[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t was bound to happen eventually. I could see the writing on the wall and it said BEWARE. Or something. I’m not very good at dramatic openings. I’ve seen plenty of people threaten to sue a project creator for going dark, taking the money and running (whether true or not), misrepresentation based on the final product in regards to what was promised, and just not delivering on promises. But, until recently I had yet to see it happen. Until an article at Kickstart Ventures caught my attention. Apparently not just once but at least twice we’ve seen a Kickstarter be brought before the court for legal actions and monetary recompense. And lost to the backers.
The first lawsuit, based on the links in the article above, was started in May 2014 for a deck of playing cards. That’s right. Playing cards. The Asylum Playing Cards Kickstarter ran almost three years ago and the last update was in mid 2013. Two bloody years ago. We’ve covered games that have gone MIA but I don’t think any of them were silent for that long. Anyway, after about a year and change the court finally issued a ruling in favor of the backers. At the beginning of August it had been reported that the state of Washington found against Edward Polchlopek and issued a sizable restitution charge that is to be paid out to everyone.
“Washington state will not tolerate crowdfunding theft. If you accept money from consumers, and don’t follow through on your obligations, my office will hold you accountable.” – Washington AG Bob Ferguson
And it’s not just the state of Washington that’s decided to crack down on outstanding Kickstarters. The FTC’s even announced that they won’t tolerate project creators taking advantage of the good will of those willing to throw money at them. Apparently they had taken on the creators of a board game called “The Doom That Came to Atlantic City“ that had spent the funds raised on personal expenses rather than on the promised game itself. According to a release in June by the FTC he had promised refunds to backers that wanted it but like his promises for the Kickstarter itself he didn’t deliver. Until the government stepped in and slapped him with charges of “deceptive tactics”. Unfortunately, any financial settlement at this time can’t be expected to be paid out as Erik Chevalier doesn’t have the money to pay people back.
The order imposes a $111,793.71 judgment that will be suspended due to Chevalier’s inability to pay. The full amount will become due immediately if he is found to have misrepresented his financial condition.
Here’s the thing. Most Kickstarters don’t get prosecuted when they fully go dark or don’t deliver what’s been promised. There was one campaign that I had backed early on in my crowdfunding career for a Lovecraftian series of books called Darkest Peru that got funded with a second attempt. After it ended there were no updates and attempts to contact the creator were left in silence. Even contacting Kickstarter asking for a refund they refused because “Kickstarter doesn’t issue refunds as transactions are between you and the creator.” That was in 2013 but this policy still stands today.
I may have been burned a few times but I’ve always chalked it up to the good ol’ adage of “caveat emptor”, or “let the buyer beware”. I would never seek legal action but there has been enough shady dealings in successfully funded crowdfunded projects that it was only a matter of time before it happened. Plenty of people have demanded refunds or they’d consider starting a lawsuit but these two examples above have set a precedent in the community that project creators should stay in touch with their fanbase and to deliver on promises or they could be taken to court.