SuicideGirls vs Lithium Picnic Lawsuit Settled

SuicideGirls vs Lithium PicnicSo I guess this is just weird sex trial coverage week at BlueBlood.net. First Max Hardcore gets convicted, then Ira Isaacs gets a stay, and then R. Kelly got acquitted. Now it appears that notoriously litigious, Hot Topic-esque, altporn, membership site SuicideGirls (aka SG) has settled their most recent lawsuit. It is hard to keep track of all their legal scuffles, but this was the one against their former contractor fetish photographer Philip Warner and his collaborator altmodel Apnea.

The initial dispute between SuicideGirls and Apnea appeared to arise because she modeled with a girl named Katie for a forthcoming site, which had offered her and Katie disproportionately large sums of money for a simple nude photo shoot. Even though this new site had not launched yet and most planned sites never do launch, SG was particularly bent out of shape about the Apnea and Katie photos because Katie had also reportedly worked as SG’s accountant. This presumably meant that she was privy to very proprietary information. SG went so ballistic over this that they not only took away Apnea’s complimentary site membership, but they put a stop payment on a check they had already written to her.

The dispute between comically psycho-competitive SuicideGirls and their staff photographer Philip Warner appeared to arise when Philip posted on the internet that he was going to be adding community features to his own web site, basically making it a lot more like SG. According to AltPorn.net’s exclusive interview with Apnea, SG handed Philip a new and more exclusionary contract one day after he announced his web site intentions. He refused to sign the new more controlling contract, so one day later SG made a public break with him. SG then apparently had the hubris to inform Philip that “alternative images of beauty (dyed hair, piercing and tattoos)” were their sort of trademark and therefor his work was a violation of his noncompete and he fired back publicly saying that the images

“you describe reflect the same style that I photographed [Apnea] in prior to our participation and awareness of the suicidegirls.com site. SG has no ownership of this broad genre, it is clearly in the public domain and has been around on web sites like BlueBlood since before SG was created.”

Five weeks later, without bothering to reply to his publicly-posted letter, SG filed suit against Philip Warner.

Here is where it gets weird. First of all, Philip did not stop working with SG when they put a stop payment on the check to Apnea, but, as soon as he had a problem with them, he started asking other people to donate to his legal defense. As far as he was concerned, while Apnea’s problem might not have been his problem, his problem was apparently supposed to be everyone else’s problem. The second weird thing was that Philip presented like SG was trying to take away his livelihood, yet the gossip sites claimed he actually made his living by owning and operating rental properties in Texas and court documents assert that SG, over all the years he worked for them, paid out a bit over ten grand total. This works out to a little over $2,000 a year. That is not exactly enough to live on. The third weird thing is that the court documents for the initial complaint nowhere mention that Philip appeared to have been planning a competitive site targeted directly at SG’s slice of the marketplace. Instead they named Apnea’s solo girl site in the suit as what they were concerned about competing with. Yes, the Apneatic site domain was registered to Philip and he shot a significant portion of the content on it and he probably ran it in partnership with her. But why mention her site, especially when Philip claims his contract specifically permitted him to shoot for solo girl sites, and not mention the planned multi-girl site which seemed to trigger the falling-out? Somewhere in here, SG also licensed a bunch of their own unretouched photos of Apnea to a number of adult internet companies with the condition that they were not permitted to use a name Apnea wished to be called. Eventually SG apparently also named Apnea in their suit which was initially just vs. Philip.

