In the era of telecommuting and coffee shop branch offices, Facebook has replaced the watercooler, LinkedIn is the new resume and Skype is the new boardroom. Let’s face it. Your online ‘brand’ has become your most public persona. Along with the vast benefits that social media bring a new world has opened up for fraud, misinformation and brand abuse. Holmes is not only a top brand protection investigator. He is also the one-man marketing department for his firm. Combining his two passions of trademark investigations and social media, he will take you on his journey from creating his first blog, designing his firm’s website, and planning a social media strategy and then arm you with brand protection tactics that he employs for his clients. Rob gave this talk, entitled Brand Protection and Social Media in June 2012 in Dallas, Texas.
The reason the case against Megaupload founder Kim DotCom has hurt brand protection is because it has nothing to do with trademark enforcement and no one knows it. With all of the news this case is getting, the public-at-large does not know the difference between counterfeiting and piracy. There are many different kinds of Intellectual Property but only trademark was set up to protect the consumers before the content owner. The purpose of a trademark is to identify the origin of a good or service. The way this works is that, if you see my name or logo on my product, you can trust that it was made by me. Trademarks are set up as a seal of trust and quality between a manufacturer and a consumer. People who slap your favorite company’s logo on an inferior product deserve to be made to stop. By placing a company’s logo on a commercial work without permission helps dilute the brand. Even if your use is apparently harmless, they must enforce all unauthorized uses in order to be allowed to enforce the baddies. It’s the basic rule that your school teacher had when you were a child, “If I make an exception for you, I’d have to do it for all the other kids.” Copyright protection is quite different. It protects the creator or the owner. While that is still a noble cause, the difference needs to be made clearer to the public. The Copyright Act of 1790 granted an author up to 28 years of exclusive rights to his work as long as he was alive. In 1948 the United Nations passed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states ‘Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.’ I am citing this to make it clear that I vehemently support the protection of content. I do not, however, support the combining of these interests. Our founding fathers were careful to place copyright in the hands of the legislature (Library of Congress) and trademarks in the hands of the Executive Branch (US Patent and Trademark Office). This was no mistake.
In 1946 the United States passed the Lanham Act which prohibited trademark infringement, trademark dilution and false advertising. In 1984 the Trademark Counterfeiting Act established specific criminal penalties for the commercial use of a counterfeit trademark. Later, in 1999, the AntiCybersquatting Act was passed to prohibit the unauthorized commercial use of a trademark in a domain name. President George W. Bush made trademarks a priority when he appointed the first-ever Intellectual Property Czar, which was an undersecretary position within the Commerce Department. Of course trademark protection should be important. Our brands are exported all over the world and we rely on the reputation of those brands for more than a third of our economy. When President Obama was elected, he promoted the IPEC (Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator) position from undersecretary to full cabinet status. Somewhere between then and now this person with executive power has been dubbed the Copyright Czar. If the Executive Branch is granted to be in charge of trademarks and patents, why are they in the copyright business? Perhaps American corporations and our own government have been blurring the distinction between the two to make sloppy cases less noticeable. Or perhaps this is happening so that the specificity of Intellectual Property Rights becomes so unrecognizable that anyone can be prosecuted for almost anything. Or perhaps this is all just a completely innocent mix-up. Once we start to see copyright enforcement activity at the USPTO, we will know that our constitution is being ignored. Protection of all property needs to be respected, but the trademark community needs to stand alone in this fight if we want to bring trust back to the consumer.
Now I’m going to finish my coffee.
Throughout the years in the anti-counterfeiting business there have been a few times where we, and our clients, have lauded our victories when a raid was accomplished on a factory making Chinese knockoffs. Once, I remember, back in 2006 our client’s attorney actually saw thirteen people in handcuffs. Chinese nationals, in China. In cuffs for making fakes. Not bad for a case that started with some handbags sold by a Purse Queen in Missouri! Every time I tell that story, I finish it with the punchline that “I’m sure the cuffs came right off when my client boarded the plane.” I’m not faulting China and that really isn’t my point here. But the disconnect between cultures is. There is obviously a totally different meaning of ‘authenticity’ when you cross oceans. You may recall the incident during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games when the seven year-old vocalist who was commissioned to sing ‘Ode to the Motherland’ was replaced by a prettier lip synching faker. A recent Slate article reports on a whole new kind of counterfeiting: fake prisoners. No kidding, guys. People who are facing jail time in China can hire a less-fortunate guy to confess, or just replace him in the can. This brings me to a whole new thought on the counterfeit enforcement business. While diplomacy with China is important in the fight against counterfeit goods, raiding their factories and jailing their owners is probably not effective.
