B.C. woman wins legal battle over board game on reality T.V.’s ‘The People’s Court’

B.C. woman wins legal battle over board game on reality T.V.’s ‘The People’s Court’

Amateur game-maker takes on notorious U.S. company over childhood passion project

Kelsey Devois thought a childhood dream came true when she received an email from an American publishing company expressing interest in a board game she had been crafting since she was 12 years old.

But the Abbotsford woman’s dream turned into a three-year nightmare that only ended on Nov. 12, the day she walked into The People’s Court – reality TV’s small claims court.

“I was so nervous, I was shaking,” Devois said. “For hours [before], I’m just dying because I don’t know how it’s going to go… It was nerve-racking.”

When Devois logged on to her Kickstarter account in early 2017 and read an enthusiastic email offering a partnership from Marc Goldner, the founder and CEO of Golden Bell Studios, she thought a decade-long passion project might have a chance to make it to the board-game big leagues.

“WOW! We’ve been scouring the internet for some great games to partner up with, and this caught our eye immediately. We loved your campaign and honestly just every aspect of it,” Goldner’s email reads.

The idea behind Devois’s game, The Recipe Game, came from baking with her mother from a young age. It slowly turned into a serious project over the next decade. Devois hired a Brazilian graphic artist for the design, built a relationship with a Chinese manufacturing company, and financed the first 300 copies herself for exposure at local trade shows

Enticed to sign

When she received Goldner’s email, Devois’s sales at the trade shows were limited and her Kickstarter page hadn’t raised enough money to manufacture more games.

“I love the aspect of creating it, designing it and having manufactured,” Devois said. “But to sell it, there just wasn’t a passion there.”

The company sent a contract asking Devois to give up half her copyright and full trademark rights to the game, in exchange for Golden Bell financing the game’s manufacture. Devois would receive a share of net profits.

Devois worried about surrendering her trademark forever, and her lawyer suggested changes to the contract, but Golden Bell wouldn’t budge.

But she was able to insert a clause that would entitle her to $500 if no copies were sold within two years. She also received permission from Goldner to sell her remaining copies of the game.

Golden Bell promised a “large distribution network.” For Devois, the idea of her game reaching audiences outside of the local trade-show circuit was too appealing to turn down. She signed the contract in May 2017.

A Notorious Company

Golden Bell Studios – also known as Golden Studios, Golden Bell Entertainment and Golden Bell Productions – had three lawsuits filed against it in 2019. Plaintiffs have alleged that the company breached contracts and engaged in fraud and libel, and they are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

But in 2017, the company hadn’t yet developed a notorious reputation in the crowdfunding and board game community. Over the past year, dozens of posts on popular websites like Boardgamegeek and Reddit warn creators and crowdfunders about the company’s “predatory contracts” and “shady business tactics coupled with childish and passive-aggressive (and even outright aggressive) behaviour.”

Many of these posts cite the exact same email that Devois initially received from Goldner. The lawsuits against Goldner and Golden Bell Studios make similar claims. They remain before the courts and the claims have not been proven.

Over the next two years, Devois received little communication from the company and became increasingly frustrated.

Devois would periodically email Goldner to check in on the status of her game. She said she was confused as to why the game was not listed anywhere on Golden Bell’s website.

She received only one response: a “confusing” email stating the company was exploring licensing with a Japanese company and adding a “ramen element.”

When the two-year deadline expired for the $500 clause in the contract, she sent an email requesting payment. Two days later she received a response from Goldner.

Devois was told to “take a step back and talk reality.”

“No lawyer in their right mind is going to waste time on a game that made less than $200 on Kickstarter,” Goldner wrote. “We aren’t afraid of attorneys, Kelsey, I work with them everyday. No need to come in with a grenade.”

Goldner says he is in law school and alludes to it frequently in his correspondence with Devois.

Devois said she wasn’t seeking her trademark back. She wrote to Goldner that it wasn’t her intention to be confrontational but she hadn’t received any response to her previous queries and felt a direct message was necessary.

Goldner responded that he was terminating the contract and she wouldn’t be paid anything.

“If you want to get another party involved for $500 I can tell you on principal alone I’d pay thousands to not give you a dollar if that’s your motivation,” he said. “We can part ways amicably or we can fight for fun and pay lawyers. Your call.”

But the $500 wasn’t the only thing on Devois’s mind when she filed a claim in a New York state small claims court on Oct. 12, 2019.

“I was like OK, if you’re going to play this game, this is personal to me,” Devois said. “They [were] just pretending like it’s nothing because it’s not their game.”

When Goldner saw a suit had been filed, he sent a threatening email to Devois telling her to get her “head out of the clouds.”

