LOS ANGELES (CN) – A prominent member of the LBGT community claims an adult entertainment company tried to extort him and other subscribers by falsely accusing them of pirating its content on file-sharing sites, and demanded thousands of dollars to settle the cases out of court.
Plaintiff John Doe says he is “a prominent public figure and leader in the LGBT community” in a federal action filed Tuesday in Los Angeles. He claims Phillip Bleicher, CEO of Chicago-based Flava Works, extorts subscribers by filing boilerplate lawsuits without identifying users by name.
Bleicher is not a party to Doe’s complaint.
“Defendant Flava Works operates pornographic websites for gay men. Capitalizing on the social stigma of its own product, Flava Works has apparently discovered a lucrative side business: extorting money from former subscribers by threatening to expose them as consumers of gay porn,” Doe says in his complaint.
Flava Works specializes in ethnic gay porn, according to the lawsuit.
“Even if the accusation is false, most users reluctantly pay rather than be outed in court documents as a gay porn user – especially if the victim has chosen to keep his sexual orientation private,” Doe says in his complaint.
Doe says Bleicher sent him a demand letter accusing him of pirating the company’s content, and said he could avoid legal action by paying Flava Works $97,000 – “an amount that would increase to $525,000 if not surrendered quickly,” according to the complaint.
“Bleicher was not subtle about the purpose of the payment being to avoid public humiliation, explaining that ‘[I]f you act promptly you will avoid being named as a defendant in a lawsuit,’” the 11-page federal complaint states.
Doe says the matter quickly escalated when Bleicher threatened to detail the allegations in a public news release.
On July 27, the executive sent Doe a $150,000 demand through his attorneys and tied the demand to the plaintiff’s “‘status, his career and his wealth,’” according to the complaint.
“Defendant’s demand for hush money is nothing more than a cynical attempt to extort plaintiff by threatening to expose him as a consumer of gay adult content,” Doe says, adding that Bleicher’s claims are false.
Responding to the complaint on Wednesday, Bleicher said Flava Works had filed a $1.2 million federal lawsuit in Illinois against Doe for copyright infringement.
Bleicher attached the Aug. 15 lawsuit in an email and identified Doe by name. The executive noted Doe had agreed to jurisdiction in Illinois when he agreed to the company’s terms and conditions and said the company had sent him a cease-and-desist letter, as well as a demand to settle out of court.
Doe “is a member of several illegal gay adult torrent file-sharing websites and he has been uploading and downloading Flava Works’ videos on these sites without Flava Works’ permission,” Bleicher wrote in an email. “We have ample evidence to prove that it’s him (from matching emails, IP, logs and usernames) and he continued to share our copyrighted works.”
Doe’s case makes similar allegations to a case filed several years ago in Los Angeles by a different firm, which Doe cites in his complaint.
A law firm called Prenda targeted thousands of anonymous defendants who downloaded a single copyrighted porn movie from the peer-to-peer file-sharing network BitTorrent. The firm then filed lawsuits in federal courts against Doe defendants to secure quick $4,000 settlements.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ruled Prenda’s business model meant that “copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow starving attorneys in this electronic media era to plunder the citizenry.”
Doe seeks a determination that he has not infringed Flava Works’ copyrights, as well as attorneys’ fees.
He is represented by Ben Meiselas of Geragos & Geragos.