The most important facet of my solution is to curtail the demand in the United States and other countries with a massive consumer base. The way to do that is to enforce against all sellers of this product in those countries. Contrary to the spirit voice in Field of Dreams, wise businessmen will tell you that supply does not dictate demand. Stop promising your client you’re gonna get the “big factory” and focus on stopping the mid-level distributors here. I promise your performance numbers will increase and, most important, you will help restore value and dignity to the client’s brand. I know from great experience that many people who became huge sellers of counterfeit goods here in the United States would have stopped if they had just worn a pair of handcuffs early on. One night in jail works wonders on the soul. Enforcing the smaller crimes is part of the plan that makes many of our inner cities safer. Curtailing vandalism in your neighborhood leads to less violence down the line. In tough economic times it is easy to cut costs and focus on the biggest problems. The problem with the latter is that no big problem started that way. My suggestion to my readers is to simply place most of your efforts on the cities and countries with the highest retail sales of genuine product. I’m not talking about the people selling fakes at swap meets or in the bad neighborhoods. I’m speaking of the mid-level distributors who are getting their product directly from China and supplying those folks.
Now I’m going to finish my coffee.
The bad guys don’t care. Just like popping a wheelie on your bike, it’s a neat trick but it only works for a few seconds. Please understand that we are investigating criminals, not websites. The person on your staff that tells you they are investigating websites should be fired for incompetence. That is like a homicide investigator saying he investigates piano wire. He clearly doesn’t understand the difference between a perpetrator and a tool.
In 2008, I innovated a way to help my clients join multiple websites into one case. Basically I proved that they were all tools used by the same individual and/or crime gang. Some clients took my advice and allowed me to use this data to assist law enforcement and put these thugs away. One of these investigations led to the arrest of the “King of Spam” Oleg Nikolaenko. The Intellectual Property Rights community at-large exploited this new innovation for their short term gain by seizing domains by the hundreds (and sometimes thousands). Not one of these lawsuits with fake million-dollar judgments have yielded in an arrest.
The reason we are fighting the good fight is to stop people from doing bad things and hold them accountable for their actions. Whether you are enforcing trademark rights or car thefts, this has to be done one person at a time. In 2010 a client asked me what we could take away from the offenders to make them stop. My simple answer was “Their freedom.” Entrepreneurs will always find a way to do business. Bad guys need to be put away to reflect on their actions. Nothing else will stop them. When you take away only the tool, you are training the criminal to improve. I am not in the business of training crooks. Are you?
My next series of articles will focus on the components of an Internet crime ring and how they continue to elude. Please stay tuned as I astonish you with techniques that have never been revealed to an enforcement community.
Now I’m going to finish my coffee.
As children, and even adults, we follow our fathers’ footsteps and look to them for answers. “What would Dad do?” or “Let me ask Dad.” are common things that may go through one’s mind. Everyone who knew my father tells me how great he was. He excelled at everything he did. His personality was bigger than life and he was kind. He faced adversity with a rare combination of ferocity and excitement. Until he didn’t. At fifty-five years old my father, my hero, left this planet on his own accord. No. He didn’t spring for tickets aboard SpaceX. He drank a bottle of tequila and swapped an aspirin for a bullet.
I know I promised this to be a business lesson and I assure you I am getting there. Many success coaches tell you to mimic the habits of successful people. While I do not disagree, it is important to be selective with which habits you follow. The author of Ecclesiastes was one of the wisest men in all of the land yet he had made every mistake a man could make. How could this be? If he is so wise, and his wisdom so valuable, how can he be this flawed? Because that’s reality.
At thirty-four years old I found myself looking at a roadmap of only two decades with a not-so-happy ending. I was in the same career path as my father. My business was doing quite well and it was similar to his. His industry peers were also mine. Heck. I look like him and my waistline was headed in his direction. I was all set until things started going downhill. I was a husband and a business owner with a lot of pressures. What now? I started by telling myself that I needed to figure out what Dad would do. It took me a few months to realize that wasn’t going to work.
When I was seven, my dad taught me to ride a bicycle. I was scared to pedal without his hand on the seat. One day, I looked back to see he was far behind and I was pedaling just fine. It has been eight years since Dad let go of that bicycle and I’m still doing just fine. We search our lives for heroes and father figures. Many heroic figures chose to end their own lives with alcohol and a bullet including Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Junior Seau, Kurt Cobain, Don Cornelius, Vincent van Gogh, Freddie Prinze, Richard Jeni and Jeret Peterson.
