As many of you know my good friend and colleague in the fight to end copyright extortion, April Brown has come under attack in recent days from Marietta Georgia Speaker, author, poet and my opinion copyright extortionist Linda Ellis. Ms. Ellis is trying to intimidate Ms. Brown into not releasing her new book called Poetic Justice. Ms. Ellis is most known for her poem entitled The Dash which is about a man looking at a tombstone’s birth date and death date and realizing that the dash in between represents a person’s life. The poem goes on to suggest what is important in life and the way one should live your dash.
While Ms. Ellis has written many other poems it seems that her livelihood is centered on The Dash. On her website all of the merchandise she offers for sale from jewelry, books, calendars, plaques etc. are strictly Dash related. Ellis is also known for her extreme aggressiveness in pursuing copyright infringement claims of this poem. Ms. Ellis and her copyright enforcer John W Jolin search the Internet for people who have innocently shared her poem. When Ms. Ellis or Mr. Jolin find someone who has shared the poem on Facebook, a funeral website, family Memorial blog, company bulletin or anywhere they send out a settlement demand letter stating that the letter recipient has caused irreparable harm to Ms. Ellis’s brand and livelihood and now must pay $7500 within 10 days of the date on the letter or face a federal lawsuit for copyright infringement. She also used to require letter victims to place an online prewritten public apology to Ms. Ellis where the poem had been posted and leave it there. She appears to have ceased this practice, I believe because this is what led April Brown to many of her victims.
Let me be clear about one thing before continuing this article, I am a firm believer in fighting for copyright law and artists rights to be compensated fairly for their work. While it is my belief that 99.9% of Ms. Ellis’s infringement claims are what would be considered innocent and de minimis, meaning that the person sharing the poem did it innocently, without malice and with no intention of making any sort of profit from the act. According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit the ruling on Davis v. The Gap,246 F.3d 152 (2d Cir. 2001) de minimis is not infringement at all.
“The de minimis doctrine is rarely discussed in copyright opinions because suits are rarely brought over trivial instances of copying. Nonetheless, it is an important aspect of the law of copyright. Trivial copying is a significant part of modern life. Most honest citizens in the modern world frequently engage, without hesitation, in trivial copying that, but for the de minimis doctrine, would technically constitute a violation of law. We do not hesitate to make a photocopy of a letter from a friend to show to another friend, or of a favorite cartoon to post on the refrigerator. Parents in Central Park photograph their children perched on Jose de Creeft’s Alice in Wonderland sculpture. We record television programs aired while we are out, so as to watch them at a more convenient hour.8 Waiters at a restaurant sing “Happy Birthday” at a patron’s table. When we do such things, it is not that we are breaking the law but unlikely to be sued given the high cost of litigation. Because of the de minimis doctrine, in trivial instances of copying, we are in fact not breaking the law. If a copyright owner were to sue the makers of trivial copies, judgment would be for the defendants. The case would be dismissed because trivial copying is not an infringement.”
In addition the courts have routinely ruled that innocent infringement (without the intent to do harm or knowing the work was copyrighted) gets the minimum ruling of $200 per infringement (see Masterfile v. Martin Gale). I believe this is why Ms. Ellis never takes these innocent infringers to court, just threatening, harassing and leading them to believe that they will be sued if they do not pay up. I have a hard time believing that a court would agree that a poem you can buy on her website for as little as $2.99 each (5 bookmarks for $14.99) is worth $7500 when posted on a family’s Memorial blog page or shared on Facebook.
Ms. Ellis has created an online image and persona of the sweet southern bell and she has routinely engaged in tactics that most people find unbelievable and offensive, yet Ms. Brown has the screenshots, emails and documents to back up her statements.
This all began three years ago when April received a copy of The Dash poem in her email box sent from Ms. Ellis’s own website. At the time she had a tell a friend page where you could type in a friend’s email address and a copy of The Dash poem would be sent. April saw it, like the message and shared it on her blog page. Shortly after that she received one of Linda’s infamous $7500 settlement demand letters. After refusing to pay $7500 for sharing the poem Ms. Brown began warning people not to share the dash. You would think that Ms. Ellis would appreciate the effort as that is what she claims she is trying to do by such aggressive copyright enforcement, but Ms. Ellis’s reaction was to try to silence Ms. Brown from this activity along with exposing Ms. Ellis’s scheme. Ms. Ellis requires all of her victims to sign confidentiality agreements forbidding them to discuss any aspect of the settlement or again face being taken to court and sued.
Ms. Ellis took out a Google ad words campaign so that any time anyone searched for April Brown or her charity auction world they would see a link looking like it would take you to April’s site. But in fact it took you to a smear page trying to discredit April. Copies of all of this will be available when the book is released but I do have a copy
of a Google ad words campaign taken out just this last week (the 4th such campaign), again trying to smear and discredit Ms. Brown. You may try searching for the campaign or the website to see for yourself however, Ellis has a long history of posting inflammatory comments, twisting the truth as well as posting outright lies and then denying she ever did them. In order to hold her accountable and prove these statements I have found it necessary to rely on screen captures before she goes back and deletes them.
Ms. Ellis is currently at it again, posting all kinds of things on Brown’s personal and book Facebook pages. She is including links to the smear pages she’s created, accusing April’s nonprofit cat rescue/shelter of bieng a tax shelter among untruths. To April’s credit she has left every one of Ms. Ellis’s posts up there and encourages readers to go to Linda sites, view them and judge for themselves. In response to the claims that her Whisker City cat shelter was a tax shelter she posted the shelters financials. I challenged Ms. Ellis in reply to the post if she would be willing to let me make posts on her Facebook page, promising not to do anything inflammatory like she is doing but just post my statement of facts backed by screenshots, documents and victim testimonials. Of course there was no reply. I also asked her since Ms. Brown gladly offered up the financials for Whisker City if Ms. Ellis would be willing to do the same for me as I would like to know the financials of Linda’s lyrics LLC, including the breakdown of income from the selling of trinkets, licensing of poems, money made from speaking engagements and most importantly the percentage of income generated from her settlement demand letter program. Of course I am not holding my breath on these documents either.
Ellis also has a smear website where she claims that April Brown is obsessed with her, yet in one of her first posts on April’s Facebook page she states in response to a user’s comment she states she has April’s page blocked but is notified every time April makes a post and that she is just going to ignore them. Yet if you scroll up to the more recent posts Ms. Ellis is making some sort of comment, posting links to her smear sites or just making statements like…
“She just can’t stop posting about it…a good sign that the truth is doing its job. It reminds me of the wicked witch melting when she was covered in water…(the truth).
After Dorothy (me) throws the bucket of water (truth) on the wicked witch:
. . . the Witch began to shrink and fall away. “See what you have done!” she screamed. “In a minute I shall melt away.”
“Didn’t you know water would be the end of me?” asked the Witch, in a wailing, despairing voice.”
I will say the analogy that Ms. Ellis portrays of herself as Dorothy is fairly accurate. Just like Dorothy Ms. Ellis seems to running away from her problems and has ended up in her own world of Oz where “Pay me $7500 within 10 days or I will see you in federal court for sharing my poem on your Memorial page” is a good thing to do and a great way to live your Dash.