Photographer wants "up to $600,000" from Joni Mitchell fan site over 4 user-uploaded photos

Les Irvin, operator of the web's top Joni Mitchell fan site, reports that he's being "sued for up to $600,000" over four photos uploaded by to the site by anonymous commenters.

Until now. Charlyn [Zlotnik] has refused to drop the case ... A $25,000-$600,000 payment out of my pocket spells the end of a lot of things for me personally - including, obviously, the end of

I'm not asking for your money, but I am asking for your help. If you have been enriched at any point by the treasure that is, if you choose to see this resource as a benefit and a service rather than as an attempt to defraud and infringe, and if you feel this situation is unfair... please help me by sending an email to the attorneys and the photographer Charlyn, Leslie, and Carolyn - asking them to drop the lawsuit. Or if you agree with them, give them a thumbs up instead!

Though Irvin claims he promptly removed the user-uploaded shots—copyright law specifies this as a way to avoid liability for users' actions—the demands remain in place. These shakedowns have little to do with the law, other than its price: their effectiveness relies on the fact that it's cheaper to fork over the cash than to hire a lawyer and defend oneself in court.

The New York Daily News reported that Zlotnik was "collared" in a drug bust several months ago, with the New York Post adding that she was "busted for allegedly selling $1,000 worth of Adderall to undercover cops".

The firm sending the nasty letters pops up in claims published at Ripoff Report and Extortion Letters Info.

Justice [ via Waxy]


  1. “These shakedowns have little to do with the law: their effectiveness relies on the fact that it’s cheaper to fork over the cash than to hire a lawyer and defend oneself in court.”

    Can’t you just ignore them?

    1.  It’s never a good legal strategy to ignore it if you have been served with an official Summons and Complaint.

      That said, if you just receive some crazy demand written on law firm letterhead–those are usually just sent to scare you and can usually be ignored.

  2. It’s hard for me to be sympathetic without any correspondence listed.

    Usually people in this situation post the original extortion letters and subsequent letters/emails that go back and forth.  And it’s usually completely apparent that the lawyers are doing some really shady, underhanded, questionable things with bad motives.

    But… all this guy is doing is saying “Hey, someone is threatening to sue me and won’t back down”.  

    I’d like to see some of the correspondence before picking sides.

    1. I assume (backed-up slightly by Les’s comment above me offering to send you the letter) that the original letter had the usual verbiage about it being a crime to repost the letter, and the webmaster (justifiably) doesn’t want to give them any more leverage, whether or not that leverage is bullshit.

  3. People who are lawyers can really mess with people who are not lawyers and make life expensive for them. I lived at a condo where one condo owner was behind on her fees by two years and the association was suing her for her fees. This particular condo owner was dating a (very shady) lawyer. To fend off the lawsuit, her boyfriend would file all kinds of nuisance legal actions against the condo association. Legally, the condo association had to respond to everything he filed, and we had to hire a lawyer at $300 an hour to do that for us. We believed the boyfriend/lawyer was trying to bankrupt the condo association, but in the condo association’s charter the association could not go bankrupt, so all the tenants ended up forking over a ton of extra fees that year to pay for the attorney fees. And that, folks, is why I will never live in a condo again.

  4. I’m starting to think that the web was better back before business discovered it, back when Netscape 2.0 had “What’s new” and “What’s cool” on the menu, and most of the websites were .edu TLDs. 

    The neighborhood has gone to hell – too many peddlers and street vendors.  Too many outright jerks.  Can we move now?

  5. Frankly, this story doesn’t make any sense. If Irvin got a DMCA takedown notice and he removed the material, he is indemnified under Section 512 of DMCA. He doesn’t need to spend a lot of money on lawyers. If Zlotnik ever gets around to actually filing a suit (which would have to be in a U.S. district Court), Irvin just files a motion for dismissal. That’s not going to cost thousands of dollars. And courts generally have little patience for frivolous suits. 

    There is, of course, a big problem with unmerited takedown requests, but where the infringement is genuine, the safe-harbor provision works very well.

  6. Am I the only one who sees DMCA and immediately thinks of a mashup between Run DMC and the Beastie Boys?

  7. Am I the only one who sees little difference between a couple of goons “explaining” to a person that they should pay “protection” money to prevent an “accident” from happening, and a couple of lawyers “explaining” to a person that they should pay “settlement” money to prevent a “lawsuit” from happening?

    Sure, the person can fight back, but the resource imbalance can make fighting back more expensive than just paying up.

  8. Les is free to re-post a letter to the web that is addressed to him, as it is now his property to do with as he pleases. He can hire a billboard and put it there, if he wishes, and he can do so with impunity, regardless of any scary BS language the lawyer used in it. BTW, the awesome is a website known by and endorsed by Joni (SIQUOMB!) herself, and since the photos are probably of HER, she is arguably the last word on their use, as she retains the rights to her image. And since NONE of these images is being used for commercial purposes on, I don’t even understand the photogs’ legal claim in the first place. This is all covered by basic copyright law, the interwebs notwithstanding.

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