Heroes are like drugs. They make you feel like you can do anything. Until they don’t. Listen carefully. There is no one better fit to manage your life than you. There is no one stronger than you. So put on those shoes and stand the hell up straight. It’s time to be your own hero.
Now I’m going to drink my coffee.
In recent years, due to the economic downturn, I have found myself approached by dozens of good friends and acquaintances who have lost their jobs. The reason they do so is because I am approachable, I know tens of thousands of people, and I have been running a successful business for more than a decade that, despite the downturn, is still showing profit. To many of these folks’ surprise, my answers aren’t quick nor are they solutions unto themselves. In an economy where even the most qualified prospects are out of work I cannot easily make a phone call and hook them up with a job. My contributions to these friends in need have been stories of my success and examples of what has worked, leaving out what has not. What follows is a customized retelling of Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare.
While aspiring in our twenties my wife, Nastassia, and I would walk our dogs one hour per night after we both got off of work. These walks would take place in the rich neighborhood just across the boulevard and the conversations would consist of starting our own business and achieving our dreams. After seven years at my employer, we felt it was time we could run our own similar business. We planned my exit for mid-October 2001 and had only about a paycheck in the bank. The world changed on September 11th but we kept on course.
We first set up a desk and a computer in the kitchen of our one bedroom apartment. I then drove my car with no working air conditioner three hundred miles to an industry trade show. Although this conference was very under-attended so close after the recent terrorist attacks, I was able to bond with one potential client and also show the elite in my industry that I could stand in the same room with them and look just as good in a suit and a smile.
This one relationship I made at the trade show provided the reference that I needed to land my first job. This first job gave me the opportunity to perform obsessively well and nurture a client relationship that led to ten years and over one million dollars in income.
For Nastassia and me, two quotes remain a constant inspiration:
- “If you reach for the stars, no matter how far you go, you will get further than most people.” ~ Raijko Bojic (Nastassia’s Dad)
- “Keep. On. Plugging.” ~ Bob Holmes (Rob’s Dad)
I hope you will stay tuned and follow this series, as I believe my stories can help you in your journey as they continue to help us.
Now, I’m going to finish my coffee.
As I do the last few days of every April I was preparing for the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition Spring Meeting. Per my normal routine, I downloaded the agenda and devised a conference plan. I noted that this year, unlike last, the conference had a host: Hitha Prabhakar, author of the new best seller Black Market Billions: How Organized Retail Crime Funds Global Terrorists. In preparation of the possibility of carrying on a conversation with her, I decided to extend her the courtesy of purchasing the book on my favorite book site, audible.com. Don’t laugh. Come on. You didn’t expect a narcissistic guy this hopped up on Starbucks to be able to sit down and actually read a book in three days, did you? Besides, I love listening to non-fiction books.
Black Market Billions began with the author receiving an instant message from a friend offering her handbags for sale at a very attractive price. Knowing that she is a full-time fashion reporter, the friend explained that the items he was selling ‘fell off the truck’. What followed was a rabbit hole I was not expecting. Most books that involve the world of counterfeit goods focus on the counterfeit goods industry (makes sense, doesn’t it?), but not this one. In order to set the table properly to explain the role that counterfeit goods play in our society, Prabhakar first takes us deep into the varied world of shoplifting, human trafficking and Organized Retail Crime.
Most of my readers know I grew up in the anti-counterfeiting industry so one may assume I was schooled in all of the ways counterfeit goods are tied to the dark parts of the world’s economy. One would be wrong. I knew all about cargo theft, human trafficking, parallel imports and (of course) product counterfeiting and cybercrime. Although I knew that retail boosting existed, I didn’t know how organized it was and that it is directly tied to the same black market. I know we can watch an episode of reality television to learn something new, but Black Market Billions added a new view to even this easily jaded joker. Early on, she moves right to the ties between counterfeit goods and radical terrorists. Some of these stories were cases I had worked on, so it hit home as closely as it was well-written.
Moving through the chapters, I first was trying to figure out where she was going because the structure was not organized like most books, where there would be claim, evidence, conclusion, rinse, repeat. She told stories of individuals through their eyes and provided case studies with insight into their effect on these individuals. As the book unfolded I felt myself engrossed in a story that I thought I knew but saw it in a different light. Perhaps this insight was partially due to the fact that it was written by a woman. The stories felt personal and the street crime was real as it was woven into the larger picture of Big Fashion.
