It’s no secret that I have been vocal in face-to-face conversations with the parents of kids and teens interested in acting as well as here on this blog when it comes to services like Nine9 the Unagency (formerly OneSource Talent), CastingHub, Casting360, Actors, Models & Talent for Christ, and other (expensive) companies that provide online information databases aimed at casting directors.
My problem with these companies is simple: I don’t think that all of their clients understand what they’re paying for when they sign up, and I think there are other, less expensive services that offer beginning actors a better value for their money. I don’t think casting directors troll websites looking for talent, and I see no value in paying hundreds of dollars to register with a service, and then paying upwards of $50 per month to keep a profile published on a website — not when you can do that free on many sites that I know are used by casting directors, agents, and independent filmmakers.
Recently, I met the mother of a teenage girl who was in a short film with my grandson. She asked where we had heard about the film, and I said, “Oh, it was a self-submit notice from his agent.” She said, “Yes, that’s where we heard about it, too. It’s her first job.” I congratulated her and then said, “Who represents her?” (The girl looked to be about 15 or 16, and I’m always interested in local agents who accept new talent.)
“Her agent is Nine9 the Unagency,” her mother replied.
Then she went on to extol the fact that her “agency” doesn’t take a percentage of what their actors earn, and they know exactly what the costs are up front. Then she went on to say that it was the “only agency in town” that would give a new actor a chance. I was stunned, and did my best not to blurt out something likely to offend her.
But it was a good reminder just how misunderstood the business is, and just how well companies like Nine9 do at creating a story that helps them sell their product. This woman had bought in to the false idea that there was just one “agency” (the “Unagency”) that would take a new performer. She also thought she was getting a deal by paying monthly fees and registration fees instead of a commission on booked work. (And let me point out here that both of us were on a set where neither teen actor was getting paid — mine was doing it because he likes the director, who has hired him for paying gigs before, and hers was doing it for the experience and credit.)
I don’t agree with the company’s claim that it is difficult to find an agent, hard to “break in” to the business, or hard to find the information you need to start work as an actor or model. (Assuming, of course, you have the training, skills, and sought-after appearance required, and you live in a place where there is work for actors and models.) Yes, it’s a highly competitive industry, but the information on how to get started is readily available.
Twice over the past two years, I’ve published articles that detail the problems I have with the business model used by these companies. You can find the articles here and here if you’re interested. And Nine9 has been vocal about its unhappiness with what I’ve written. I’ve gotten emails. The company has used the star rating system on my blog to give my work low ratings, offering low ratings on posts that have nothing to do with acting or the company as well as those that do.
I’ve even had parents call to tell me they were told my writing was “malicious and false”, and that since I’d never been a customer of the company I had no way of knowing just how good the company is.
Now, it seems that as the number of visits to the two articles has climbed into the high six figures, the company has turned to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to make its unhappiness known. (Update 4/11/17: Readership on the all of the posts about this problem just moved into seven figures this week — gotta love the way Google indexes blog posts to draw traffic months or years after they are posted! Update 5/5/17: Since Nine9 started its campaign to discredit my site, traffic is through the roof. It took two years for the original post to pass the one million page view milestone, but less than a year for the second, and less than two months for the third. Looks like lots of families are searching for info on the company — so you have to give them credit for effective email efforts, I guess.)
DMCA Takedown Notice
This email arrived yesterday from WordPress, which hosts my blog. As you can see in the text below, the company is claiming that my blog infringes on its intellectual property because I used some screen shots and information found on its site as a very small part of the two blog posts about the company and its business practices.
As WordPress notes, it will not forcibly remove the content because it believes (as do I) that the material constitutes “fair use” in a news report or criticism. I did run it by my attorney before it was published, and I was very careful to note the company is in compliance with the law, and does disclose exactly what it sells despite marketing practices and a business model that I find confusing and misleading.
However, I have removed the screenshots of the company’s website from my blog. I have not, of course, removed the articles themselves. I believe them to be factual, accurate, and informative, and I will continue to publish information I think might help other families who have a child or teen who wants to be an actor or model.
Here’s the email from WordPress, with the notice from Nine9.
From: Sal P. – WordPress.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2017 3:09 PM
Subject: [DMCA #3149605]: DMCA Takedown Notice
We have received a DMCA notice (https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/IP#dmca) for material published on your WordPress.com site.
Normally this would mean that we’d have to disable access to the material. However, because we believe that this instance falls under fair use protections, we will not be removing it at this time.
