Make sure to first read Part 1 of my muse story here.
I checked my e-mail inbox and my heart skipped a beat. There was a message from the law firm representing the game company.
The letter said that my website selling a “strategy guide” about their business game violated numerous trademark and copyright laws and that if I did not immediately respond and take down the website they would file a lawsuit.
So I contacted the game company and agreed to take down the website as asked. However, I also wanted to get perspective on the legal issue from a trademark lawyer.
In October 2010 I met with a lawyer to get advice on this copyright and trademark legal issue. He explained to me how 3rd party guides were legal and gave me examples such as the Dummies Guide to Windows book. Basically his attitude was that the game company was blowing smoke. As long as I changed the domain name of my site to not include their trademark and added a very clear disclaimer that I was not affiliated with the company, then legally I should be fine.
A 3rd party guide seems legal, doesn’t it? (Photo Credit: Lasse Havelund)
So I did just that – I set up a brand new site with a different domain name and had a clear legal disclaimer. Everything was great from November to Mid-December – my site was pulling in over $2500 per month income and only required an hour per day of work. In New York City I met Tim Ferriss in person, thanked him for inspiring me, and told him how I was going to take a mini-retirement to Thailand. I was on top of the world.
The very next day I got an email from the law firm representing the game company. They were going to file a lawsuit claiming copyright and trademark infringement within 15 days if I did not immediately meet their demands which included (but were not limited to):
- Pay the company $15,000 for damages to their reputation
- Take down my website and any reference to their trademarks
- Provide them a list of all my customer’s names, email, street address, professional and academic affiliations
- Inform my university and professor that I created the “strategy guide” and apologize to them
Their demands were ridiculous. There was no way I would agree to them.
I went back to my lawyer and he tried to get the game company to back down but they wouldn’t budge. My lawyer also informed me that he did not participate in litigation so if the game company did file the lawsuit I would have to seek new legal counsel. Well I wish I knew that ahead of time and maybe I would have picked a different lawyer.
In mid January I received a knock on my door – it was a summons notifying me that the game company had filed their lawsuit.
Maybe they weren’t blowing smoke after all.
I scrambled to find a new lawyer before the court deadline for a response. I went through 3 different trademark lawyers before I had someone based in the same city as the game company and able to do all the necessary court filings. The next few months were a roller coaster both legally and emotionally.
What I came to slowly realize was that even though I may be legally in the right, trying to prove my case was going to take a lot more time, money, and effort than I was willing or able to provide.
Eventually I settled out of court with the game company and each side had to pay their own lawyer’s fees. My total legal expenses drained all of the money I made from my muse business (about $10,000).
Was it worth it? For the most part, yes.
This 9 month legal dispute was a difficult roller coaster causing significant emotional and mental stress. The consequences for messing this up were serious and there were many occasions I wondered if my dream for a location independent life was ruined.
On the other hand, the experience I gained while creating my 4HWW Muse business helped me beat out 48 other applicants for the Tropical MBA III internship. I stood out because I took the initiative to go after the life I wanted and get results – even though it blew up in my face.
Important Lessons Learned:
- There is an opportunity cost to everything so know when to cut your losses and move on.
- Be careful what you share with your family about your business because they don’t have the same perspective as you.
- Be careful who you get legal advice from and get a second opinion – messing this up can cost you dearly.
- Avoid legal disagreements whenever possible – even though you may be right the cost of money and time is rarely worth it
- The legal system moves excruciatingly slow – my legal dispute is just now finishing up 6 months after it started.
In the end I lost the legal battle because the other side had more money than me. They were able to throw tens of thousands of dollars at the problem to make it go away. I was not.
The game company’s lawyers were able to force me to take down my business – But the joke is on them.
They are stuck in a cubicle in midwestern America worrying about legal briefs 60 hours per week while I am building businesses from beaches in Bali and meeting fascinating entrepreneurs along the way.
Living well is the best revenge.