I recommend this book, not only for those interested in anti-counterfeiting, but anyone who reads true crime or even thrillers. Keep an eye on this author as well. To top it all off, I did end up chatting with her at a party, so my reading it in time was worth it!
Now I’m going to finish my coffee.
If somebody wanted to name their product or company during the Dot Com Boom they wanted to own the .com. After all, it was the Dot Com Boom, not the Dot Poo Boom. Their second choice was .net, then .org, and so forth. The Web 2.0 generation no longer cared for an accurately-spelled domain at all costs. Flickr, Bit.ly, Scribd, Delicio.us and Instagr.am became the creative norm. Part of this resulted because startups realized it was poor stewardship of their investors’ money to pay for a slick name when the product execution matters most.
The only reason to buy .poo is if .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, .tv, .me, .cc, .ws, .us and .co are already taken and you still think the name would be effective in branding your product or service. When Delicio.us was acquired by Yahoo!, they bought delicious.com. Instagr.am bought instagram.com once it was financially feasible. Virtually the only thing on Instagram’s website is a link to their mobile app. Facebook paid $1 Billion for this company and a website wasn’t even a part of their business model.
We saw what happened with the release of the .xxx gTLD. Nobody in their right mind wanted to be in the ghetto if they could have the prime .com real estate. Even the porn industry preferred to be on Rodeo Drive. I work with companies that defensively purchase domains for their projects but the average budgets are about $10K. If they don’t get the domain at a reasonable price, then oh well. They know owning the .com is a component to their branding process, but not ‘the’ component. Search engine optimization, social media, mobile and execution are far more important. I can’t remember the last time I typed w w w dot anything. I go to my browser’s Google bar, type the brand name and click a result. There is a sucker born every minute. I don’t care who visits knockoffreport.poo. Do you?
Now I’m going to finish my coffee.
In the popular television shows Dexter, CSI and Quincy, the title characters examine specific items or scenes and issue reports on their lab analysis. The detective unit then introduces the findings to the formal investigation process. Although, in these fictional television shows, the forensic examiners are featured throughout an entire investigation, this is not the case in real life. By the time the detective has come to his conclusions, the forensic examiner has moved on to dozens of cases just like it.
Now that the computer forensics field has become a fast-growing one, the line has blurred between detectives and forensic examiners. Some of the recent laws requiring these examiners to obtain state-issued private investigator licenses began with geek squad types helping wives spy on their cheating husbands’ computers. Thanks Dexter. I got this.
What makes anyone good is that they are passionate and highly qualified at one thing. A racecar driver is no mechanic, Samuel Colt was no Wyatt Earp and vice versa. Forensic examiners are good at examining blood spatter, ballistics, computers, or something else. Detectives are good at determining whodunit, often using those reports. A good detective in the online space spends most of her/his personal and professional time socializing online. In other words, take the time to be a person in that space.
I consider myself one of the best at investigating Intellectual Property issues online. I am successful because I have a passion that is unbound and experience that derives from that passion. Nobody expects you to be good at everything. Have the courage to be pigeonholed.
Google recently forfeited a half billion dollars generated by counterfeit drugs sales after being being held responsible by the United States Department of Justice. Google stock then quickly dropped 22 percent from $627 to $490 per share. Is it possible that investors may lose some confidence that Google is able to generate the same profits legally? After all, their business model replies upon the presumption that nothing online has value until it is found on Google and then monetized by their ads. This is a clear conflict of interest between the gathering of ‘free’ information and advertising around that same content. No wonder they oppose a bill that would limit the illegal distribution of copyrighted works online.
The other day I read a post on Facebook from a friend who said that the real elephant in the room isn’t censorship. It is that the average person has been stealing music, movies and software for years and nobody wants the free buffet to end. The concept that all ‘knowledge should be free’ is absurd. While it is noble that Wikipedia remains ad-free, its founder Jimmy Wales pleads for donations totaling $16 million annually. The world needs to get reacquainted with the concept that we all win when everyone is compensated for their hard work and creativity.
Google already censors sites they deem objectionable for content such as pornography, racism and political protests. They even blocked The Pirate Bay in 2009 and then backpedaled after some criticism. Their problem with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is not whether content on the web is blocked, it is over who does it: them or our democratically elected officials.
