Lawsuit Claiming Fyre Festival Sent Cease & Desist Letters To Online Critics Doesn't Show Any Actual Evidence

from the up-in-flames dept

If, somehow, you've avoided all the news about the Fyre Festival from the past few weeks... well... you've been missing out. There's a ton of coverage basically everywhere, but what was promoted as an upscale music festival on a private island in the Bahamas, complete with private flights, luxury lodging, and fine dining... turned out to be... nothing. Despite having lots of rich and famous folks (especially Instagram stars) promoting the festival for months, it eventually appears that promoting and hyping was about all that was done for the festival, rather than actually organizing stuff. The festival was "canceled" but not before a bunch of people made their way to a not-so-private island in the Bahamas (Great Exumas) and discovered... that there was effectively nothing there. There was no music festival. The "lodging" was emergency relief structures. The "fine dining" was slices of bread and cheese with some lettuce. It's been quite a story.

As you can imagine there have been lawsuits filed. Oh so many lawsuits. The sixth of these lawsuits, filed by Kenneth and Emily Reel, is getting a bunch of attention, in part because it includes the festival's PR agency, 42West, rather than just the "startup" behind the festival, Fyre Media (it was supposed to offer some sort of app), its founder Billy McFarland, and the musician Ja Rule, who was supposedly also a creator of the festival. But, even more interesting for those of us here at Techdirt is that he latest filing also claims that Fyre Festival has been threatening social media posters with cease-and-desist letters for posting negative things about the festival. That's what puts this squarely into Techdirt/Streisand Effect territory.

You can read the full filing here or below. Admittedly, the filing is... kinda weak. There seem to be many claims that are little more than cut-and-pasted from media reports (without citation or credit). For example, the social media cease-and-desist threats are not shown with much detail (and don't appear to be included as an exhibit). Here's what the lawsuit says:

As for those individuals who elected to speak negatively about the Defendants on social media, they are now being threatened with legal action via cease and desist letters. Specifically, if the social media comments were not taken down, the Defendants claim they could “incite violence, rioting, or civil unrest,” with the caveat that if “someone innocent does get hurt as a result … Fyre Festival will hold you accountable and responsible.”

It is a little unclear from the filing if the lawyers have actually even seen this cease and desist letter. It would appear to be almost word for word identical to a TMZ post from a week ago, which doesn't present any actual evidence of the cease and desist letter -- and doesn't name the lawyers or even the recipient of the letter. The lawsuit doesn't cite the TMZ article, but also doesn't present any additional evidence of actual letters being sent (normally, you'd think it would be included as an exhibit if they had such a letter). Still, if such letters were actually sent, I imagine it won't be long until they're public.

It's also odd, because this bit about the cease-and-desist letters comes in the same section as the discussion concerning the "application" that Fyre Festival has set up for people to ask for their money back. If you haven't heard, rather than just refunding the money, the Festival has asked people to "apply" for a possible "refund" providing little to no info on whether or not they're likely to get it. The lawsuit points out, reasonably, that while the festival promised refunds, asking people to apply and then providing no details or process is not quite the same thing as actually giving the refunds. And, most amusingly, the "application" has been mocked for encouraging people to accept passes to next year's Fyre Festival (which they insist will be a real thing) in lieu of a refund. Really:

If, somehow, you can't see that image, it shows one of the questions from the application (question 13 -- which raises a separate issue of just how many questions should you have to answer to get a freaking refund for a festival that didn't happen?!?) saying:

Would you prefer to exchange your 2017 ticket(s) for additional 2018 VIP passes, as opposed to receiving a refund (Ex: If you purchased 3 passes for 2017 you would receive 6 total 2018 VIP passes).

As you likely know, we've been through the ringer on social media and this has been a challenging week for us as we were unable to realize our dream on the first try. We are now one of the world's most famous festivals, for all the wrong reasons. We want to reverse that sentiment by producing something amazing. We are fully committed to this event next year, and to producing it in the most professional way, with experienced professionals. We have received support and commitments from several musicians to perform at next year's event. We would be so thankful to have your support as well.

And then, the kicker: it provides two "options" for the recipient to choose from:

  • Yes, let it ride. I'd love to support you all in creating something amazing!
  • No, I'm not down for the adventure
  • I have so many questions just about this question. Like, how they'll be producing an event when they're buried under at least 6 lawsuits and possibly more. Or how they can promise it will be professionally run by like, real professionals, when it appears that none of that happened this time around. Or how they can promise that "several musicians" have "committed" to performing when all the musicians who similarly "committed" to perform at this year's event... didn't. The main guy behind all of this, McFarland, has claimed publicly that "currently 81% of guests who have filled out the refund application have said they would like to attend Fyre Festival 2018", which I think people should view with the level of credibility of the guy who promised a music festival on a private island with luxury lodging and fine dining, and left a bunch of wealthy people on a non-private island in relief tents with bread and cheese and no electricity.