“You need a reality check. Don’t fight with fire, you’ll get burned. I could counter-sue you for wrongful suit. Learn the law.”

The People’s Court

Screenshot from YouTube

Three days later, The People’s Court emailed Devois asking her if she wanted to have the claim resolved on camera.

The showroom court is the third-highest-rated court show in the U.S. and presided over by retired Florida State judge Marilyn Milian. The show’s format requires both parties to sign a binding contract stating no lawyers are allowed to be present and that Milian’s ruling is final. In exchange, they are given free transportation and lodging. The show also promises to pay any financial costs from the decision.

Devois was flown out to New York for her appearance on Nov. 12. She said the format was very loose, with little direction beyond which side of the court to stand on.

The cameras started rolling almost immediately, a production member calling out, “And action!”

Judge Milian walked into the courtroom and asked Devois to tell her side of the story first.

Goldner followed, and tried to argue that he never gave Devois permission to sell her remaining copies of the game. Milian wasn’t buying it, according to Devois.

“She said, ‘The email’s right here with your name on it!’” Devois said. “[Milian] was so energetic and passionate about it. [She said], ‘You know what? You’re wrong. You’re the one that breached the contract!’”

Milian ruled that, because Goldner terminated the contract and refused to pay Devois $500, he was the offending party. She also ruled that because Goldner prematurely ended the deal, Devois was entitled to the rights back to her game.

“When I heard that, I was so excited, because that’s not even what I went to court for,” Devois said. “But here I am with my money and my game rights back.”

CEO fights to have episode pulled

Devois doesn’t know why Goldner accepted the show’s invitation, but his emails threatening litigation against her, Judge Milian and the show’s producers suggest he regrets the decision.

“Just to let you know you don’t have the rights to the game,” Goldner wrote. “The Judge erred and [made] a wrong ruling. You can’t have the money AND the rights back. I’m in law school Kelsey.”

Goldner goes on to allege Devois perjured herself and falsified documents.

He sent another email to the show’s producers claiming that he was tricked into a “dog and pony show… out to make us look like fools.” Goldner alleged that “hundreds and hundreds of pages” of evidence were ignored, and that he and his guests were intimidated by show security and could even claim false imprisonment. He wrote that Milian’s behavior amounted to an abuse of power that could have her sanctioned and disbarred.

But Goldner wrote that he is willing to let all of these charges go – along with the rights to the game – if he is guaranteed the show will not air.

Devois received assurance from Larry Verbit, a lawyer representing The People’s Court, that the issue has been resolved and she should refrain from any future correspondence with Goldner.

“In the event he ill-advisedly proceeds with any action… we will send a representative from the production as a witness in support of the final and binding contract to which you both agreed,” Verbit said. “I can tell you that in the last 23 years, in the extremely rare times a disgruntled litigant has tried to pursue their claim through further litigation, that person lost and our final and binding arbitration has been found valid and binding.”

Goldner’s legal threats to the show were successful in one aspect. Because the initial suit was only for $500, Devois was informed the show would be retracting the ruling granting her trademark rights back and could only rule on the initial claim. But she was told that any other court would recognize that Goldner “sealed his fate” when he terminated the contract.

At this point, though, the CEO seems to care more about his public image than the rights.

Goldner’s most recent email to Devois contained no threats, and promised to let go of the trademark in any future legal proceedings, “if we can all agree to tell People’s Court not to air the segment.”

Devois never responded.

The episode is set to air in April 2020.

RELATED: $2.9 million judgment in B.C. blueberry farm sabotage lawsuit

RELATED: Singer Remy Ma arrested in NYC for punching reality TV co-star


@portmoodypigeon
patrick.penner@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Green Point Campground saw an unprecedented flurry of reservations last week. (Pacific Rim National Park Reserve photo)
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s campground sees ‘unprecedented’ interest as reservations open

Green Point Campground is scheduled to open from May 1 – Oct. 12 this year.

Kale is a classic in West Coast gardens.
COLUMN: Kale reigns supreme in West Coast gardens

In Tofino and Ucluelet, kale is a classic.

(B.C. Government photo)
POLL QUESTION: Are you in favour of B.C.’s three-week ban on in-restaurant dining?

Dr. Bonnie Henry called the three week stoppage a “circuit breaker”

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

Theatre manager Sophie L’Homme is ecstatic to share the news that Tofino’s aging Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre is finally getting upgrades. (Nora O’Malley photo)
BC Arts grant funding breathes new life into Tofino’s community theatre

“Once it’s done, it’s going to be a pride of the town.”

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Most Read