Last week Google distributed a Goebbels-worthy propaganda cartoon that gathered four million signatures protesting SOPA in one day. I would be hard pressed to believe that many of those folks actually read the bill before falling in suit. This did not demonstrate the power of the Internet, but that of one organization. Shortly thereafter, Barack Obama made a public announcement against the bill. This is contrary to the president’s previous commitment to remain neutral due to the fact that his two largest supporters, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, are diametrically opposed on this issue. I don’t think I need to be a psychic detective to predict the direction of his fundraising strategy for the 2012 election. Maybe the argument should not be about limiting the power of our government or even that of one massive corporation. Perhaps we should focus on stopping them from becoming one and the same.
Now I’m going to finish my coffee…
Imagine a world where all of the world’s creative works are reduced to ones and zeros and the control of that art is in the hands of a few tycoons. A world where those same few Wall Street companies have enough money, influence and power to force all creators to work for free. That time is now.
Beginning midnight on Wednesday January 18th, 2012 a few popular websites shut down for 24 hours as a planned protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act known as SOPA & PIPA, respectively. In fact, one protester’s website says “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.” Reducing my creative works to ‘knowledge’ or ‘data’ that can be commoditized is so Skynet.
Some people spend their entire lives creating that one toy, one song, one book, one clothing accessory. Their legacy. In most cases, this creation is the only property of value they will have to pass onto future generations. Only to have some tycoon call it ‘information’ and re-purpose it for their own profit. A creative work is not mere ‘knowledge’. It’s a human creation. Someone’s child.
This Ain’t a Movie…
Here is an excerpt from the popular movie The Matrix where the villain explains to the hero how, in the film’s bleak future, one organization controls the masses:
- “Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from… …Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.
What Agent Smith did not understand was that the human condition is more than ones and zeros. Our ideas are more than data that can be distributed perfectly with algorithms and without complication. Humanity is suffering and pain. Humanity is joy and laughter. Humanity is complication. Imposing any perfect-world scenario should not be mistaken as naive. The last organization to almost succeed in creating a Utopian society were the Nazis. How’s that working for you, Agent Smith?
The American dream used to be to learn a trade, earn a decent living, have a house, and make your mark. That is still my dream and the dream of many others but it is no longer the dream that is being fed to us. This new dream is to start a company, sell it to Wall Street for a hundred million dollars; rinse and repeat. Although we are being told it is our dream, doesn’t it look a lot like a plan for world domination?
Let Me Clear Up a Few Things…
SOPA will not break the Internet. The Internet is a network of millions of networks controlled by millions of people. It’s not one thing that can break. Yes, this regulation will create more work for some large, not-so-poverty-stricken corporations. But these new jobs that will be created will actually help keep the virtual streets safe for our kids.
SOPA is not censorship. Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable. This bill will not stop anyone from being original or objectionable. It will, however, stop people from distributing your original works without your permission.
SOPA does not bypass due process. In order for the owner of a creative work to enforce against a rogue site, they must prove to a judge that the site has received refuge from outside the United States and that there is no reasonable way to properly contact the host or registrar. Only then will a judge sign an order to block the illegal website.
Google, Facebook and Twitter already have systems in place to filter content they deem objectionable such as spam, child pornography and even racism. Piracy can join that mix without a ton of disruption.
I have been working to prevent the theft of others’ Intellectual Property my entire adult life just as my father did before me. I have faith in our judicial system, which is comprised of thousands of officials whom we ourselves elect. I do not trust a handful of tycoons.
Now, I’m going to finish my coffee…
Set in the year 1865, the television show Hell on Wheels centers on the individuals working on the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Colm Meaney plays Thomas “Doc” Durant, a greedy entrepreneur and the driving force behind this railroad, where he hopes to take advantage of the changing times and make a fortune. Although his mad quest is noble in many ways he goes, for the most part, unwatched. He successfully kept the US government at bay by occasionally returning to lobby Washington while his operation ran as he saw fit.
Here we are in the 21st Century, where new railroads have been constructed and new entrepreneurs are taking subsidies and lobbying the US government on how they think their throughways should be governed. The Internet is not just a bunch of wires and tubes, but the sidewalks, highways and railroads of our nation. Profiteers want to bamboozle you into thinking that this is not the wild west. It is.