Here is where it gets really weird. For the past year and a half, Philip and Apnea have been aggressively campaigning for charity and donations from the creative community for their legal defense. Photographers have been told they are not allowed to participate in art shows unless they promise to donate any proceeds from their own work to Philip’s defense. Models worked for free to make anti-SG legal defense posters. Philip made T-shirts and prints promoting his lawsuit and asked people to buy them in support of his legal defense. Site owners and other clients all felt like maybe they should pay Philip and Apnea slightly higher rates to help with their legal plight. Every time Philip or Apnea sold an unwanted piece of photo equipment or an old dress on eBay, they reminded everyone that all this was to pay for their legal defense and that everyone who hates SuicideGirls should contribute to their legal defense fund. I do not know exactly just how many people gave them money or exactly how much money they were given because, unlike what one would expect from a charity, there has never been any kind of public accounting of donations nor the expenses those funds covered. Certainly, a lot of people championed Philip and Apnea’s cause and tried to be as supportive as their personal situations permitted.

Here is where is gets really really weird. Today, Philip Warner and Apnea issued a joint statement, apparently written by Philip but signed by both, which said in part,

“We want to make it clear that we 100% have no hostilities towards SuicideGirls in anyway anymore, we all came to a really fair agreement over this dispute, and there were no bad people here, just mistakes and misunderstandings. If you’ve boycotted SG on our behalf, you helped us come to this agreement, so thank you but the battle is over, and we’re all friends again.”

They state that there will be new SG product authored by Philip and they include a link for anyone who wishes to join SuicideGirls. The link is an affiliate link which they explain saying,

“To help offset our legal expenses, when you sign up with SuicideGirls, please use this affiliate code so that we can use the money to pay off our lawyers and focus on Apnea’s modeling and my photography!”

Did they seriously keep beating the dead horse of their legal expenses, while asking people to join the very site they were fighting and telling everyone to boycott for its evil ways and lameness just one day ago? The very reason Philip and Apnea were able to get so much support for their legal defense was that a lot of people truly believe that SG is an evil company.

According to Apnea’s MySpace, she is currently, in 2008, twenty-two-years-old. The first nude photo set featuring her posted to the SuicideGirls site in 2003. I think people should take responsibility for their actions, no matter what their age, but I do have some sympathy for a teenage girl who entered into business with a predatory corporation. Philip’s MySpace, on the other hand, puts his current age at thirty-nine-years-old. He is a grown-ass man, and he knew what he was getting into with SG, and he still chose to lie down with dogs, and then ask everyone else to help with his flea problem. He supported SG aggressively when many other people complained of all manner of mistreatment. He asked for a hand-out when he had a problem, and now he is telling everyone it is all good because he is getting back in bed with SG. I can’t find it in my heart to have the same sympathy for him that I might for Apnea. They are still supporting SG, which is still an organization that is a blight on our scene.

I believe that SG head honcho Sean Suhl is pretty much personally responsible for most of what has gone horribly wrong with the counterculture in recent years. He helped collect alt demographics for secretive data mining corporation Experian, and they sold that info to Hot Topic, so Hot Topic could effectively shut down all the independent punk rock stores which were the cornerstone cultural centers of so many local scenes. And don’t even get me started on how Sean Suhl’s projects have made every effort to inhibit the creation of art, disempower men, and turn women into jokes.

Now, to be fair, despite the fact that I feel this way, I actually think SG had a totally legitimate complaint if they signed a photographer and a model to an exclusive agreement, promoted that photographer and model, made that photographer and model privy to a lot of proprietary information, and then the photographer and model both violated their contracts. Then again, SG was unable to win a legal case against hacker Chad Grant, even when he admitted to hacking SG’s server and having every intention of competing with SG in the marketplace in a way which he hoped would put them out of business. The court transcripts from that trial are truly hilarious and maybe SG settled this case to avoid creating another laugh riot at their own expense.

Now Philip and Apnea are having their joint statement with its affiliate link spam posted to all sorts of sites which generally never allow that sort of blatant commercial promotion. The responses so far indicate that SG may have laid off on a case they could have won, but they also managed to give Philip enough rope to hang himself. Here are a few of the responses Philip and Apnea’s incredibly sell-out and self-centered statement has received so far.

