Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

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From Federal Prosecutor to White-Collar Criminal: A True Story

Posted by Writing PIs on December 16, 2014

This past year, Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen wrote an article about our having once worked for a well-respected former federal prosecutor who we later learned had been secretly committing a million-dollar white-collar crime. Within the piece, Colleen outlined several other white-collar cases we had investigated, the myth that white-collar criminals are kinder and gentler than other criminals, and a type of crime now called fraud detection homicide.

A Case That Still Haunts Us…

We have investigated some interesting crimes, including several white-collar crimes that had been carried out by some shrewd criminals. But one particular crime still haunts us. Not because we investigated it; in fact, we didn’t even know about the crime as it was in progress. What haunts us is that the perpetrator of the crime was our client, an attorney we viewed as a friend. Still do, actually, for the simple reason he always treated us kindly. I’ll call him “Mr. A” for the rest of this article.

Former Federal Prosecutor Turns Criminal

Mr. A had been well-respected as a federal and state attorney

Mr. A had been well-respected as a federal and state attorney

Mr. A had been a former federal prosecutor who had returned to private practice as a trial attorney. He was a man widely respected not only for his brilliance in the courtroom and his legal skills, but also for his ethics and good character. He was in his sixties and silver-haired, with an aura of sophistication and a gentle wit. Once at a holiday party at his home, we all gathered in the kitchen, chatting with Mr. A while he cooked a prime rib for our meal and attended to his guests’ needs. I was impressed how he cooked, mixed drinks and charmingly kept up with multiple conversations at once, never missing a beat. He was part Cary Grant, part Wolfgang Puck. On the drive home, my husband and I marveled at Mr. A.’s perfection.

So a year later, when a federal grand jury issued a 29-count indictment accusing Mr. A of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud, my husband and I were stunned. Mr. A, a white-collar criminal? Impossible!

It was not only possible, but true. Let’s pause a moment and discuss white-collar crime.

What Is White-Collar Crime?

The term white-collar crime was first used in 1939 by sociologist Edwin Sutherland, who was more interested in who committed these crimes rather than what had occurred. “White collar crime,” he wrote, “[is] crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” It was a profound redefinition in criminal law as Sutherland was emphasizing the status of the accused versus the criminal act or intent.

Types of White-Collar Crime

Types of white-collar crime include embezzlement, bribery, larceny, extortion, fraud and price fixing. In general, the components of the crime include:

  • A non-violent, illegal act that principally involves deception, concealment, manipulation, breach of trust, subterfuge or illegal circumvention.
  • Enactment by a business person or government/public official.
  • Evidence achieved by following a “paper trail” that investigators use to prosecute 
the case.

Unlike Sutherland’s definition of white-collar crime, the U.S. Department of Justice’s formal definition disregards class and economic status. Nevertheless, government prosecutors are more likely to indict the upper-class businessman who works for a major corporation than the middle-class grandmother who buys medications in Canada.

Our Previous White-Collar Crime Investigations

Below are several white-collar crimes my husband and I have investigated.

Money Missing from a Family Trust

Once for a probate attorney who hired us to investigate what had happened to the money that disappeared from a family’s trust fund. In our research at the assessor’s and clerk of recorder’s offices, we learned a certain family member had suddenly been making expensive purchases, from a new home to several new cars. It wasn’t difficult to follow that paper trail and obtain evidence that this person was the culprit.

Assets in a Faux Divorce

A couple faked their divorce to avoid paying a judgment

Another white-collar crime we investigated was for an attorney who wanted us to investigate a man who claimed his ex-wife had gotten all the assets in their divorce. In our investigations, we learned that although the husband and wife had indeed gotten a divorce two years back, they were still living together quite happily in their marital home. In our research of court records, we learned that the “ex” husband had pursued a fast divorce with the full cooperation of his “ex” wife two weeks before he was served with a lawsuit that demanded he pay a hefty judgment to a former business partner. The bogus divorce was the man’s fraudulent attempt to avoid paying that judgment.

But these were small-time white-collar crimes compared to the seemingly perfect Mr. A.