I was recently on Capitol Hill presenting along side many of America’s labor unions in support of the pro-jobs bill known as Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). We were regular working joes presenting to congress and outside were teams of Google suits with wolfish grins. I can tell you first-hand that those leading the charge against SOPA are the richest people in the history of mankind. They want to make sure they can run their operations without regulation as long as they can. The non-billionaires that oppose this bill are the gunslingers who also profit from this lawlessness.
Every nation has border security. If a swindler tries to make his way across the American border he will likely meet with an enforcement agent and, if found a threat to American consumers, will likely be turned around and not make it across the border. If a swindler makes it across the border, and is caught, he is deported. SOPA is nothing more than a border protection act.
Google and Facebook are not their own nations and they do not deserve their own laws. They are companies incorporated in the United States and want to do business here. They also stand to benefit from the sale of illegal goods to American consumers. Because they believe older generations’ learning curves are slower, they are making outrageous statements like we are going to “break” or “censor” the Internet. Heed my warning — Do what is best for the consumer, not the billionaires and the gunslingers.
A great American Eleanor Roosevelt chaired a committee to draft The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1948 it was adopted by the United Nations. Article 27 Section (2) of this declaration states, “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” In 2011 those rights are under attack. Under attack by faceless perpetrators who are hiding behind these Rogue websites. Forty-seven per cent of America’s gross national product now comes from Intellectual Property. That means our nation’s most precious resource is its IP. Rogue sites are not only the vessel of choice of the modern criminal, I have seen first-hand terrorist and other criminal organizations selling counterfeits online to fund their activities overseas. I will tell you this — They don’t care about the economic impact, labor standards or consumer safety.
The Internet is a real place with real people, and real businesses need real laws. Don’t let these billionaires swindle you into thinking otherwise. Wyatt Earp needs to clean up. Let’s do this!
One of the great joys in my life is that, every morning, I wake up and get to walk my two dogs Chauncey, a West Highland Terrier, and Lucky, a Chihuahua, around the block. When Chauncey gets a scent he follows it until he locates the source. Then he sniffs until he gets all of the data he feels he needs, or satisfies his curiosity. Once this is achieved Lucky decides to mark his territory on the spot that Chauncey found. One day, due to Chauncey’s amazing focus, he ended up with a stream of Lucky’s pee pee on his head.
I have been in private investigations most of my life. In my twenties I thought my tenacity and curiosity were my greatest assets. Once I was promoted to working larger, more complex, cases I began to realize how much time was actually wasted extracting more data from a lead than needed or following leads that did not pan out.
Very often the greatest skill an investigator can have is knowing when a lead is dead or when to put it down for a while. The word ‘lead’ rhymes with ‘seed’. Think of the concept of sowing seeds. Except the opposite. When you sow seeds you lay dozens, and maybe hundreds, and expect only one or a few to ever bear fruit. Most leads do not take you to the end. Most are distractions. The greats know which are which. Solve the case without ending up with pee pee on your head.
Now, I’m going to finish my coffee.
Sport fishing is a $125 billion dollar industry. No matter how good man gets at it, he is nothing compared to the Alaskan grizzly bear. At first glance you would describe one of these formidable creatures as large brutes. But let me tell you something. Although most of us know that this so-called brute is a fast runner, many folks don’t know that this beautiful creature is so agile, patient and graceful that they can catch Salmon with their teeth even when their quarry is swimming at full speed.
One of the best films of the 1980s is Michael Mann’s “Manhunter“. In this film our protagonist FBI agent Will Graham has a conversation with our favorite psychopathic psychiatrist, the brilliant Hannibal Lecktor, through prison bars:
Graham admits, “I know that I’m not smarter than you.”
Lecktor then inquires, “Then how did you catch me?”
“You had disadvantages.”, says Graham.
Lecktor asks, “What disadvantages?”
Graham replies, “You’re insane.”
It is common for a detective or criminologist to state that, in order to catch a criminal, you must think like a criminal. It is not only unnecessary to think like the criminal, it is imperative that you do not. You don’t think like a criminal and you don’t want to. You hunt them. Their values are different than yours. Their brain works differently than yours. In order to catch a criminal, you must think like someone who catches criminals.
In your career you have investigated hundreds of bad guys. You are smart with years of investigative experience and an above average IQ. But you do not, by any means, believe you are smarter than every one of the people you investigate. You think differently than they do. Your desires, motives and goals are different than theirs. You know that your advantage is that you do not think like them. Good. Don’t think like them. Hunt them.
Enjoy. Salmon tastes good.
