My Comments on the George Riddick/Imageline Controversy

Disclaimer: Ths editorial is NOT legal advice. It reflects my opinions only.

(Please be advised this editorial will be updated or revised to include the latest news and developments.)

I have had the opportunity to read numerous emails written by Mr. Riddick and evaluate his communication pattern.  It is clear that Mr. Riddick has been able to inflict an incredible amount of psychological stress by his aggressive and quite unprofessional letter tactics.  His behavior is far more egregious than anything I have seen before as it relates to copyright protection.

First off, I believe in copyright protection but I also believe in taking reasonable actions.  And if a settlement cannot be reached, then more aggressive measures can be taken. A big problem I see is that Mr. Riddick lacks credibility.  He comes across as inconsistent, scattered, and a person that rants and raves.  He appears to make threats that he does not follow through on.  His rationale is flawed.  He displays multiple sides to his personality.  He can be civil, gracious, respectful, hostile, insulting, and condescending all in the same email! More importantly, his email threats ring hollow on so many levels.  Unfortunately, many letter recipients’ are ignorant of copyright law and proper legal process and so Mr. Riddick has single-handedly distressed the embroidery community.

While I certainly do not condone what Mr. Riddick has done, the effectiveness of his letter campaign is effective because you, the letter recipient, because you have not yet become educated on the issues involved.  And you have also unwittingly played into his psychological game by driving this underground. I will list some reasons why this letter campaign has been so effective in creating stress thus far and where I see the lack of credibility comes from.

Most people who are in the artistic community lack a fundamental background on how business works.  In the world of business, there are good people and there are bad people.  When you encounter bad people in business long enough, you eventually learn what you can and cannot do to fight back.  Part of fighting back is knowing what resources, entities, agencies, and tactics actually work.  Another part of protecting yourself and fighting back is that you learn to grow a backbone.  And if you don’t immediately grow one, you learn to fake having a backbone.  I am not saying to this to be insulting.  I am saying this because I have to make my points quickly.

Everyone knows that bullies will only back down if you stand up to them.  Bullies like Mr. Riddick will only prey on who he believes are weaker parties such as those in the artist community.  He tries to overwhelm you by dragging in all kinds of legal arguments that may or may not pertain to your specific situation. Have you not wondered why he would chase after a class of people who have relatively few assets and income vs. larger companies?  He does so because uninformed people who are unaccustomed to business and legal conflict are easy prey.  He knows he has the upper hand because he has just enough information to sound credible and strike fear within you.

In his email communications, Mr. Riddick makes many legal threats on many fronts but fundamentally he has done nothing.  From what I can tell, Mr. Riddick has not sent any physical letters or Certified Letters to anyone. All communications from him appear to be emails only. There has been no indication he has done anything on the legal front against smaller, weaker parties.

What is interesting to me is that my search of Imageline Inc in Virginia indicates that this corporation is currently in delinquent status and even if it were not, has a history of not being in compliance with the State of Virginia’s corporate filings.  He has missed the years 1999, 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006.  2008 registration was in delinquent status for 3 months before it was reinstated on February 27, 2009. Most of these corporate filings cost $100 to simply update.

Does a corporation that cannot consistently make their annual corporate filings for such a small annual fee sound like a corporation that can hire an attorney to sue anyone?  As Oscar Michelen pointed out, a corporation without good legal standing cannot sue.  Further, any corporation that wants to sue MUST hire an attorney because corporations cannot self-represent, individuals and sole proprietorships can.  Corporations are only legal entities, not human entities.

Mr. Riddick has often mentioned contingency attorneys.  Contingency attorneys are smart people.  Most are in it to make money, not to do pro bono work.  Most will demand an upfront retainer to start work on the case.  They will only forgo a retainer and their hourly fee ONLY if they are certain there will be a big payday.  Fortunately for you, (but what many of you fail to realize) is that it would not be worth any contingency attorney’s time and effort to sue you because most of you do not make enough or have enough assets to collect on.  Mr. Riddick would then have to be like the rest of us in having to hire an attorney at $200-$400/hour.  Even for a medium-sized corporation, this is no small expense.  And most attorneys would demand an upfront retainer before they start the case.  For a 10-hour retainer, this could cost $2,000-$4,000 per party!  If he wanted to hire an attorney to sue “only” 5 people, he would have to come up with a retainer of $10,000-$20,000.  Do the math with all the letters he is sending out.