Personalities of White-Collar Criminals

Of course, Mr. A obviously wasn’t all that perfect. Terry L. Leap, the author of Dishonest Dollars, The Dynamics of White-Collar Crime (Cornell University Press), said that white-collar criminals typically share certain personality traits: They have natural “smarts,” are educated and often have an appetite for risk and committing acts of “destructive dishonesty” that eventually cause serious financial pain and suffering to others. Leap also stated that white-collar criminals are often highly accomplished liars who skillfully distort facts and events as well as craft lies of omission.

I always admired Mr. A’s intellect, but was he destructively dishonest? No, Mr. A, was always kind to people. In fact, he was one of our few clients we could always count on to pay his invoices on time!

Bad Crimes, But Good Criminals?

White-Collar Criminals: More Sophisticated and Educated, Therefore Kinder and Gentler?

In the article “White-Collar Criminals: The ‘Kinder, Gentler’ Offender?” lawyer and fraud examiner Frank S. Perri analyzes the myth that white-collar criminals are somehow the “kinder and gentler” offender. This erroneous assumption, claims Perri, is because white-collar crime is classified as a non-violent crime, which he claims isn’t true. According to Perri, research shows that white-collar criminals often display a pattern of criminal thinking that parallels street-level offenders, and that a subgroup of white-collar criminals are willing to resort to violence, namely murder, to prevent their fraud from being detected. In fact, there’s a term for this kind of murder: fraud-detection homicide.

Nevertheless, many people continue to view white-collar criminals as good people. Recently, Michael E. Peppel, the former chairman and chief executive of MCSi, was convicted of conspiracy, money laundering and filing false documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission – his fraudulent activities eventually causing the downfall of his company and his shareholders to lose $18 million. However, the district judge overseeing his case handed down a seven-day sentence because the defendant was just “a remarkably good man.”

The U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati weren’t very happy with the judge for giving Mr. Peppel a “99.9975% reduction” from the 8 to 10 years the federal sentencing guidelines recommended. They have sent Mr. Peppel’s case back to the same judge so she can reconsider a more appropriate sentence.

Meanwhile, Mr. A is in his second year of a six and one-half year sentence in federal prison. I can’t help but imagine that he’s considerate to his fellow inmates, probably listening to their legal issues while he serves food in the mess hall – part Cary Grant, part Capone, and never missing a beat.

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

wreath lineChristmas Sale – 99 Cents!
Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye

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SECRETS OF A REAL-LIFE FEMALE PRIVATE EYE is a part-memoir, part-reference nonfiction book based on the experiences of a professional private investigator and writer.

“As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s” ~ Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators

To order, click here.

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Private Eye Writers of America 2015 Shamus Award: Open for Submissions

Posted by Writing PIs on December 12, 2014

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PRIVATE EYE WRITERS OF AMERICA ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS

FOR 2015 SHAMUS AWARDS

For Works First Published in the U.S. in 2014

Following are the categories for the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) 2015 Shamus Awards for private eye novels and short stories first published in the United States in 2014.  The awards will be presented in the fall of 2015 at Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina.

DEADLINE: For publishers submissions must be postmarked by March 31, 2015. No extensions can be given.

Shamus Committees will forward their final list to the Shamus Awards Chair by May 31, 2015.

ELIGIBILITY: Eligible works must feature as a main character a person PAID for investigative work but NOT employed for that work by a unit of government.  These include traditionally licensed private investigators; lawyers and reporters who do their own investigations; and others who function as hired private agents.  These do NOT include law enforcement officers, other government employees or amateur, uncompensated sleuths.

SUBMISSIONS; Please send one copy of each eligible work to ALL members of the appropriate committee, and send a copy to the Shamus Awards Chair, Gay Toltl Kinman. Do NOT submit a book to more than one committee.

A new category has been added for Best Indie PI Novel.

There is no application fee and no submission form; as a simple cover letter will suffice. If you have any questions, please e-mail Gay Toltl Kinman at gaykinman@gaykinman.com BEFORE submitting.

BEST HARDCOVER PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction published in hardcover in 2014 that is NOT the author’s first published P.I. novel.

BEST FIRST PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction, in hardcover or paperback, first published in 2014 that is the author’s first published novel featuring a private investigator as a main character.

BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction first published as a paperback original in 2014 that is NOT the author’s first P.I. novel; and paperback reprints of previously published novels are NOT eligible.

BEST PI SHORT STORY: A work of fiction of 20,000 words or fewer.  Stories first published in an earlier year and reprinted in a magazine, anthology or collection in 2014, are NOT eligible.

BEST INDIE PI NOVEL: A book-length work of fiction, in hardcover, paperback or e-book, first published in 2014 featuring a private investigator as a main character and published independently by the author.

For more information, email Gay Toltl Kinman at gaykinman@gaykinman.com

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Five Tips for Staying Safe This Holiday Season

Posted by Writing PIs on December 6, 2014

christmasscene

One of the Writing PIs, Shaun, is now a lawyer specializing in criminal defense, and the other Writing PI, Colleen, conducts legal investigations for his firm. As the holidays approach, our work load invariably picks up as more criminal cases come into our office. Sometimes on a festive evening, such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve, we’ll look at each other and say, “Wonder what’s happening tonight that brings in work over the next few weeks or months?” Notice we don’t say “Wonder if something will happen…”

Five Safety Tips

Here’s a few safety tips to keep you and yours from hiring attorneys or private investigators over the next few weeks:

Tip #1: When you go shopping, lock your car. It sounds so simple, yet you’d be surprised at the number of people who forget to do this. People get preoccupied with shopping, holiday parties, who’s picking up Great-Aunt Sarah on Christmas Eve…and they forget to lock their car doors. That makes easy pickings for thieves looking through car windows —  if they see a package, it can be theirs within seconds. Several years ago, Sergeant Foley of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department claimed that nearly 50 percent of the car break-ins in his area were due to cars being left unlocked.

Tip #2: Park in well-lighted areas. Don’t tempt a thief by parking where there’s little or no lighting.

An unlocked door is an invitation to a criminal

Badly lighted areas and unlocked doors are open invitations to criminals

Tip #3: Avoid parking on side streets. Vehicles parked on secluded side streets are easy prey for thieves. Also, with increased holiday traffic, and drivers preoccupied with cell phone conversations, passengers, or even eating while driving, your vehicle might be the victim of a hit-and-run.

Tip #4: Drink responsibly.

You Don't Want to Wear One of these Bracelets This Holiday

You Don’t Want to Wear One of These Bracelets This Holiday

Yeah, this sounds like one of those ads, but it is smart advice. Many of our criminal investigation cases involve people drinking too much and doing something stupid that they regret for years to come. Watch the other guy, too — is someone getting blitzed and out of control at a party? Be proactive and make sure he/she has a sober driver to take them home. Or call a taxi and pay the driver upfront for the person’s ride home, which might be the best holiday gift they get. Also if a party is getting out of control, it’s a good time to leave.

Tip #5: Be aware. Perhaps the best advice is to be aware and use common sense.  Don’t carry so many packages to your vehicle that you can’t quickly reach your cell phone or car keys. Shop in groups rather than alone. If you have a choice to shop during the day or at night, pick daylight hours. Don’t leave items visible in your car that might tempt a thief. Have fun at parties, but drink responsibly and avoid those who aren’t.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!

Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye
On Sale for 99 cents Dec 9-22!

To go to book's Amazon page, click on banner

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on banner

“As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s”
~ Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

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How Being Keynote Speakers at a Coroners’ Conference Led to Writing a Book

Posted by Writing PIs on December 2, 2014

Copyright trolls make their money by suing Internet users

We were invited to speak to coroners about giving testimony

Twice we were invited to speak at our state coroners’ conference. The first time we spoke on a relatively serious topic – how to provide testimony at a trial. It seemed that during the previous year some coroners had contradicted their own reports while on the witness stand, as well as testified to using unaccepted procedures during autopsies. Because one of us (Shaun) had spent several decades as a trial attorney, and we co-owned a legal investigations agency, we were invited to give tips for how to testify during legal proceedings.

The Power Went Out During Our Talk

We were minutes into our presentation when the entire room went dark. No lights, no projection equipment, not even the microphones worked.

Fortunately, Shaun is a natural ham. He met the challenge with humor, telling the crowd that this was exactly what it’s like being grilled on the witness stand–anything can happen, and you better be able to roll with it.