Ten years ago on this date you may have seen a goofball driving down Washington Boulevard in Culver City blasting the Tom Petty song ‘Free Falling’ while joyfully singing out the car window as if he were Tom Cruise in ‘Jerry Maguire‘. That was me. The reason for this occasion was that, just like the title character of the aforementioned film, I quit my job with no safety net or certain future in order to start my own business.
Six years prior to that, I married the love of my life. Believe it or not, the anniversary of our marriage doesn’t equate to me as much as the day I told my wife that we were never going to have to have jobs again. I stopped off at the grocery store on the corner of Doheny and Beverly and came home with that chilled ten-dollar bottle of California sparkling wine.
I began my company in the kitchen of my one-bedroom apartment on Oakhurst Drive in Beverly Hills. All I had was a desk, a fax machine, and a computer that I assembled myself from scraps. I spent the next week or two learning Quickbooks. During this time I attended the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition’s Fall Meeting in Las Vegas. This was the first time I showed up in public as Rob Holmes, proprietor. Just as for my father before me, this organization and its members are my family and home. I look forward to spending my tenth IACC Fall Meeting in Orlando with these fine people.
Since 2001 I have carved a niche for myself in the areas of Intellectual Property and the Internet. I catch bad guys and get paid for it. Half of the time I’m sitting on my ass at Starbucks. Life is good. Thanks to all of you who have made this a possibility for me. I love you all. Let’s have another great decade.
Now I’m going to finish my coffee.
In 1999 I embarked on creating what I wanted to be the ultimate list of songs to play in my car. So I rooted through my music collection and pulled, opened, read, contemplated, played, meditated, listened and came up with ‘the list’. I then ripped the songs and burned them to a compact disc. Since then, I have owned three vehicles: a black Nissan Pathfinder, a black Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited and (currently) a silver Toyota Prius. Whether one of its songs were cranked up loud on a drive home from the office, or playing in the background while driving cross-country with my wife, or if it was sitting patiently tucked away while I was exploring a newly-purchased album; this same silvery, scratched, sharpie-scribbled disc has been with me on every journey.
On a Saturday morning in 2005, shortly after the death of my father, I was driving down the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles when a man in a red Jeep Wrangler ran me off the road and kept driving. I lost control of my steering and rolled about six times down a hill, with my car landing upside down on another freeway. Unable to see oncoming traffic from my vantage point, I hung there uncertain of my future. So I unclasped my seatbelt, fell on the roof and exited the vehicle without a scratch. Days later I got another car and the disc came with me. I kept driving and tomorrow kept coming.
Today, I decided to share this intimate list of songs with you, along with links to play them. I hope they comfort, energize, daze and inspire you wherever you are going. In the last twelve years, I have experienced great success, huge failure, extreme happiness and terrible tragedy. I still don’t know where I’m going and I wouldn’t change a thing. I leave you with one piece of advice: “If you keep driving tomorrow will keep coming.”
A story out of folklore of the lower countries, attributed in modern fiction to Hans Brinker, depicts a little boy who walks by a dyke and observes a leak. Anticipating disaster, he pokes his finger in the hole to plug the leak. Eventually, he is assisted by others who keep the entire dyke from collapsing, ultimately averting a terrible outcome. This story is often told to illustrate the effect of foresight and teamwork.
In modern times, the plumber is normally called for a job like this. A leaky homeowner with foresight may call the local rooter-man when he first sees a drip. I agree this event is both anticlimactic and costs a few bucks. Steve could be accused of being a boring Monday evening date and missing the night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother. But he likely avoided a costly disaster which could have resulted in damaged furniture, carpet and, even worse, utter obliteration of his classic 1970s LP collection.
Both of the above tales can easily be used to describe the relationship between the caretaker of a valuable public brand and their private eye. In most entertainment the public’s excitement is equally as important as the content itself. Humans like to be teased, surprised and entertained. In that order. The numerous folks involved in any given entertainment project work hard to keep these surprises under wraps so that the reveal is as dramatic and effective as it can be. Not only is this a service to the fan, this also best insures a good financial turnout for those whose dinner table contents and mortgage payment rely on the gross receipts of the aforementioned project.
Given the above, it is no surprise that the smart folks whose job it is to insure these projects’ success have their Private Eye on speed dial. The days of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are not behind us. Next time you observe a publicity leak, call your trusty P.I. Most of the time, the leak is the result of a misguided ne’er-do-well in search of peer recognition. Once the veil of anonymity is removed, and the subject is addressed properly, you can often retain value for the brand and look like a superhero.
