The story so far: My website was an ad affiliate for the Peerflix Media Network, and my payments arrived regularly each month. Then Peerflix was bought by Live Universe, whereupon the checks immediately stopped coming. E-mails to my contact at Peerflix, who was now a Live Universe employee, yielded no answers. When she responded at all (about one response for every three e-mails I sent), it was to say she still didn’t know when I’d be getting paid.
With no way of contacting anyone else at Live Universe, and having no recourse short of filing a lawsuit, I wrote about it on my blog, here and here. I hoped that a little public shaming would spur Live Universe to action. This got a little bit of attention, but not much.
Last week, I set up a new website: www.Live-Universe-Owes-Me-Money.com. The idea was that people who were in the same position as me (and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of us) could tell their stories, and we’d keep a running tally of how much money Live Universe owed its affiliates. I posted my own story, got a colleague of mine to post hers, and then started sending out e-mails to relevant blogs and message boards, trying to get some more publicity.
On Friday, I got an e-mail from someone at Live Universe! Someone other than the worthless contact I already had, I mean. This guy wrote:
Just recently became aware of the situation of an outstanding balance with your site and Peerflix/LiveUniverse.
Want to work with you to better understand the situation & resolve it for you.
Can you please advise what the best # to reach you at on Monday is?
I wrote back and said, well, the situation is pretty easy to resolve: pay me the $600 you owe me. There’s not much to discuss. But sure, here’s my phone number, call me anytime Monday, etc.
He was still in his office when I e-mailed back, I guess, because he called me immediately. He was very eager to get things settled, as was I. He sort of apologized for Live Universe dropping the ball during the transition period after they acquired Peerflix, while also sort of making it sound like hey, it wasn’t HIS fault, and I shouldn’t blame the entire Live Universe company. He was very concerned about Live Universe’s public image, as if the company hadn’t done anything worthy of the public scorn I’d given them.
But he said they were planning to cut me a check on Monday.
So that would be it! Everything would be taken care of.
Except no: He also said Live Universe wanted me to take down the Live-Universe-Owes-Me-Money site, AND go back and remove the blog entries I’d already written about it — not just update them to indicate the matter had been settled, but actually remove them, like it never happened. He made it sound like this was a prerequisite for getting paid.
“We don’t want people to get the wrong impression,” he said.
Now, friends, here is where I am proud of myself. I said (and I am paraphrasing myself as best as I can): “What wrong impression would that be? The impression that you owed me $600, that you strung me along for several months, and that the only way I could get you to pay me was by publicly shaming you into doing it? Because that would actually be the RIGHT impression, because that’s what happened.”
He halfheartedly suggested I should have gone over my Peerflix/Live Universe contact’s head and reached someone else, rather than going public. I told him that when you call the phone number for Live Universe’s main office, you get a computer system that will only connect you to a live human if you know their name or extension. Having no idea how large the company was, or how many employees it had, what was I supposed to do? Try extensions at random until I found someone who could help?
Anyway, he said he would talk to the company’s general counsel over the weekend, get everything squared away, and that hopefully we’d be able to get me paid on Monday. All weekend I thought: They’re going to try to make me sign something, aren’t they? These bastards, who owe me $600 no matter what, are going to try to introduce new hoops I have to jump through in order to get paid?
The guy called back on Monday and said the general counsel had whipped up a “pretty basic, standard” form for me to sign and e-mail back to them. He e-mailed it to me. Most of it was, in fact, basic stuff: Once we pay you this money that’s the end of it, neither of us has any further obligation to the other, you won’t come along and sue us later, etc. No big deal.
But there were also these two clauses (“Publisher” is me):
3. Non-disparagement. Publisher hereby agrees that Publisher will not engage in any conduct or communications designed to disparage LU, including, but not limited to, the publishing of blogs, websites or other communications.
8. Confidentiality. The Parties agree to keep the terms of this Agreement confidential at all times beginning from date hereof.
In other words, not only would I not be allowed to publicly criticize Live Universe for this shameful bullying, I wouldn’t even be allowed to TELL you that I wasn’t allowed to criticize them.
I sent back this reply:
Here is the problem: I already did everything I need to do to be entitled to $600 from Live Universe. I ran the Peerflix ad code on my site for three months. That was what was required of me, and I did it. The fact that LU didn’t pay me, and was unresponsive to my attempts to get paid, and that I subsequently wrote about it, has NO BEARING on the fact that you owe me $600. I am entitled to that money whether I sign this or not. You know that as well as I do.
I will not sign anything that requires me to a) not talk about the fact that I’m signing something or b) refrain from ever disparaging LU again.
I will sign this document only if items #3 (non-disparagement) and #8 (confidentiality) are removed. The rest of it is fine. Revise the document and I’ll be glad to sign it. And I urge you to bear in mind that I am entitled to the $600 whether I sign anything or not.
It is a terrific feeling to be RIGHT. There was no gray area here: This company owed me money, and nothing in our original agreement stipulated that criticizing them publicly was grounds for not paying me. I was entitled to $600 no matter what.
I couldn’t believe what jackasses they were being, though. I guess they figured us little people would be so glad we were finally being paid that we’d happily sign anything just to have it over with. It was a desperate Hail Mary play, trying to squeeze some tiny amount of good (the quashing of negative publicity) out of a bad situation that THEY HAD CREATED.
But I called them on their bullcrap.
And they instantly caved.
The lawyer wrote back:
Are you agreeable to including the obligation to take down the www.live-universe-owes-me-money URL in exchange for striking the two paragraphs you mention?
Sure, I said. I’d originally considered keeping that site up after they’d paid me, to give other unpaid victims a forum to speak out, but eh, I don’t need another crusade in my life. I told her I’d agree to take the site down. There was no mention of removing my previous blog entries or any of the other derogatory things I’ve said about the company elsewhere.
She sent a revised contract, without the confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses, and with the take-down-that-site paragraph added; I signed it, scanned it, and e-mailed it back; and the $600 was wired to my bank account today.
It is over! I have emerged victorious! Not only did I get my money, but I retained my right to disparage Live Universe all I want! I retained my right to tell you this whole story, including the part about how they didn’t want me to tell you this story! Honestly, standing up to The Man and WINNING is almost as great as finally getting my money. (Almost.)
Let us rejoice together in our freedom to disparage Live Universe — which, I should add, still owes thousands of dollars to many, many other people like me. Live Universe is a dishonest company, and its owners should be ashamed of themselves. I’m glad to finally be rid of them.