Someone opened the blinds on some far windows, so there was enough light for Shaun detective with flashlightto find his way off the stage and into the crowd. He walked among the seated coroners, grilling them as if they were on the stand at a trial. Someone handed him a flashlight, and he would shine it on people as he pummeled them with questions. Afterward, the coroners gave him a standing ovation.

And we were honored to be invited back to be their keynote speakers the following year.

Writing The Ungrateful Dead

We’ve since recommended to PIs that they consider attending a coroners’ conference to learn everything from how to aid clients who might be seeking private autopsy options for a loved one, to networking with medical examiners’ and coroners’ offices.

One of the Writing PIs, Colleen, has also used our experiences at the coroners

The Ungrateful Dead is free Dec 2+3 - click on cover to go to Amazon page

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

conferences to write a mystery series featuring a 21st-century Nick and Nora private eye couple whose first case occurs at a coroners’ conference…where they also happen to be guest speakers. Life inspired this fiction story, which became The Ungrateful Dead.

December 2-3: The Ungrateful Dead is Free

The Ungrateful Dead is free December 2-3, and its sequel, The Zen Man, is on sale for 99 cents during this same time. Colleen’s working on the third book, as yet untitled.

Amazon Buy Links

The Ungrateful Dead (FREE Dec 2+3)http://www.amazon.com/The-Ungrateful-Dead-Humorous-Colorado-ebook/dp/B00ITWW9GO/

The Zen Man (99 cents Dec 2+3)http://www.amazon.com/The-Humorous-Colorado-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B006NPP9XY

Click on banner to go to Amazon page

Click on banner to go to Amazon page

 

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Answering Writer’s Questions about Surveillance Video

Posted by Writing PIs on November 22, 2014

surveillance

Updated Nov 22 2014

We originally wrote this post in 2010, then updated it in 2012. A note we want to add today is that by 2011-2012, we were exclusively using equipment that recorded digitally, from digital recorders to digital video cameras. A funny story: After we had “gone digital,”  a P.I. contacted us and asked what tape recording equipment we had used for an insurance company client several years prior because they had just hired him, and they insisted he only record with tape! He was frustrated, but had no choice if he wanted to conduct insurance investigations for them.

We figure that the insurance company has gone digital by now. If you’re writing a story set around 2012, that could be a funny predicament to put a PI character in (forced to use near-obsolete equipment).

And now, the post from 2012…

We’re answering a writer’s questions about surveillance video vs. tape, the inclusion of sound, and terms referring to viewing and monitoring video.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do PIs/police/etc still refer to surveillance video as surveillance TAPES (even though info could be on disks,sticks, etc)?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: In our work, we say “surveillance video.” We thought about this, asking ourselves if we still hear other PIs loosely refer to surveillance video as tapes, but we can’t recall hearing that in a long time (several years at least).

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do surveillance videos normally include sound?

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  With our equipment, yes, and we expect that’s pretty standard for other PIs. We often don’t like it for our surveillance work, and invariably we’ll be using the camera and realize it’s recording our comments to each other, etc., and we need to shut down the sound. We have an entire surveillance video with the sound of our dog panting in the backseat (which strikes a soft spot with us as we’ve since lost that beloved dog). More than you wanted to know, but possibly fodder for stories.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Are there special (industry specific) terms associated with reviewing and monitoring surveillance video?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  Not that we’re aware of. In speaking with our clients, be they attorneys or civilians, we’ll use pretty generic verbs (reviewing video, downloading video [from video hard-drive to main computer, for example], “photoshopping” video [in our office, photoshop’s become a verb much like Google–let’s Google that address, for example], editing video, burning video to a CD [we’ll burn video segment/s to a CD, which we’ll drop off at attorney’s/other’s offices], shooting video).

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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Nov 18 Book Launch! WINK OF AN EYE, Winner Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel

Posted by Writing PIs on November 18, 2014

Today’s the book launch day for WINK OF AN EYE, by Lynn Chandler Willis, which wonWink of an Eye book cover the 2013 Private Eye Writers of America-St. Martin’s Best First P.I. Novel. Chandler was the first woman to win this award in over ten years. Here’s her story about learning her book won this coveted award:

As summer 2013 was winding down, I watched the days click off the calendar with disappointment. In my mind, each day closer to Bouchercon 2013 meant my chances of winning or even making the long list in the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America’s Best 1st Private Eye Novel competition were growing slimmer. Stupid me.

