Fact Checking LA Webfest's Exclusivity Clause

An open letter to creators

I write this with reluctance.

I did not wish to publicly take sides on L.A Webfest’s new exclusivity charge. It was a decision I disagreed with, but I respected Mike Ajakwe enough to keep the matter private.

I am going public now because there has been misinformation spread by LA Webfest about both the Indie Series Awards and Hollywebfest and if I do not speak out with corrections, there is no reason for new creators not to believe LA Webfest’s errors. I think it is important that new web creators have all of the facts when they make decisions with their money and it saddens me deeply that LA Webfest has e-mailed many new creators with incorrect information.

I am not accusing the LA Webfest of lying. I know that Michael Ajakwe believes what he is writing, but the fact of the matter is he is wrong on many counts and did not take due diligence to find out the facts before sending e-mails to creators. It is unfortunate that he failed to make sure he was correct before spreading untrue information to creators who do not know who to trust.

Jason Leaver’s open letter on his Out With Dad site eloquently mirrors my position on the subject, so I will not repeat what he has already said better than I. I urge you to read his post. I am simply going to fact check statements made by LA Webfest in e-mails to content creators.

Below I will paste statements that Mr. Ajakwe e-mailed to LA Webfest submitters and then fact check them. This is not meant to belittle LA Webfest or Mr. Ajakwe, but I believe that it is important that creators have all of the correct facts. I do this now because yesterday LA Webfest started a 48 hour clock on an ultimatum: recant your Indie Series Award nomination or you will be disqualified for LA Webfest and your already announced award nominations.

Full disclosure: I have won an award from Hollywebfest and I have hosted their awards show. I have been nominated by the ISAs. My series, Pairings, has been a selection at LA Webfest and I have spoken on a panel during their festival. I have been in communication with the founders of all three organizations privately to try and help resolve this matter.

This clause was put in place to protect…from an award show called Indie Soap Awards or ISA.” 

I am starting small. The ISAs were called the Indie Soap Awards for their first three years, but made the change to Indie Series Awards in 2014 when they made the move to Los Angeles. It is a small error that is understandable, but the Indie Series awards have worked hard on rebranding.

“Unfortunately, Hollyweb introduced itself to us by taking our festival dates for 2012.”

This is untrue. Hollywebfest specifically waited for LA Webfest to decide on their dates, so that they would not conflict. Hollywebfest has never once scheduled their festival during LA Webfestival. They have never once stolen LA Webfest’s dates.

“For 2015, Hollyweb began taking submissions as early as June 2014 and named its venue at the same time (Raleigh Studios), but did not list its dates UNTIL AFTER we listed our dates for LAWEBFEST 2015 on August 29th.”

This is also untrue. Hollywebfest has been at Raleigh Studios for two years and is returning next year. They have had Raleigh Studios as their screening venue and The Avalon Club as their award venue booked since last year, long before LA Webfest announced their dates.

“Exclusivity Clause (which is not uncommon– other festivals and industry conferences like Screenwriters Expo– use this clause to protect their audience and prevent encroachment by similar events).”

I have read through the Screenwriter’s Expo Rules and Regulations and cannot find and exclusivity clause. You can read them yourself here.  I can find no evidence of this being a commonly used clause in festivals. Please use the contact form below to correct me if you know of festivals that do use exclusivity clauses. This was done by Lollapalooza, a music festival, and it resulted in them being investigated for breaking anti-trust laws.

“For the last two years, I had been receiving complaints that producers– especially those outside of L.A.– were feeling the financial pinch of trying to stay in L.A. for two weekends instead of just one and they kept asking me why LAWEBFEST and Hollyweb were back to back rather than spread out over the calendar.”

 It is hard to fact check this as it is hearsay, but I am very skeptical as most creators I have talked to loved having the back to back festivals and awards so they didn’t have to travel to L.A twice. And, since airline tickets are the bigger expense over hotels, this line of thinking does not really hold up.