Section 107 of US copyright law identifies various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. You can learn more about that here:
While we believe that your use of the material is protected (we have fought for our users in similar cases in the past – http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/9/8175491/wordpress-automattic-wins-dmca-takedown-straight-pride-uk-case ), please keep in mind that the complainant may choose to continue to pursue this matter, perhaps directly with you. If you would prefer, you are still able to delete the content from your site yourself.
The notice we received from the complainant follows.
— BEGIN NOTICE —
Dear Sir or Madam:
nine9 [full legal name] (“nine9″) has authorized DMCA.com to act as its non-exclusive agent for copyright infringement notification.
DMCA.com has detected infringements of copyrighted materials owned by nine9 on a website hosted by you. The report set out below identifies the copyrighted work(s), the infringing material(s), and their location(s). DMCA.com has a reasonable good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials in the manner complained of in the report set out below is not authorized by nine9, its agents, or the law.
This letter constitutes an official notification under Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the “Act”). We hereby request that you immediately remove or disable access to the infringing material, and ensure that the user refrains from any unauthorized use or sharing of any nine9 copyrighted materials in the future. Additionally, we request that the removed link state the following: “This content has been removed due to infringement.” Noncompliance may result in the loss of your statutory immunity for the infringement under the Act.
Please send us a prompt response indicating the actions that you have taken to resolve this matter, making sure to reference DMCA-CASE#91965 in your response.
The information in this notification is accurate to the best of DMCA.com’s knowledge and belief. We confirm, under penalty of perjury, that we have been authorized by the copyright owner, nine9, to act on its behalf.
Nothing in this letter shall serve as a waiver of any rights or remedies of nine9 with respect to the alleged infringement, all of which are expressly reserved.
Notice ID: DMCA-CASE#91965
Infringers IP Address: 184.108.40.206
Infringed Work: http://www.nine9.com/
The following site link contains content that has been taken without the permission of the copyright owner who is requesting the immediate removal of the following:
DMCA.com – as authorized agent for nine9 [full legal name]
— END NOTICE —
SLAPP & DMCA Abuses
Wikipedia defines a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) as a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit.
DMCA takedown notices are a legitimate tool that copyright holders use to get infringing material removed from websites and social media.
But there are times when a DMCA takedown notice crosses the line into SLAPP territory. For instance, I know bloggers and journalists who have been hit with DMCA takedown notices by companies that don’t want negative facts published. These companies know when they do it that the material isn’t actually protected by a copyright – they just want to make life difficult for the writer, in hopes that they’ll remove the content rather than fight.
Is that what’s happening here? I don’t know. I wonder just how many of the authors of negative reviews and commentary about Nine9 received similar notices this week? If you use Bing or Google to search for the phrase “Nine9 the Unagency scam”, you’ll get thousands of results – and the number of negative reviews is staggering. Here are the screen shots from searches I ran this afternoon.
How many of the reviewers who posted on Reddit, Pissed Off Consumer, Yelp, YouTube and other sites got similar notices this week? I have no way to find out of course – but if you see this, and you got a DMCA takedown notice (or worse, if you were threatened with a lawsuit by the company), please reach out to me. I’d love to talk to anyone else who’s managed to upset these guys by telling the truth.
Resources for Parents of Would-be Actors & Models
If you’re the parent of a child or teenager who wants to be a model or actor, take time to do your homework before your child falls prey to a scam or a service you may not need. In general, remember, if there is a fee to audition, it’s a scam. You don’t need to hire someone to help you get an agent or get an audition. Spend your money on training, and in joining groups like Women in Film Dallas, or the Texas Motion Picture Alliance. (It’s just $5 per month to join TXMPA!)
Here are some links to more information on what you should — and shouldn’t — pay for when your child is starting out in the business.
- The Biz Parents Foundation’s “Getting Started” Guide
- SAG-AFTRA’s Scams in the Entertainment Industry Guide
- Parents of Would-Be Child Actors: Beware of Scammers
- What a Real Audition Opportunity Looks Like
- Advice From a Reluctant Stage Grandma
- 5 Things Parents of Would-Be Child Stars Need to Know
- Resources for Parents of Would-Be Child Actors
If you’re considering signing with Nine9 or any other similar service, I wish you the best of luck, and urge you to do your homework. Listen to the YouTube videos, read the Yelp reviews, read the Reddit responses and the other online commentary from those who have used their services. And then ask yourself if you need the services they are offering — or if you’d be better off with a traditional agent or manager, or the free online casting services used by many film companies and agents, such as CentralCasting.com, MyCastingFile.com, Actor’s Access, Backstage, or Casting Networks.