Real-World Implications of Digital Forensics: ​The Purge Lawsuit

Universal Pictures, Platinum Dunes Productions and screenwriter James DeMonaco are currently in the midst of a copyright lawsuit based on the dystopian-thriller franchise “The Purge”. Recently, new developments from the plaintiff, Douglas Jordan-Benel, may show that emails provided in discovery by the defense were manipulated. Here, the digital forensic experts at Atlantic Data Forensics discuss the lawsuit, latest developments and key takeaways regarding digital forensics.

An Overview of The Purge Lawsuit

In 2015, Douglas Jordan-Benel filed suit against the creator of the Purge franchise, James DeMonaco, claiming DeMonaco stole the idea for the franchise and now TV-series from Jordan-Benel’s screenplay, Settler’s Day. Jordan-Benel claims he submitted his screenplay to two agents, David Kramer and Emerson Davis, of United Talent Agency (UTA) under the assertion that he would be compensated for his idea should it be used. The plaintiff claims that UTA breached this implied contract and broke copyright infringement laws when they instead passed the concept on to DeMonaco, who is also represented by a UTA agent, Charlie Ferraro.

The studios that produced the franchise, Universal Pictures and Platinum Dunes Productions, as well as DeMonaco, attempted to end the suit with an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion and an appeal, but both attempts proved unsuccessful. The lawsuit was allowed to move forward, and the defense then sought to prove that The Purge concept was independently developed.

Concerns Over Manipulated Email Timestamps Emerge

During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, Jordan-Benel’s legal representatives found discrepancies in physical copies of emails that DeMonaco’s team had provided, leading them to believe that the timestamps on the emails had been manipulated in order to establish an earlier creation of the film. According to the plaintiff, some emails provided by DeMonaco from 2009 have a “last modified” date of October 29, 2015, which indicate that the emails had been modified after the lawsuit had been filed. Other emails show a modification date decades into the future—February 6, 2106.

In August of 2018, the plaintiff asked U.S. District Judge Michael Wilner to order the defendants to produce the original electronic versions of DeMonaco’s emails to determine whether the metadata derived from the e-mails and other files in native format would prove the emails to be illegitimate. They also requested the ability to have a forensic imaging of DeMonaco’s electronic equipment performed.

Judge Orders The Purge Creator to Turn Over Electronic Evidence

After a two-day evidentiary hearing, Judge Wilner granted the defense’s request and ordered the plaintiff to provide the original electronic versions of his emails to the defense for analysis. Judge Wilner wrote, “Additional information has potential relevance to establishing the legitimacy and provenance of those records…that metadata has a considerable likelihood of resolving the issues of alleged fakery.”

Key Digital Forensic Takeaways

Our motto at Atlantic Data Forensics is, “In Data There is Truth.” While Douglas Jordan-Benel is still a long way from proving that James DeMonaco is guilty of copyright infringement, it is certain that once DeMonaco hands over the original electronic version of his emails, the truth of whether the emails were manipulated will be made clear. While digital evidence can be manipulated, faked or forged, the reality is that the original version of electronic evidence is likely to continue to persist in some form. With the help of an experienced digital forensics team, an individual or business that wishes to verify the authenticity of electronic evidence can do so in a quick, accurate and effective manner. The digital forensic professionals at Atlantic Data Forensics are experts in the field of digital forensics and cyber security and have years of experience providing expert testimony pertaining to digital matters in court. Their experts have testified and participated in legal matters both large and small, private and corporate, to help achieve favorable outcomes for their clients. To learn more about how Atlantic Data Forensics can help, contact us today.

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