I’d never entered a contest, especially a big one, so I didn’t know how these things played out. For some silly reason I thought finalists would be notified a few weeks after the submission deadline, not a few weeks before the conference. So I’d given up hope on my favorite P.I., Gypsy Moran, coming to life through this particular contest.

Lynn Chandler Willis

Lynn Chandler Willis

Then one day in late August, I was talking with my sister on the phone and, um, multi-tasking, by checking email. We’re all guilty of it so don’t judge. She was talking about something when an email from St. Martin’s popped up. I don’t even remember what she was saying as everything faded out of focus except that email.

“…I am pleased to inform you…”

I started screaming. And crying. And hyperventilating. And my poor sister on the other end of the phone had no idea what was going on. She was screaming too, except she was screaming at me to hang up—she was calling 911. I finally calmed down enough to tell her there was no need for any kind of emergency services and to tell her the reason for the excitement. Then she started crying.

It wasn’t until much later when Wink of an Eye was added to Macmillan’s website that I discovered I was the first woman in ten years to win the award. In the male dominated genre and world of Private Eyes, this was a pretty remarkable feat. Not only did I chip away at that testosterone-driven barrier, I did it as a woman writing from a man’s point of view—and according to reviews and male beta readers—did it convincingly. 

Book Blurb

Twelve-year old Tatum McCallen hires reluctant PI Gypsy Moran to prove his father didn’t kill himself. Gypsy, on the run from his own set of problems, soon finds himself in the middle of a case involving eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and undocumented workers. And it all comes back to Claire Kinely—the only woman he truly ever loved.

Praise for Wink of an Eye

“Gypsy and Tatum’s relationship is a well-drawn emotional hook, and the solid investigation, combined with well-timed humor, should create a following for this PWA First Private Eye Novel Competition winner.”—Booklist

“Readers won’t be able to put this novel down. P.I. Gypsy Moran is the perfect bend of streetwise smartass and big-hearted nice guy. That Chandler Willis manages to pack so much into one story, with well-rounded characters, is amazing in itself.”—RT Book Reviews

“This engrossing debut is told with a great eye for the gritty details of life in west Texas. The setting is extremely well done, and the twisty, compelling plot will keep readers hooked.”—Library Journal

Amazon Buy Link: Wink of an Eye

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Yes, Virginia, There Really Were Female Private Eyes In Hard-Boiled Stories

Posted by Writing PIs on November 17, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes, Colleen, just finished writing an article about female private eyes in literature, so it was surprising to read the November 14, 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction.

There Were Lady Dicks, Too

The hardboiled private dicks in pulp fiction’s hard-hitting, heart-pumping stories included numerous female characters as the main protagonists, although you’d never know it from Semley’s text:

“The hard-boiled gumshoes were men…”

“If the private dick has all but disappeared, something of his DNA is woven into the biology of the authority-bucking hackers…”

“This is the real essence of the P.I….despite his venality…”

Miss Marple: An Amateur Sleuth

Semley does, however, give a passing nod to Miss Marple (“the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before”) except that Miss Marple was an amateur sleuth, not a professional private investigator (definition from Private Eye Writers of America: A private investigator is a private citizen [not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police force] who is paid to investigate crimes).

Tip of the Fedora to Hard-Boiled Female PIs

Secret Agent

Let’s look at a few female private eye characters who made their appearances during the hard-boiled era:

Grace “Redsie” Culver, an operative for the Noonan Detective Agency, starred in 20 stories in The Shadow Magazine from 1934-1937.

Carrie Cashin, owner of the Cash and Carry Detective Agency in Manhattan, first hit the fiction scene in 1937 and went on to star in 38 stories.

Dol Bonner started walking the mean streets in The Hand in the Glove (1937) by Rex Stout, who later included Bonner as a supporting character in several novels featuring Nero Wolfe.

The Death of the Private Eye Genre?

