How a Dispute over a CBGB documentary shows the dangers of not going to Court.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times told the story of filmmaker Amos Poe, who filmed historic shows at CBGB in New York City, getting footage of early shows by Blondie, Talking Heads, and the Ramones.

The article is titled “His Film Is a Punk Classic, but the Credits Now Roll Without Him,” and it’s not a happy story. In short, today, Poe gets hardly any credit for his visionary role in recognizing the significance of the time and the people he was shooting and creating what some call a classic punk rock story.

That’s because he lost his rights and ownership to the film to a business partner, in an unpaid debt lawsuit. Poe says that he couldn’t afford a lawyer and, in the end, “skipped the court date.” At trial, the Judge found the debt to be about $6,500 (but with $43,000 in legal fees).

During the collections process, the judgment creditor was able to sell the copyright (to itself) via an execution sale, including ownership of Poe’s four films (which sold for $10 each).

Per the New York Times, Debbie Harry commented “What a farce that anyone else should claim his inspirational film.”

Here, there are a number of take-aways.

First, what the judgment creditor did here was valid and allowed under collection law. A judgment creditor can seize all sorts of assets of the judgment debtor, including these intellectual property rights (which are treated as personal property under many states’ laws, including Tennessee).

Plus, the ultimate sales price was only a small fraction of the value of the property being sold, most likely because no bidders appeared at any asset sale–and the creditor got ownership for its very low opening bid.

Second, there were so many things Poe could have done to protect his assets. File a list of exemptions. Sell the IP rights himself. Go to court on his court date (which I called one of the worst mistakes a debtor can make).

It’s a sad story, but it happens every day for debtors all across the country.

Author: David

I am a creditors rights and commercial litigation attorney with Harris Shelton in Nashville, Tennessee.

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