“Last year (2014), no doubt to try and cash in on the audience we were bringing to Los Angeles, ISA moved its event to late March, right smack in between Hollywed and LAWEBFEST”

The Indie Series Awards made several changes between 2013 and 2014. They moved from New York to L.A so that more creators and stars could attend. Many New Yorkers were sad to see them go, but the decision had nothing to do with LA Webfest. They moved the date of their award show for a variety of reasons. To give them more time to do the awards that they were not sure they were even going to continue. They thought it best to coincide with the existing time that LA Webfest & Hollywebfest were already being held to create an unofficial web series month in L.A. None of their reasons were to ‘cash in on the audience.’ Especially as they already had an existing audience which is why they continued their awards and one reason they moved it to Los Angeles. It was never an aggressive decision on their part. And being an award show rather than a festival there was no reason to believe there would be any conflict with the existing webfests and more likely a boon.

“The people who run ISA, I guess, are friendly with the people who run Hollyweb.”

Also untrue. Which is not to say that they are unfriendly, but I don’t believe the creators of the ISAs have even met the creators of Hollywebfest. They certainly weren’t any more friendly to them than LA Webfest.

“When they learned of LAWEBFEST’s Exclusivity Clause, ISA then decides to hold its 2015 event right next to ours.”

Also untrue. The ISAs are on the same date as last year. If anything LA Webfest moved their dates closer to that of the ISAs.

“Like Hollyweb, ISA was chillin’– waiting for LAWEBFEST to announce dinner time (our 2015 dates) so they could then invite themselves over to chow down.   ISA did not place its 2015 date in front of its buddy Hollyweb’s event or right after it. No. ISA decided AFTER I announced our 2015 dates, to move itself right next to me/us– as close as it could get. I mean, if this awards show gets any closer to LAWEBFEST, we are going to get pregnant.

Again untrue. It is possible the dates were not listed on the ISA site until later, but the date has been set for some time and was certainly never decided upon to get as close to LA Webfests dates. Also, the ISAs did place its date in front of Hollywebfest.

“This bizarre extremely aggressive move– not to mention disrespectful and inconsiderate behavior  since LAWEBFEST has an annual Pre-Launch Dinner the night before we officially open– by ISA is what caused us, in late October, to revise our Exclusivity Clause to now also include award shows.”

Despite the statement that it was an aggressive move being incorrect, the Pre-Launch dinner is unadvertised and completely unknown to the ISAs. What is factual is that LA Webfest did change their terms and conditions after taking many submissions. Many of the series that could end up being disqualified from LA Webfest for having an ISA nomination submitted their series when the exclusivity clause did not include the ISAs. The addition of Award Shows was added to the clause in late October.

“We should be able to hold our event without being unfairly encroached upon, bullied or intimidated by other local web series festivals and awards shows.”

Absolutely no bullying has taken place from either Hollyweb or the ISAs. In fact anti-trust laws exist in order to protect festivals from being bullied and exclusivity clauses like LA Webfests could easily be construed to be bending if not breaking those laws.

The facts are simple. The ISAs and Hollywebfest are content to peacefully coexist and LA Webfest no longer is. LA Webfest has, at best, acted unprofessionally. At worst, they are skating very close to the edge of legality with libel and anti-trust laws and, also, in changing their terms and conditions after accepting submissions and not refunding shows who are now disqualified through no fault of the submitter.

I urge shows to not withdraw from the ISAs and to not submit to LA Webfest until the exclusivity clause is lifted.

I have also personally decided to stop using any of my LA Webfest laurels until such time as they correct this issue.

And finally, I will leave you with this. If you would like to read true aggression, please read the letter Mr. Ajakwe sent me that he said I should send to the creators of Hollywebfest. In it he claims that Hollyweb called the Radisson to inquire about holding Hollyweb there. I know this to be untrue as Raleigh Studios was already booked for Hollywebfest. I have heard about this supposed phone call many times now and I do not know where they got the idea that this happened, but it simply did not. Somebody somewhere had a miscommunication and now LA Webfest is under the impression that Hollyweb tried to poach their space. I will not share other aspects of a private e-mail, but since I was urged to send this to Hollyweb, I feel I have been given permission to share it here.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you can now make a more informed decision. I, of course, respect any decision you make as long as you do so armed with the truth.

Ed Robinson

Contact Ed

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