This is the real point of Semley’s article, and it’s a valid one. Yes, technological tools, available to just about anyone, have cast a cold shadow on many of the private investigator’s tricks of the trade. My husband and I have an entire room filled with cameras and other equipment that are hopelessly outdated. A lot of the smartphone apps I use for investigations any kid can buy.

Walking the Mean Streets: Still in Vogue

But not all investigations are about being technically hip. When a law firm hired us to find the names of people who had worked on a building nearly 50 years ago, there were no databases, even proprietary ones, that contained a shred of evidence to these people’s identities, so we sleuthed the old-fashioned way: On foot. Talked to people, reviewed old reverse phone directories, ended up digging through dusty boxes in a storage facility (where we finally found the people’s names).

We know a homicide detective who resorts to some old-fashioned tricks when he wants to get people to answer the door: He finds their electrical box and turns off the power. Within seconds, they’ve opened their door and he’s there with a few questions he’d like them to answer.

A Witness Wrote Us a Letter

When a lawyer hired us to find a gang member who had tried to kill his client, we headed to the gang member’s neighborhood and knocked on doors. Nobody wanted to talk to us because they were either frightened or protective of the gang. Later we returned to the neighborhood with signs that we posted on trees, bus benches, a fence at a park. A few days later, we received a letter written by someone who didn’t want to give their name, and who was writing with paper and pen because they didn’t want their identity traced electronically. They wrote that they would meet us at the park at a certain date and time and talk with us, for fifteen minutes only.

Was this witness for real? We didn’t know, but we showed up at the park at the designated time…and found a woman in her fifties who quietly told us the gang member’s name and address. She refused to give us her name, and to be on the safe side she hadn’t even driven to the park in her car (she’d walked). Her information cracked the case.

Semley claims that “All P.I. stories are now period pieces.” Hmm…maybe that’s even more of a cliche than thinking only tough, wisecracking guys were gumshoes.

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. 

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Copyright Violations and Public Domain Images

Posted by Writing PIs on November 12, 2014

fedora black and white

Post before last, we wrote about copyright trolls (how to recognize them, current litigation against them, and how to protect yourself so you don’t fall prey to their tactics). At the end of the article, we talked about copyrights in general and included a link to romance author Ronnie Loren’s story about being sued, as in for a lot of money, by a photographer when she copied and pasted one of his photos, without his permission, from the Internet to use in one of her blog posts. It cost her a lot of money, including legal fees, but eventually the case was settled. After learning that hard lesson, she only posts her own photos on her blog.

Here’s the link again to her story: Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog – My Story

Like an Image? Contact the Copyright Owner

Years ago, one of the Writing PIs, Colleen, contacted a graphic artist and expressed interest in licensing one of his drawings. They worked out an agreement, and Colleen now uses the images occasionally in blog posts.

Soon after, she found a vintage pulp fiction cover by Robert A. Macguire that she wanted to use on a website. Macguire, well known to pulp fiction fans, created over 600 covers for such publishers as Penguin, Pocket, Dell, Avon, Bantam and many more. Colleen contacted R.A. Macguire’s estate and they worked out a licensing agreement for the image. The estate also removed the text on the image so Colleen could add her own.

Sure, it would be a lot easier, and certainly cheaper as in free, to just pluck a vintage pulp cover–or any other image–off the Internet, but unless a person has obtained the permission of the copyright owner, to “pluck” such an image is violating U.S. copyright and intellectual property laws. One might argue, “But…but…everybody plucks stuff!” Well, a lot of people certainly do, but then some, like Ronnie Loren, get caught and have expensive legal experiences.

Our Experience Protecting a Copyright

Previously, we mentioned how Colleen licensed a drawing from a graphic artist. She so admired his work that she contacted him again and asked if he were available to create a logo for her. This artist had worked professionally as an illustrator for video games, books and other media for years, but had since happily retired and didn’t want to take any contract work as an illustrator. A few days later he called back, said he’d changed his mind because he and Colleen had always gotten along well, plus the logo sounded like a fun project.

And it was. They experimented with several concepts before settling on one, which he drew in varying sizes for her to use. They signed an agreement, Colleen paid him for his artwork, and she is now the owner of the copyright.

A few years ago, we found that several private investigations businesses were using this image on their websites. Colleen contacted them and explained that she owned the copyright, and could they please take down the image, or credit the image. Their choice. Both chose to credit the image, and all was well.

