A lengthy reply to David Hoffman

This reply has been a while in compiling, as Hoffman has, for a man regularly protesting how little he cares about the opprobrium of the anarchist set, been remarkably hardworking in his efforts to send letters to pretty much anyone who will listen to him say what a great guy he is and how Freedom is basically Dr No's richer, more unscrupulous successor.

I'm dealing here only with direct allegations Hoffman has been making over the last couple of weeks, in an effort to clarify matters. The issue of how the broader left deals with intellectual property, which is often the only way for writers, photographers etc to make a living out of capitalists but which also opens us to pathetic in-fighting over an issue that Proudhon pretty much put to bed over 120 years ago, is a much bigger argument which really deserves its own post. That's something I can't dedicate time fully to now, as I have more practical matters around helping sort out the Press to attend to, but which I hope to come back to sometime.

In this case, the nutshell version of our position is: We got photos from the authors of Beating the Fascists which they said were theirs and fine to use, which we believed. We scanned them, gave them back and published. Hoffman then came in demanding the photos, which we didn't have, and the names of the authors, which we couldn't give as they were confidential sources who could be endangered if their names were officially linked to a book about street-level fighting. Eventually, maintaining they had the right to them (fwiw I believe that although the law says otherwise they are probably telling the truth), the authors did us a favour and handed the folder over, though allegedly not with all the pictures. Hoffman responded by demanding we pay £4,000 and, not being able to afford a court case or put individual collective members at serious financial risk, we paid.

There is some disjointed and semi-repetitive stuff below, which is in the nature of the diverse sources from which it is cobbled, but hopefully it should cover the majority of the issues raised. Other than for Hoffman himself as the person I am responding to, I have removed full names throughout, as is standard practice to avoid outing radical comrades permanently in the public domain.

Finally, as a little disclaimer, I'm only writing as an individual here. As a collective Freedom has resolved to leave matters with the original statement and will make no further comment.

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I have 104 items in my "Freedom" robbers folder, that's 10 times what there should be and that's because I bust my balls trying to find them a cheap easy way out.

It is quite possible that other mistakes have been made over the last few decades of Freedom's existence, as of the many collectives which have kept it running only a limited number included people with the time, energy and expertise to properly check up on photos used. If there are a load of other copyright infringements in our body of publications, it would be good to know about them. However at present I have no idea what he’s talking about here.

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It seems that the current collective hasn't sufficient conviction in their own case to allow any of this on their site

Actually he was offered the chance to send in to the collective for a decision on right to reply on three separate occasions (https://twitter.com/Freedom_Paper) and never did so, to the best of my knowledge. I’ve only been able to respond to the points below, which are from an email Hoffman has been circulating to people making inquiries, because a friendly comrade passed it on. At this point my guess is more people have seen his many, many posts on the matter than have actually seen our statement (not that he offered us right to reply...)

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They are in no danger of bankruptcy.

Actually we’ve been behind on our gas bills, the business rates and have been unable to pay for basic repairs to the building. We’re hopeful that donations we've been receiving due to this debacle will keep us running for now, but the only major assets we have are three rooms full of books, which sadly aren’t recognised as legal tender.

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I'm told that FOFP has paid bookshop wages and met other expenditure. If true that would break their 'dormant' shield

I doubt anyone “told” Hoffman any such thing, because it’s nonsense. All wages are paid by the Press via proceeds from donations, sales of books, papers and such. The collective also pays the balance of the rates that rent from other groups doesn’t cover, hence having had to put off things like paying for gas and electric recently, or our inability to replace broken windows, or the fact we’ve been unable to stump up a £365 bill to put an A-board out on the high street, or the pay cuts that our few remaining paid members have had to take.

Anyone who’s visited Freedom at any point over the last few years will be able to testify to the generally run-down nature of the building, the foreshortened store stock etc. It’s not because we like keeping it that way while we sit on a hoard of gold upstairs, but because we have very little money.

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Freedom also owns a holding company with the building worth well over £1m (they deny that but had it valued recently - let's see the valuation?)

The building is worth £400,000 according to an estate agent we got in in 2007 or so - they don’t give written valuations. The figure, which is lower than others in the borough, is due to its position in an industrial area and lack of planning permissions. It's almost certainly worth less now.

However Freedom Press couldn’t sell the building if we wanted to, it’s owned by the Friends of Freedom, which is a different collective with a responsibility to not just the Press, but the other six or so groups involved and the wider London movement, which uses it for a huge variety of events and meetings. There is literally no way we could replace the building with something similar elsewhere and even if we could, it would have taken substantially longer to find somewhere else and get a buyer in this market than Hoffman is suggesting.

