I'd had some intellectual property absconded with. There was no way around it. What to do? I was a poor artist. I couldn't afford a lawyer. Someone suggested to me that I get in touch with The California Lawyers for the Arts; a coalition of lawyers who were there for just such a purpose: to protect artists whose work had been--ah, let's not use the word "stolen", shall we not? It's such a harsh word. Let's use borrowed, as in, unethically, immorally and perhaps illegally borrowed. And certainly not purchased.
I was put in contact with a counselor over the phone. I forget his name and what firm he worked for; but let me tell ya, he had one authoritative voice. Like, authoritative in the bedroom kinda voice. It was all I could do to concentrate on what he was saying; I felt like I was on a mid-90's phone sex line again, imagining him really being there. Fantasizing Peter Onorati, in an Armani pin-stripe suit, man-spread, katty-corner on his desk. Loosening his tie. Imagining--
Oh, where was I? Anyways, he was telling me that the BIG ENTERTAINMENT CONGLOMERATE that I had sent a script to (their "Young Writers Mentorship Program" program, no less) was well known in show business for borrowing whatever work they wanted with impunity. "Impunity" means doing something wrong with no fear of being caught or punished or having to pay fines. So that's why there was a form stating that I wouldn't pursue legal action if I felt they'd borrowed my work! Sign and have notarized please. "Even if nearly every word was word for word," he said, "if you can't show they had access to your script, you have zero chance of winning." "I have a rejection letter!" (I didn't though, I'd balled it in frustration and tossed it (the only time I ever did that, right?). "But you signed that agreement and had it notarized, yes?" "Yes." So, in other words, forget it. "What are you wearing?" I asked him. Click.
And it happened again. This time, Lawyers for the Arts put me through to an "IP" lawyer in Los Angeles. This one involved my first novel. This guy worked for a hoity-toity law firm in Los Angeles and he was interested in taking on my case, he told me, in a phone call from Denver International. He was between flights. He was also clearly tanked and kept me on the phone for an hour, rambling and slurring his words. This three-plus martini lunch call did not instill confidence. When he asked for a $30,000.00 retainer I told him I'd have to think it over. Although, if I had a layover at Denver International I'd get drunk too. That place is friggin' scary.
And then it happened again. This time a big novel from a big publishing house with all the PR behind it that not even Stephen King could muster. I mean, I was either paranoid or deluded or both; but I was certain that my book had been the inspiration for the author's borrowing of my lead character. In fact, it was as though she had kidnapped him and forced him to narrate her book. So, I needed another lawyer, right? One that specialized in Intellectual Property (IP). I did some research on the web and found a firm in New York. Horwitz and Feinberg. I called and spoke with the receptionist. "Why yes," she assured me, "one of the Misters Horwitz would be happy to speak with you about possible representation..." "How many are there?" I asked. "Three," she said, "and of course Mr. Feinberg; however, he's indisposed at the moment--" In the background I heard sounds, like renovations or something were going on. "Could you call back at three please?"
"Sure," I said, wondering why her "please" came out "puh-lee-uhz."
"In where?" I asked.
"My office, of course."
"But I'm in Virginia."
"Oh, you naughty boy!" he replied.
Miss Cheefe got back on the line and we made an appointment to meet at his office where I would consult with him and the rest of his "consultantating consultants." Wondering if Mr. Horwitz was one of those "eccentric" lawyers (you know the ones; the ones with the gimmicks; like a trademark hat or a ponytail) I asked the receptionist if he was. "Oh, no," she assured me, "he's actively centric."
So I took the train up to New York the next week. The building was hard to find. It wasn't exactly a building, either. It was more of a storefront. What looked to be an old dry cleaners. "Gentrification," I nodded to myself and opened the door. A bell tinkled. The receptionist looked up from her compact where she was powdering her nose. I approached her desk. "Ticket puh-lee-uhz..."