    Either way, it's a little unclear if Fyre Festival is actually sending cease-and-desist letters, or if it's maybe a part of this crazy long refund application that suggests that Fyre Festival "will hold you accountable and responsible" for negative postings. But... whatever it is... threatening people for saying bad things about your non-existent and massively overhyped festival seems... unwise.

    And, reading through the various lawsuits and news reporting over this, it certainly seems that the number of "unwise" moves by the organizers of this event began long ago and kept piling up at a fairly astounding rate. The lawsuit includes a bunch of claims that appear to have originated in a NY Mag article by Chloe Gordon, who wrote that she was hired by Fyre Festival to help out, and that it was clear things would be a disaster months ago. Oddly (again), the lawsuit doesn't note that many of the claims in the lawsuit came from that article, but they do... including this astounding claim about a meeting six weeks before the event was supposed to take place:

    Meanwhile the event planners were holed up indoors putting together a game plan and a budget. With so little having been prepared ahead of time, the official verdict was that it would take $50 million to pull off. Planners also warned that it would be not be up to the standard they had advertised. The best idea, they said, would be to roll everyone’s tickets over to 2018 and start planning for the next year immediately. They had a meeting with the Fyre execs to deliver the news. A guy from the marketing team said, “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”

    Yeah, so sending out threatening cease-and-desist letters as mentioned in the lawsuit is certainly within the realm of possibility.


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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 2:40pm

      “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”

      Carpe gloria.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 3:34pm

      I have a feeling this is going to become more common as the millennials start taking over. What, things don't just run themselves? I bet the guys at the top just hired ppl to manage it who just hired ppl to manage it who just hired that team Gordon was on. This whole thing sounds hilarious, young rich people just wanted something and thought they could do it, without doing anything. Gordons article was amazing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Jordan Chandler, 11 May 2017 @ 3:53pm

        Re:

        Ja Rule is not a millennial. And anyone who trusted the 25-year-old dude is literally retarded.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 3:58pm

        Re:

        wtf do millennials have to do with this debacle?

        I've heard they are lazy, jobless and live in mommies basement, given that - how could they take over anything?

        Why will these things become more common due to millennials? What sort of thing are you even talking about; incompetence, greed, embezzlement, fraud, what?

        How could they possibly have promoted such a huge event, doesn't that cost money ... like up front 'n stuff.

        Wait a sec ... young rich people? Who? Where? And ypou refer to them as millennials?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 11 May 2017 @ 4:03pm

        Re:

        I have a feeling this is going to become more common as the millennials start taking over. What, things don't just run themselves? [...] This whole thing sounds hilarious, young rich people just wanted something and thought they could do it, without doing anything.

        So, just like the generation that ran all the big Wall Street banks straight into the ground a decade ago. That sent the country into Iraq expecting to be hailed as heroes, and that the invasion would last "weeks, maybe months, certainly not years" and "would pay for itself." What, things don't just run themselves after you disband the government and the military?

        Also the generation most responsible for voting in President Trump. The generation most represented in a Congress with an 11% approval rating.

        I'd sure hate to see millennials mess all that up.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 12 May 2017 @ 12:51am

        Re:

        Yeah, thank god older people never set up badly planned festivals!

        https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/may/01/worst-festival-disasters-ever-fyre

        Word to the wise: if you start blaming specific generations for everything wrong in the world rather than accept there's good and bad no matter the age or time you live in, you're probably a curmudgeonly old git whose usefulness to this world is depleted. (Full disclosure: I'm the same age as Ja Rule, one of the guys you're wrongly attacking as a "millennial" here).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DB (profile), 11 May 2017 @ 7:44pm

      Don't blame...

      Concert promoters have always been hucksters.
      It's mostly about getting everyone to believe that the event will happen as planned, and that they will be paid after.

      If it works the first time, it's easy to convince the suppliers the next time and stage a bigger event.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 12 May 2017 @ 12:53am

        Re: Don't blame...

        "It's mostly about getting everyone to believe that the event will happen as planned, and that they will be paid after."

        Last I checked, most festivals actually follow through on that promise. Even those that don't will usually be screwing over the talent and staff, not openly screwing the paying public, since the "next time" is unlikely to happen if the public are screwed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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