Either way even if we could sell the building to pay for his snaps, it certainly isn't his "ethical" right to demand the destruction of one of the few remaining bricks-and-mortar assets of the anarchist movement to pay for a single error by the 2011-2012 collective. Even if the 12 members of the current Press were Bane, the Joker and Ra's al Ghul rolled into one (we aren't), most of us will almost certainly be gone in a decade or less, as is always the case for volunteer-run organisations, and his only "victory" from it would be a legacy placing him in the unenviable position of having achieved what Combat 18, the combined efforts of the secret state and a grab-bag of other nasties have been unable to do.

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There have been a few hints at much larger sums than my £4k going adrift in one of the threads I saw. Maybe M's Crow Kollective, not sure, they blocked me when I tried to post.

This is just clutching at straws – M doesn’t take any money whatsoever and is simply a volunteer in the collective. I can understand Hoffman wanting to discredit him though, after his little stunt posting up a picture of a dead crow with a prominent copyright notice up on M’s Facebook page (M was the only collective member whose Facebook he was actually on) went so badly wrong.

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Re your "it was a honest mistake on their part." that's not the case. The question of copyright was raised at the collective meeting that decided to publish the book and just brushed aside.

Because as far as we knew the photos were AFA’s.

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Sometimes they say "it was a honest mistake". Other times they say that they thought they had permission - if that had been so then how come they never even told me they were publishing or gave me a credit?

Because we thought they were AFA’s, ie free to use however we liked. We didn’t credit the authors either as it happens – guess why? I’m not sure how more simply to put this. Our mistake was not to investigate further, and we’ve held our hands up to that.

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The initial correspondence which would have settled it for a few hundred.

Actually, as far as the person who was dealing with it at the time recalls, Hoffman took an extremely long time to even point out which photos were his, let alone put in a price. When he did so, it was on condition that we hand over photos we didn’t have and failing that, the names of the authors, which we couldn’t give as it goes against every journalistic ethic to out confidential sources who could face serious jail time as a result.

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W claims I tried to make him reveal his sources but then little of what he says holds up to examination. I have an email from him asking if I am trying to get him to name sources and my reply saying that I am not.

From a Trading Standards letter we got in April:

"Again as you are aware, Mr. Hoffman is demanding that the prints of the offending photographs used in the book, together with any others from the file to which he owns the copyright, are returned to him forthwith. However, to date, the authors have refused to comply with this request.
"Hence in order for me to further my investigation into this matter it would now seem necessary that I speak to the authors or those representing them. I am therefore formally requesting from you the names and contact details for the authors or their representatives."

Now not only does this bely his claim that W is lying, not only would doing so have potentially opened the way for court cases, this is documented evidence that Hoffman reckoned we didn't have the photos - making his "they could have settled early" claim utterly meaningless.

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Left me looking for other ways to track down my prints - which required getting more info on the people concerned.

Well that’s the crux, isn’t it. Hoffman was putting us in the invidious position of having to choose between ratting out confidential sources and paying out substantially larger sums of money than NUJ rates. What he appears to be taking an “ethical stand” on for not inconsiderable cash gain is his right to force radical publishers to break their codes of ethics (not to mention those of his own union (No.7)).

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Since I'm being so widely monstered anyway I might find time for a bit more research and another claim or two. If it really is true that they've been ripping me off for 20 years then it's a tribute to their ineffectuality. I've been on dozens of demos every year and have never seen a single one.

Or more plausibly, their story is pretty accurate and Searchlight originally gave the photos away so no-one bothered to track them, and it’s only now as Hoffman is approaching retirement and (so I hear) has managed to alienate pretty much every picture desk in the country that he reckons he has nothing to lose by cashing in as fully as possible. For a man as “ethically” litigious as Hoffman, it seems inconceivable that he would have simply not bothered to check up on a group that had actively stolen his copyrighted material for upwards of two decades, or even mentioned the loss.

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Then it turned out that many of the photos in the book had been scanned from prints that AFA or RA had stolen from a magazine. A worker there had drink and mental health problems and they'd exploited him. That pissed me off and, more professionally, I wanted to recover those stolen prints (my property, loaned to the mag) to stop them being used again.

Again, not the way they tell it, which was that the photos were in return for intelligence. Now I can’t say for certain who’s telling the truth, but again, why did no-one bother to go after the photos once they’d been “stolen”? And why would AFA even bother going after them in the first place if it was highly likely any publication using them would get into trouble for breaching copyright, as we did?

It’s the 20 years of total inaction that made (indeed makes) AFA’s assurances so plausible, while Hoffman seems to be suggesting he simply didn't notice that they were gone (which I can’t help but circle and link to other lines of his elsewhere about these photos being his much-cherished “life’s work”).

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Freedom refused to do anything to help, claimed they had no idea where they were, couldn't contact the people etc.

There’s no “claim” about it. We didn’t have them as we’d handed them back, and weren’t about to turn over the names of the authors.