From what I can tell, Mr. Riddick is primarily a one-man operation.  He appears to use many aliases to create the appearance he works with a staff but I am not yet certain that is true. Currently, I take the stand he is primarily a one-man operation. Does this sound like someone capable or willing to cough up that much money to file suit?

Also, filing suit across state lines and out of country is incredibly difficult because part of filing suit against someone is being able to properly serve defendants personally.  There are also jurisdictional issues. Most of you are outside his state of Virginia.  And so, you are difficult to reach.  Defendants who do not want to be found will not be easily be found and it will be an additional cost to hire a good process server to successfully serve someone.

Copyright infringement is generally a federal issue.  Filing suits in federal court can get quite expensive when you take into account attorney fees, filing fees, and travel fees.  Yes, someone is going to have to travel and it is most likely the plaintiff that will have to travel.  Does Mr. Riddick sound inclined to want to travel to you and testify against you?  Even if he was, how many people could he actually sue given that he is a one-man operation?

Even if he were to make it all the way of hiring an attorney, paying the retainer, having you successfully served, traveling to testify, and meet in court, there is the matter of winning the case.  It has been my experience that courts are sympathetic to smaller, more vulnerable parties.  Judges strive to be fair and reasonable.  They look at your intentions and your actions.  Did you do it intentionally or not?  Do you a pattern of past intentional abuses?  Court cases are often not clear cut which is why even attorneys like to settle.  They do not like the uncertainty and surprises that can come up.  I have been in court many times most often as a plaintiff but I have occasionally been a defendant.  There is never any clear “slam dunk” for any side.

Even if you lost the case, the judge would ensure any ruling would be “reasonable”.  I believe Mr. Riddick might only stand to “win” a few hundred dollars at best plus attorney costs.  I could be wrong but that is what I believe at this point. Even so, there is yet another obstacle for him.  If he got a judgment, there is the matter of actually collecting on it.  It can be very difficult to collect money judgments from people who have relatively smaller incomes and smaller asset bases. Are you beginning to see why getting educated on the issues is very important?

Another point I like to make is that Mr. Riddick uses the tactic of urgency.  He sets artificial deadlines to force a response.  From what I have seen, many letter recipients have disregarded his deadlines with little or no consequence.  That is an indication that these are empty threats when there is no follow-up action with the exception of another derogatory email.

Mr. Riddick has made threats to a letter recipient sue them for libel.  In other words, he wants to keep his communications with you a secret from others.  He wants to keep you isolated.  He does not want his tactics to come to light.  It takes away the power when EVERYONE knows about how he conducts himself.  It is not advantageous for him for all of you to come together and share knowledge as some of you have done with me.  In domestic abuse cases where the abuser/bully wants control, a common tactic is isolation and keeping secrets. I should also point out telling the truth is an absolute defense against libel.

In some of the emails I have seen, there is an emphasis on “Confidential”, “Non-Disclosure”, and the like.  For the record, if you are the intended recipient of any correspondence, you have the right to openly share it with anyone (unless there was prior agreement by BOTH parties to keep communications confidential or in cases such as attorney-client or doctor-patient confidentiality.)  In other words, you have the right to share any communications you have Mr. Riddick with me, Oscar, or the world at large.

The reason I have gotten involved is I know that reporting this will help neuter his efforts to keep you isolated and silent.  You now have a platform with our online discussion forum to openly discuss (not rant, cuss, or concoct) your stories in a safe open environment.

You see, karma says that what goes around comes around.  Many of you have begun stepping up and stepping out.  Continue to get educated on the issues.  Speak out openly.  Start growing a backbone.  You will find that Mr. Riddick may eventually back down, become more reasonable, or go away.  And if not, then it is up to him to take the next action except that a lot of people are now watching him.

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