NYC Filmmaker and Producer Claudia Montano, of Firebrand Films, has sent a “Cease and Desist” letter to Convicts Films CEO, Peter Maiden, for copyright infringement of footage used in a social media PSA video called NY TOUGH. Montano accuses Maiden’s boutique creative agency of placing the COVID-19 video on its website and on social media without crediting numerous filmmakers, including Paul Stone who just signed with Backyard Films. last month.
The video’s soundtrack features New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s eloquent and inspiring speech regarding the Covid-19 virus set against different clips featuring New York and New Yorkers as heroes.
The video launched on April 2 on Convicts’ social media channels, unbeknownst to any of the filmmakers whose footage was used. According to a source, the posts were not for commercial use, but intended as an uplifting message and direct resource for healthcare workers.
Stone, Montano as well as several other filmmakers discovered the video’s existence from congratulatory texts and calls from friends.
“We kept getting calls and texts congratulating us,” Montano told Reel 360. “Then when we looked at the video we were like, ‘Oh sh*t!'” In many cases, Montano claims Maiden actually hacked websites and cropped out identifying watermarks.
Here is the original:
Here is the footage, supplied to Reel 360 by Montano with actual filmmaker names:
The video became an immediate hit as celebrities including Ann Curry, Hillary Clinton and Maria Shriver have shared the video, contributing to millions of views.
Infuriated and shocked, Montano claims she reached out to Maiden in order to get answers about the use of their copyrighted footage. The one-time Rolling Stone Multimedia Editor and Reporter offered no excuse in his email reply, actually acknowledging use of the footage, “We sincerely appreciate your work if it was used in the film and have done our best to credit it all.”
When Montano pushed the issue further, likening Maiden’s use of the footage to going into a boutique and taking merchandise without paying, Maiden grew more defensive. “While I completely understand your analogy in regards to copyright, no one is profiting from your leather jackets or shoes.”
At least seven filmmakers now claim their work was stolen. “At least ninety percent of the video relied on stolen footage,” said Montano. “Our footage was from a documentary about a friend who died in the 911 attacks. Maiden is now accepting work based upon the efforts of many other filmmakers. Our industry is struggling now. This is despicable.”
Upon further look at the new re-cut video, credits are listed including Hans Zimmer, whose score to Twelve Years a Slave was used. Zimmer gave permission to use in the video.
“I am a Native New Yorker. The New York film community is a close, tight-knit, group. We all know each other and look out for each other. When I saw the viral video, I immediately knew it was not directed, nor shot, nor produced by Peter Maiden or Convicts,” Paul Stone told Reel 360.
Maiden has acknowledged that Convicts has received additional work from Governor Cuomo’s office and NY Hospitals due to the video. According to Maiden, who spoke with Reel 360, the work is Pro-Bono. See below:
Because of the video, Maiden’s status was elevated and landed a feature in The New York Times:
Maiden also claims the NY Times piece was in the work for months and that it just happened to occur after the video.
Meanwhile Maiden asked his contact list to upload the video using the stolen footage to as many platforms as possible to ensure its continued existence. And on April 9th, in response to backlash, Maiden uploaded a reedited version to his website in which the stolen footage was replaced. “It’s too little too late,” said Montano.
UPDATE: Reel 360 spoke with Maiden and he offered this statement:
“When COVID-19 hit our business came to a standstill but as creators we never stop. We wanted to find a way to help and keep our team active. Inspired by Governor Cuomo’s NY Tough speech, we quickly put together a short film with a call to action to direct resources to New York healthcare workers. We created NY Tough as a public service message with the intention of putting good into the world, uplifting our fellow New Yorkers and supporting those on the front lines. We released it immediately across our social channels and did our best to credit all sources.
Shortly following release of the initial edit, we received a takedown notice from YouTube which identified the filmmaker who filed it. We immediately reached out to that party, who refused to identify the content they were referring to or exactly who they were claiming rights on behalf of. We still have not received this information.
We are members of the creative and film community and take rights and intellectual property seriously. We did our best to credit all the clips and filmmakers in the original edit. After the takedown notice, we removed the original edit from all our channels and contacted the other filmmakers.
Everyone we spoke with licensed us their footage or graciously gave us their blessing if they were in a position to do so. We released a new edit of the film with the full support and clearance of all the artists along with significant original content from CONVICTS’ archives and with the same call to action to help direct resources to New York’s healthcare workers.
We are in an unprecedented time of global crisis and human suffering and we are determined to focus our energy, resources and talent on positive efforts to help others and support the creative community that we are so grateful to be a part of. We have since released a new film across our social channels that spotlights the heroic healthcare workers on the front lines of this fight.
The goal with this piece is to encourage everyone to continue to stay home so that healthcare workers can continue to save lives as effectively and safely as possible. Because the future path of this virus depends on what we each do NOW.”