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I was still keen not to issue a summons until everything else had been tried so I brought in Trading Standards as the lightest of my heavy weaponry. That brought about an agreement to bring the file of prints into the office for me to identify my ones and take them back.

ie. To spare us worse we were given prints to hand back. And note the second part. By Hoffman's own words he hadn't even identified which ones were his - surely a simple matter of picking up the book, given how important to him they are - until after he'd brought in Trading Standards to demand names and addresses. Which somewhat undermines his claim that we were made a realistic offer early on.

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There were many empty pockets that still had the marks of the prints that had been in them.

Again, there may or may not have been missing shots but that's nothing to do with us, why would we hold back something we can’t use and which we’ve already admitted Hoffman has a legal claim on?

Quote:
(Hoffman’s “quotes”)
DH: "Maybe you can put some pressure on them [AFA] to come up with this file [containing the prints of mine that AFA had stolen] then?"
Collective member: "I think we should. We made no effort to clarify whose photographs they were."

What he’s done there is conflate the views that he says one member expressed with those of the collective. Even so, it actually somewhat corroborates our version of events, as his “insider” - indeed his one and only quoted source of information - suggests that we didn’t have the prints and thus couldn’t initially give them all to him in return for his “reasonable rates.”

Personally, I was under the impression that they were AFA’s, as was the rest of the collective. We have all since admitted that we should have checked further, but that’s far from the conspiracy to defraud and steal that Hoffman is accusing us of, let alone a justification for the punitively high damages he demanded.

Fiveleaves

Now, moving on to his somewhat shorter piece on fiveleavespublications.blogspot.co.uk. I’ve already answered most of his allegations there, and afaict the majority of the post is about how "hurt" and "betrayed" he feels (all of which would assume a deliberate malicious intent to steal on our part that, as I hope I’ve shown above, wasn’t there) but there’s a couple of new ones.

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Several of the photos were marked clearly “Copyright David Hoffman”.

The sub doesn't remember them having clear copyright notices but assuming they did, in any case this would ...

a) be irrelevant if ownership has been given away (as we were told it had been by the people actually holding them at the time),
b) assume that the layout person was checking for such (which they wouldn’t if they believed the pics had been freely given to AFA) and
c) suggest that we might actually decide to proactively put the real name of an anti-fascist photographer in the public domain - something which is traditionally rather frowned on given that naming journalists has historically often seen them targeted for reprisal. It may be his legal right to force us to stamp every single book with "some of these photos are by David Hoffman," but it's not normal practice.

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I support anti-racist and anti-fascist activism. I make no money from that.

Fact is he's made his living from photographing far right v far left for over 30 years, saying he "made no money" from it is farcical. And in this case Hoffman has walked away with around £4,500 from suing people who have tried to get important anti-fascist works into the public domain (and as he admits, we actually made a loss from doing so). I haven’t heard of that sum dropping into any anti-fascist bank accounts yet, though doubtless it would be much-appreciated.

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Freedom spun that as me trying to get the “names of sources.”

"Spin" would suggest that this is not in fact what the line in the Trading Standards letter saying " I am therefore formally requesting from you the names and contact details for the authors or their representatives" actually means.

Hoffman: a profile

Now on to who Hoffman really is. I don’t think I actually need to use my own descriptive powers, or report what I’ve heard from his colleagues about his behaviour on demos, or on how he’s regarded within the NUJ generally – anyone with some mates in the union can ask around and get the skinny. I’m just going to post three links and let you judge the reality of this “left wing sympathiser.”

First, this is a link to an incident in 2009 during the election campaign to decide on an editor for the Journalist, the in-house magazine of the NUJ:

http://jonslattery.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/nuj-left-accused-of-trying-to-take.html

Second, this is a link to Hoffman successfully suing a charity for use of his pictures, even though it was accepted they had done so in error, rather than deliberately:

http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/2141623/photographer-wins-copyright-infringement

Third, this is a link to a conversation about Hoffman’s background. While it gets distracted a lot and is mixed in with some vitriol against his actions in suing Freedom, the explanations and observations on his potential motivations are, shall we say, interesting.

http://libcom.org/blog/freedom-must-be-saved-19072012

And that's it from me for the moment, if you made it this far congratulations. You're clearly made of stern stuff, because frankly if I hadn't had the motivating factor of putting right a laundry list of inaccuracies and self-serving paranoia I doubt I would have.

Comments

JoeMaguire
Aug 11 2012 15:20

Congratulations on doing this.

Choccy
Aug 11 2012 21:38

Timely response, fair play Rob.

fingers malone
Aug 11 2012 22:36

Very good article

thegunshow
Aug 12 2012 23:50

I believe the prints might be hidden in Mr Hoffman's neighbour's garden. Perhaps he should start by checking there.

Found this funny too from David;

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I rarely read the left (or any) press

Quite clear that he just lives in his own fantasy world.

RPG1963
Aug 14 2012 19:29

He is speaking at the Bishopsgate Institute in October-

http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/events_detail.aspx?ID=236

Choccy
Aug 26 2012 21:34

he's just lost a claim against galloway
Imagine spending all your time in litigation, how fucking pathetic.