"Ticket?" I shrugged, "I don't have a ticket--"
"No ticket no laundry bub..." She put down her powder puff on a coffee tray and picked up her nail file. I could hear the whine of a table saw and hammering coming from beyond a makeshift plywood wall behind her. There was a sign above her head that said, "Zero Days With No Accidents." And another: "We Are Not Responsible For Items That Are Folded, Spindled or Murderlated" And: "CASH ONLY! (That Means You Pal!)"
She looked up at me. "Well?"
"This is the law offices of Horwitz and Feinberg, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes. Did you want to see Mr. Horwitz, Mr. Horwitz or Mr. Horwitz?"
"Mr. Feinberg will be with you in a moment. Who shall I say is calling?"
"Mr. Reidy. I have an appointment."
"Have a seat puh-lee-uhz."
I sat down in a thread bare chair, being careful to skirt an exposed spring. The receptionist picked up the phone and dialed. "Oh, Mr. Feinberg, your one o'clock is here..."
"Two o'clock," I corrected. It was now twenty 'til.
"He's late." She pursed her lips at me.
After a moment, the hammering stopped. "Where are you going, porcupine?" I heard a gruff male voice exclaim. Then the sounds of what I can only describe as someone playing a saw. Then some bonks. A groan and then a wet slapping sound. Shortly, a door in the plywood wall flew open and somebody covered in wet plaster made a beeline for me, hand extended.
Miss Cheefe leapt up. "Oh, you poor thing!" she cried and proceeded to cover the man's face with kisses. He pushed her away. "Miss Cheefe, please bring Mr. Reidy into my office and bring in a tray of coffee, pronto!"
"Gentlemen," I started. They looked around the room, not realizing I was addressing them. "Perhaps this isn't a good time? I could come back..."
"Oh no!" Moses said, "we wouldn't hear of it! Just give us a moment to powder our noses and we'll be right with you!" At which point they disappeared and I was escorted into an office. For some reason there was a piano in there.
Shortly, the foursome reappeared wearing academic robes. After fighting for the desk chair for some minutes; Moses banged a gavel on the heads of the other three. "Now, Mr. Reidy," he asked, "what seems to be the problem?" I removed my novel from my briefcase and the other book that I felt had "borrowed" from me. I placed them on the desk. "I think the authoress of that book used a character from my book--" He picked up the books and flipped through them both. "Ah," he said, "Yes. Yes, yes. Yes, yes, yes! It appears you've been flim-flammed!"
"Bamboozled!" Samuel said (he was the one who got the spring to the face).
"Hornswoggled!" Louis cried.
"Bam-swoggle-flammed!" Jerome exclaimed; at which point Moses shot some ink from a fountain pen in his eye.
Miss Cheefe entered with a tray of coffee; on which, I noticed, she'd left her powder puff. She barked at Samuel and left.
"Well, what can I do?" I asked.
Jerome reached for the powder puff. "Oh! Cream puffs! Don't mind if I do!"
"Pipe down knuckle-head!" Moses said.
And we all stopped for coffee as Jerome proceeded to eat the powder puff. He started choking and Louis slapped him on the back; which produced a great cloud of face-powder.
"Well," Samuel said, "what you need is a law suit!"
And then a stool was produced and a full-length mirror and a tape measure and tailor's chalk.
"A suit?" I asked, "like, you mean an actual suit?"
"Oh sure kid," Moses assured me, "if you want to win your case you gotta look sharp! We're gonna fix you up right!"
But before they could start, Miss Cheefe reentered. "Oh boys," she said, "those law students are here for their lecture...
When it came time to go to court and go after that "gold-diggin' dame"; the boys told me that they were really going to press my law-suit to the fullest extent. Which was when they stripped me of said suit and went after it with a steam press. The steam press was malfunctioning, so someone decided to connect a propane tank to it. And then Louis found a spot and tried to get it out with nitroglycerine (why they had a bottle of nitroglycerine is anyone's guess). Needless to say there were fireworks. And that was before we even got to a courtroom!
So, if you want an outside the box-car legal approach, I highly recommend the firm of Horwitz, Horwitz, Horwitz and Feinberg. They'll even throw in a fluff and fold for free.