This last weekend we were surprised to see an article by a P.I., posted on several sites, which prominently displayed this image. We contacted the P.I. and asked if he could please take down the image or credit it. He credited it, even adding a compliment or two for both Colleen and the illustrator. He was so nice about it, Shaun now has his name and contact information in case Shaun ever needs a defense investigator in that part of the country.

More Websites Had Illegally Copied the Image

We thought it might be a good idea to run a reverse check on the image and see if it had been copied elsewhere on the Internet.  Oh boy, had it. At least 15 sites were displaying it, a few being even more P.I. sites. So Shaun wrote a formal takedown notice and sent it to these sites, as well as to Google’s and YouTube’s legal departments who handled copyright violations for Blogger and YouTube.

Why not just let people copy and paste the image? Let’s not forget that Colleen paid a professional to create this image for her use. She worked with the artist on the concept and final image. She didn’t give her time and money so the image could be freely used by anyone on the Internet. Plus, Colleen’s not being heavy-handed about it — as long as the website credits the image, fine. Although when we saw a gamer forum member, whose unprintable profile name was high on the scum-o-meter, using the image as his avatar (which meant every time he posted, which was many times each day, that image displayed alongside his scum-o-meter name), we asked the site administrator to please remove the copyrighted image altogether.

Other website owners and site administrators have graciously abided with the takedown notice or they have credited the image.

What we found interesting were that some sites, which aggressively protected their own copyrights, thought nothing of violating Colleen’s copyrighted material. One site had all kinds of threats and copyright notices with trademark symbols around the guy’s graphic art…yet he’d copied and pasted Colleen’s copyrighted image to use on his blog without ever asking permission to do so.

Images Available via the Public Domain

Want some cool, free images? There’s sites out there that offer professionally created photos, illustrations, audio and video for free. Here’s a few:

iStockPhotos: This site offers a few free professional illustrations, audio, video and photos every week. Only a few — the rest of iStockPhoto’s items cost money, of course. Here’s a few examples of free images we got from iStockPhoto:

fedora on woman black and whitevintage writer at old typewriter

iStockPhoto requires a registration. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see their free images and other media for the week.

Getty Museum Public Domain Images: Getty Museum, via its Getty Search Gateway, offers hundreds of photos, paintings, illustrations and more for free via its public domain portal. Here are a few examples (feel free to copy and paste any of them for your own use — all the Getty asks is that you add the following credit: Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program):

Leonilla Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn 1843 Franz Xaver Winterhalter Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

Whelan's NY 1944 by Brett Weston Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program5 Men in Suits NY 1963 by Walker Evans Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

 

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Copyright violations, Copyrights, Public Domain Images | Comments Off

#Excerpt How Do Private Eyes Do That? – How PIs Are Used in Cases Where DNA Evidence Is Employed

Posted by Writing PIs on November 8, 2014

How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compendium of articles about private investigations, currently available on Kindle.

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.”
– Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“A spectacular bargain. It will help sweep out misconceptions, empty the waste bin of trite, worn out cliches and give you plenty of room for fresh ideas. Man, it’ll save your life.”
– C. M. Briggs

“I have been “snooping” for over 30 years. I worked Security and Law Enforcement, in the military, back in the 80’s. I WAS TRULY IMPRESSED with the information in this book!”
~I. Reed Alott

Excerpt: How Does DNA Get to a Crime Scene?

There is known DNA evidence (produced by the victim) and there is evidence produced by a suspect (foreign depositor.) This evidence must be collected by a definite protocol because deviation from this collection method might spark a courtroom challenge to the reliability of that evidence.

How is a private investigator used in a case where DNA evidence is employed?

A private investigator might be retained and used to challenge the manner in which DNA evidence was gathered and handled by their opponent. The private investigator might look for evidence to substantiate a challenge to laboratory staff’s credentials or he might look for evidence that their test results have been successfully challenged in other cases.

When Is DNA Evidence Used?

DNA evidence is used in criminal prosecutions (to show a suspect is the perpetrator of a crime) and in an increasing variety of civil cases (to prove that an individual was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime, to show paternity, and to establish lineage in estate matters.)

