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Found Footage Festival founders get sued for injuring media company’s ego

Found Footage Festival founders get sued for injuring media company’s ego

Pranking your colleagues at the office and causing injury to them in the process can get you in serious trouble. It can even get you sued — even if your chair-pulling prank is aimed at “boosting company morale.” Celebrity prankers have some experience in this area too, particularly those who prank people for ratings and likes.

Should you ever fall victim to a prank pulled by the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Jake Paul and sustain injuries as a result, give our Renton law offices a call. A personal injury attorney can come to your rescue if you find yourself the victim of a practical joke gone awry.

However, knowing whether one should sue for certain types of pranks can be tricky. For instance, if you’re a television station operator who got pranked by so-called ”master yo-yoists”, who do you even sue, and what kind of attorney do you call? What follows is a short guide on how not to deal with pranks, and more importantly, why it’s not always a good idea to involve the legal system in your embarrassment.

Meet “Strongmen Chop and Steele”

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are comedians from New York who founded the Found Footage Festival, a festival dedicated to celebrating found videotapes. Joe and Nick scour thrift stores around America to find videos of silly exercise videos, strange promotional tapes, and various other deeply bizarre productions.

One way they spread their festival is by booking guest appearances in television stations’ morning shows. As they made their round across different shows, Joe and Nick noticed that most of the anchors weren’t doing a good job as hosts. They claimed that the anchors and TV production crew weren’t doing enough research or preparation, with some even forgetting Joe’s and Nick’s names.

This galvanized the duo to exact some soft revenge on these lax reporters. Instead of booking an appearance in morning shows to promote their quirky videotapes festival, they invented fake characters who would do ridiculous stunts and demonstrations on the program. Strongmen Chop and Steele and K-Strass the “master yo-yoist” were thus born.

Before there was fake news, there was fake a master yo-yoist

One of the fake characters Joe and Nick invented was K-Strass. K-strass (a character inhabited by their friend Mark) made a couple of appearances in at least seven TV shows where he was often introduced as an award-winning, expert yoyoist. K-Strass has achieved no awards in yo-yoing and is, in fact, a poor yo-yoist.

Nick and Joe also created a made-up character for Nick as a celebrity chef, for which they even had a press release. TV stations featured Nick as a guest in their morning shows where he would do things a celebrity chef wouldn’t do such as make a chicken smoothie, mess up a kitchen table, and basically do a live demonstration of how not to be a chef. And yet, the TV anchors ate him up.

Nick and Joe also invented characters for themselves as strongmen "Joe 'Chop' Shopsin" and "Nicholas 'Steele' Stelling” or simply “Chop and Steele.” Looking at Nick and Joe, one wouldn’t think of them as guys who regularly visit the gym, much less train as strongmen (with no offense to these fairly healthy-looking fellas).

Strongman is a sport involving lifting a range of insanely heavy objects. In the morning shows where their characters Chop and Steele were invited, they stomped on baskets, threw sticks at each other’s back, and banged tennis rackets on surfaces, all of which are decidedly non-strongman-type of activities. They presented these characters on live TV with an earnestness that could probably fool even Megyn Kelly.

Some of the TV stations were in on the joke although some were not. Some of the TV stations that were fooled into thinking Joe and Nick were actual strongmen were good-natured about their discovery that they’ve invited frauds to their programs. But one station’s parent company was not happy.

When all else fails, file a lawsuit

For the most part, Nick and Joe got away with their pranks. They even made a video highlighting the pranks they successfully pulled on different TV stations using different footage of the shows where their characters made an appearance. But Gray Television Group Inc, the parent company of “Hello Wisconsin,” one of the TV stations where they were featured as guests, was miffed about being exposed as a prankee.

As Gray TV couldn’t cite complaints about injury to their ego and/or being made to feel embarrassed, they filed a copyright infringement lawsuit instead. The station claimed that the two guys infringed on their copyright in the episode of "Hello Wisconsin" in which the invented characters appeared. The company asked the court to impose penalties on the festival where the highlight video was exhibited.

This was turned into a First Amendment battle, as defendants Joe and Nick essentially had to defend their right to criticize these media companies. According to the duo, their little act in “Hello Wisconsin” and other shows, in essence, was a creative condemnation of these stations’ carelessness in vetting guests and being terrible journalists.

It’s worth noting that these happened from around 2016-2017, a time when the internet already existed. The news anchors or research team of “Hello Wisconsin” could have done a quick Google search to verify the identity of the so-called strongmen. Alas, they chose to sue because injury to the ego can be quite painful too.

Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams are the attorneys to call if you want a favorable outcome for your personal injury case in Washington state. Talk to us today.