Now I’m going to finish my coffee.
I was twelve years old when my father, Robert L. Holmes Sr., asked me to go along with him to purchase an MTV t-shirt at the Columbus Farmers Market in Columbus, NJ. That day I learned what a chain of custody was. The second an investigator touches an item (as fledgling as I was) the item was in custody. Once that second begins so does the chain, sayeth the Old Man. Once I first touched it I then must pass on, and communicate, that responsibility to the next individual who may touch the item. Ever since that day in 1982 I realized that, once I touch something that was a part of a case, it was my responsibility until someone I deemed responsible took possession and released me of Custody.
I was no Bobby Fisher but my Dad taught me, and I understood, chess at the age of four. I played with him regularly and got the game. He even let me win once. One of the things I most remember from playing with the Old Man was that, after making a move, I could take all the time I wanted. I could even change my mind and move back. But once I removed my finger from the game piece, my move was over and my decision forever made.
I have many philosophies; political, spiritual, professional and others. Some of those ideals have been modified and influenced throughout the years. Little did Bob know his philosophies would cross game play and flea markets and be the basis for my every move in business. The one thing that will never change in my world is the fact that evidence must be preserved at all cost.
I recently found myself in extraordinary circumstances where I was forced to make some very quick decisions in a short period of time. I was in the American Mid-west conducting a seizure out of town when opposing counsel made numerous threats that led my client and myself to believe we may be in danger. At bare minimum, our evidence was for sure. The decisions I made that night could possibly have impacted my Client’s life’s work. Forget me and my safety. Evidence is everything. I know many of you would say that I am crazy to put a client, or their evidence, before myself. That’s because you don’t get it.
One of the staples of modern American culture is the private eye. Whether you reflect upon your real-life heroes like Rob Holmes or the fictional writings of greats like Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Robert B. Parker or Robert Crais, one thing is consistent: the case comes first. This is not just television and movies. Real private eyes are a unique breed just like our fictional counterparts. Sometimes art imitates life and sometimes life imitates art. But, once retained by a client, a private eye puts the case before himself. We don’t have certifications and diplomas that doctors and lawyers have to influence the public’s perception of our image. We have but one thing: our integrity. That, sir, is everything.
As I regularly search for shows on my TiVo using keywords that relate to my interests and work, I ran across a rerun of ‘Swift Justice with Nancy Grace‘ that originally aired on 2/28/11 entitled “An online rip-off; pit bull puppies”. This was caught in my filter because the word ‘knockoff’ was in the show’s description. In this episode, the first case was of a woman who had purchased a pair of Coach boots from a website buymerchant.com. Upon receipt of the boots, the Plaintiff stated that she believed they were counterfeit and was entitled to a refund of $174 USD. Whether the goods in this case were actually counterfeit is actually not even relevant to what I’m about to share. What followed was some of the most irresponsible judiciary-slash-journalistic behavior I have ever seen.
Grace first examines the boots saying, “If these are fake, I’ll buy ’em! I’m all about fakes!” She then hollers backstage, “Hey, bring me out my my ‘Frauda’!” She giggled and looked back at the camera explaining, “My fake Prada. I love it.” As she brings the conversation back to the case on hand, she turns to the Plaintiff and uttered in a snarky drawl, “So… you don’t like fakes?”
After picking up my jaw from the atop my Birkenstock I witness Grace call in her ‘expert’ to authenticate the boots. This guy’s qualifications were that he was a former employee at a Coach store. Wait, it gets better. As he makes his unconvincing case, Grace barks again and looks offstage, “Hey, bring me back my fake!” Then she asks her expert to authenticate her ‘Frauda’. He explains to her that it is counterfeit and that a real handbag of this type is of higher quality and would retail for about $1,500 USD. Then Grace starts howling like a preacher with a bellyache with, “Fifteen… hundred… dollars?!?!?! Do you know how long I’ve had this thing? Five years. That’s a good quality bag!” Just as I did, you are probably asking if this idiot actually admitted to purchasing illegal goods, defend it and then promote the behavior from her bench on national television. Yes. She did. You can witness an excerpt of the event for yourself by clicking this link here: http://www.swiftjustice.com/case_files/2011-02-28
While much of the civilized world is trying to discourage this type of contraband activity, we have a nitwit like this adjudicating cases with her own television show, and doling out legal advice on CNN. While Nancy Grace is hosting ‘Swift Justice’, what she really needs is a swift kick in the rear end.