As an example, “wrongful conviction” cases have created a new type of litigation. Civil lawsuits are routinely brought by those

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

exonerated through DNA evidence against police, prosecutors, and the forensic laboratories who helped bring about the wrongful conviction. For example three young men who played on Duke’s Lacrosse team and were falsely accused of rape and wrongfully prosecuted for that crime over a twelve-month period sued a North Carolina District Attorney and thirteen others. The trio also sued the laboratory used by the prosecutors for withholding evidence that pointed to their innocence. This is the laboratory that initially attested to a match between their DNA and samples taken from their accuser. This laboratory is now under scrutiny for its handling of evidence in this and other cases.

Note to writers: If you’re writing a story with a private investigator character, he/she (who could easily have a scientific or an investigative background) might be involved in gathering evidence about how certain laboratories are crooked, how they employ “bad science,” or even what makes some scientists charlatans.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

Posted in DNA Crime Scene, Nonfiction book: HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Don’t Fall Prey to Copyright Trolls

Posted by Writing PIs on November 2, 2014

Copyright Trolls: Who Are They?finger pressing key on keyboard

Copyright Troll is a pejorative term for a party, such as a company that buys or owns copyrights, that aggressively enforces its owned copyrights through threat of litigation. These companies use frivolous litigation, meaning lawsuits created for the sole purpose of harassing defendants, to make extraordinary profits.

This is different from a company or individual who learns their intellectual property, such as a photo, is being illegally distributed or copied, and they ask their lawyer to contact the copyright violator with a request to stop the undesired activity.

Trolls’ Business Is to Sue Internet Users

Copyright trolls make their money by suing Internet users

Copyright trolls make their money by initiating litigation against Internet users

Unlike an individual who requests his/her intellectual property to not be distributed, copyright trolls always seek financial damages, which is how they make money. For example, Righthaven, LLC, purchased copyrights for old news articles from the publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal and the Denver Post. Righthaven then actively searched for any Internet users who had copied, distributed, posted or otherwise used these articles without Righthaven’s permission. After finding these violators, Righthaven’s lawyers filed lawsuits demanded damages of $75,000 per instance from each copyright infringer. Obviously, not everyone can pay $75,000 for illegally using a copyrighted item. Righthaven knew this. They also knew they would likely lose if the case went to court, so they’d pressure the person into a settlement of several thousand dollars, which unfortunately many people paid.

EFF Has Taken Up the Cause

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorneys, who defended several victims of Righthaven’s tactics, said, “It’s hard to interpret these lawsuits as anything else besides a way to bully Internet users into paying unnecessary settlements.”

Righthaven is no longer in business, and the Nevada State Bar investigated Righthaven’s founder and CEO, attorney Steven A. Gibson, as well as two other attorneys associated with Righthaven.

In 2013, EFF fought back against “a particularly nasty copyright troll tactic” by adult film producer Malibu Media, LLC, whose lawyers filed lawsuits against Internet users for downloading porn films with embarrassing titles, which are listed within the lawsuit. Their bullying tactic works as intimidated defendants have settled out of court rather than be publicly humiliated.

Although courts are becoming more critical of copyright trolls, unfortunately they continue to thrive because, as the EFF states, “copyright law give trolls a big club to wield.”

Tips for Not Falling Victim to Copyright Trolls

Do not reproduce or redistribute such items as:

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

  • Music
  • Images
  • Blogs
  • Stories
  • News articles
  • Movies

Also ask anyone who might use, or have access to, your computer to not reproduce/redistribute items.

How to Identify a Copyright Troll

Simply put, you can identify a copyright troll because the entity requesting extraordinary financial damages for an innocent copyright infringement is not the holder of the original copyright.

Violating Copyrights in General

Copyright trolls aside, violating copyrights can end up in litigation, costing the person who violated the copyright lots of money and time. Romance Novelist Roni Loren wrote about her experience when she thoughtlessly copied a photo on Google and used it on her blog. A photographer contacted her with a takedown notice, with which she immediately complied. But that wasn’t enough for the photographer, who next demanded financial compensation, as in a lot of money. She writes about her story here.

eye and magnifying glass

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

Posted in PI Topics | Tagged: , , | Comments Off

 
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