unwilling and fearful to express a simple opinion about the other party and their lawyers, it has gone too far. As I said, this situation appears to be way more than a simple confidentiality agreement of financial settlement terms.
Vermont Woods did not want to incur more legal expenses for an extended legal battle and understandably wanted closure even if that likely meant agreeing to draconian terms in restricting speech.
Lawyers typically take a conservative approach and instruct their clients to take the safest road. It is the path of least resistance. I, on the other hand when it comes to matters of speech, do not roll over quite so easily. Hence, I offer my commentary and insights now. Vermont Woods is unable/unwilling to say anything publicly and their lawyer is ethically and professionally-bound to not discuss it. That leaves only me with these morsels of information. I could say and share a lot more but I am choosing not to. It isn’t my fight and no matter what my personal feelings might be, I cannot care more than the party I am trying to help. I have learned this lesson the hard way. Taking on other people’s fights is largely a thankless endeavor. I know what I have done if I were in their shoes. I would not accept any draconian terms regarding my ability to speak publicly even if it meant a higher risk to me. Vincent Tylor was in Hawaii and Vermont Woods was in Vermont. As far as I am concerned, it was never going to be as easy for Vincent Tylor as some believed.
It is acceptable for Vincent Tylor and James Stephen Street to demand Vermont Woods NOT disclose the terms of financial settlement. However, it is not acceptable to absolutely forbid Vermont Woods from ever writing or uttering a word about Vincent Tylor or James Stephen Street which appears to be the case based on the deafening silence.
But given Vermont Woods desire for closure and avoid any more legal entanglements, Vincent Tylor and Hawaiian lawyer, James Stephen Street successfully bullied Vermont Woods into a lifetime of silence. That is something everyone gets to think about.
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Mr. Chan, I was targeted by Vincent K. Tylor and his attorney Jason Levin recently for having copied one of his copyrighted photographs – a picture of a waterfall in Hawaii – and using it on my website blog. I was accused of having committed copyright infringement. In a demand notice I was informed by Adam Gafni, Mr. Levin’s partner, that I could settle with Mr. Taylor by paying him statutory damages of $9,900. I was also told that if he decides to pursue the matter in court, he may be awarded damages of up to $30,000 for a non-willful infringement.
The same day I received the e-mail and demand notice from Mr. Levin, I removed Mr. Tylor’s photo image from my website. A few days ago I removed it from my LinkedIn page, where it was also posted.
I probably didn’t copy his photo image from his website but from another website. I learned yesterday that there are just over 1,100 websites on which this photograph appears. Based on that information, my attorney told me that it would be difficult for Mr. Tylor to prove actual damages, so the most he could claim in statutory damages is $750. My lawyer advised me to offer Mr. Tylor a nuisance value settlement to buy him off and obtain peace of mind.
I was informed yesterday that this is how Mr. Tylor makes most or all of his money now that he’s retired from marketing his photographic works: through Extortion, i.e. by preying on unsuspecting users of the World Wide Web. If that’s true, I think Mr. Tylor’s behavior is disgraceful. I don’t see how copying an image of his photo from an unknown website is evidence that I stole his work. It’s not as though I reproduced a a painting and claimed to ha have painted it, then sold it for a profit. I didn’t make any money from the use of Mr. Tylor’s photo image. Perhaps the copyright laws protect artists like Mr. Tylor even to the extent of making an action like downloading and using an image of his work a copyright infringement. However I shall rely on my lawyer’s opinion since he knows more about this than I do.
I wonder if Mr. Tylor made any money from my use of his photo image, since its appearance on my blog and on LinkedIn was a form of advertising for him.
I plan to offer Mr. Tylor of token settlement. If he demands more or his lawyers attempt to impose draconian terms on me, my wife and I will declare bankruptcy even if it costs us a couple of thousand dollars.
I write this for your information, Mr. Chan, and to alert other readers of your article to the risk of being accused of copyright infringement, simply for using an image of someone’s photograph but not the actual photograph.
This is a correction of the reply I just submitted. The settlement demanded by Adam Gafni isn’t for statutory damages of $9,900. That’s just the amount of the settlement Mr. Tylor is willing to accept.