On MM, photographer Chris Keeling sums it up nicely, saying,

“wtf? I thought we had been trained over the last year or so to Hate SG? Now the OP is spamming the Forums to get us to go join SG to go see his earlier work with them? It makes me think this whole fundraising thing was just a carefully orchestrated piece of shit! I’m pissed off. They are either vile despicable people or they are not. Just because the OP can make money again doesn’t make them okay now.”

The beautiful blogger Baby Sinead adds,

“Seriously, I didn’t even send money or anything but I feel like a tool. I guess everyone has this time where they choose to sell out or keep up the fight.”

Photographer Carl J Speed II says in part,

“I’ve been a staunch defender all over the internets and my social circles, spent a lot of time convincing people to stay away from SG (members and perspective models alike), wore my Vive La Picnic shirt (that I bought) , and this just feels dirty. Lying in bed with the bad guys now doesn’t give any sense of justice about this scenario … I’m still angry. I don’t care what arrangement was reached of “what had to be said”, SG are not “okay”, this wasn’t just a fucking misunderstanding, and maybe I have no room to point a finger as I’m not in the position, but going back to those that bent you over for the last two years, where’s the principle? HOw could someone lay back in bed with the bad guys?”

Photographer Visions Of Excess posts,

“I was one of those folks who hosted an LP fundraiser – money that it seems could have been more well spent paying my rent. The OP aside, I am reminded of the charge that SG is still selling its content to porn sites. Now why would I want to support that?”

Shortly after this, because MM mods always hide SG spam threads if they get too negative about SG, the thread got locked down.

Over on LJ, there is some energetic conversation going on still where people like Baby Sinead are able to visibly post, “Honestly if it was all a “misunderstanding” people should be refunded,” without having her words immediately locked. User bunnie_page writes,

“Realistically, I’m thinking it’s part of the settlement that they had to retract all of the bad things they said about “Worst Website Ever”…all of that shiftiness with them not able to say WHO was suing Apnea really makes it seem like SG was suffering from all of LP’s support, and had a gag order (which obviously didn’t help), and now their trying this. If the agreement *was* actually fair I would think SG would’ve ended up covering all of his legal bills. I’m sure there’s more here that we will just never get to know. But whatever, I still hate SG.”

In Apnea’s personal journal, mxa_photo writes,

“After all the crap you guys have claimed to have been through with this case it sure looks like you are now pimping out sign ups to SG??? Congratulations on suckering everyone in with your superbly run publicity campaign and congratulations on your seemingly total lack of moral fibre.”

My favorite LJ post about the settlement so far comes from user slutbunwalla, who wrote,

“Maybe it was just a long con and there was no real lawsuit to begin with! They all drummed up a bunch of business and donations and support and sympathy but the whole time there was already an implicit agreement between everyone to keep the drama going!!! Or maybe I just watch too much LOST.”

The most tragic posts come from redchickpoet who writes,

“Me (who couldn’t afford it in the first place, but thought I was helping to support a worthy cause) —–> BIG FOOLISH IDIOT … The funny thing is, me and my guy JUST got our “Free Lithium Picnic” shirts. Well, at least I can sleep at night knowing we helped to pay for their new tattoos. *kicks myself and becomes just a bit more cynical*”

This last post breaks my heart because it gets to the core of why Sean Suhl’s projects like SuicideGirls have been so damaging to the soul of counterculture. Everything he touches seems to spew out a lot of rhetoric about things people want to believe in, yet everything he is involved in seems to end up being a disillusioning smoke and mirrors sham. Once someone like redchickpoet is disillusioned like this, she may just walk away from the whole scene. Heck, I’ve been a part of this world since before I founded Blue Blood fifteen years ago. And this sort of disillusioning nonsense gives me pause.

My father is an attorney who has never lost a single litigation, yet he still always says that the only people who win lawsuits are the lawyers. I don’t know who won the $G vs LP lawsuit, but I know that all of us in the larger community are the ones who really paid the price.

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avatar Posted by on June 15, 2008. Filed under Blue Blood. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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