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NY State Is Trying to Stop a Fake Heiress From Profiting Off a Netflix Series About Her Crimes

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  • Anna Sorokin, the woman who pretended to be a Germain heiress to swindle banks, restaurants, hotels, and others out of thousands, agreed to a deal with Netflix to make a series about her crimes.
  • The deal would give her $100,000 for her story, as well as a $15,000-per-episode consulting fee and $7,500 in royalties per episode.
  • New York state is now working to stop Netflix from paying her, pointing to the “Son of Sam” law which was created to prevent criminals from profiting off their crimes.

Who is Anna Sorokin?

The state of New York is working to stop Netflix from paying fake heiress Anna Sorokin more than $100,000 to use her story for an upcoming series about her notorious scam. 

Sorokin, who was known in social circles as “Anna Delvey,” moved to New York City in 2013, claiming to be a German heiress with a $60 million trust fund. She lived in luxurious hotels for months at a time, ate at swanky restaurants, attended exclusive parties, and wore designer clothes.

But Sorokin, who was actually born to a middle-class family in Russia, frauded her way through life. According to prosecutors, she forged financial statements, made up accountants, and lied about wire transfers to get out of paying money that she owed to businesses, friends, and other socialites. 

The fake heiress, dubbed by the media as the “SoHo Scammer,” was arrested in 2017 and sentenced in May 2018 to four to 12 years in prison for multiple counts of theft and grand larceny. 

According to court documents, she was also ordered to pay $198,956.19 in restitution to the victims of her scam. Victims included hotels like The Beekman and the W New York, a private jet and helicopter service called Blade, and even City National Bank, who she managed to dupe into giving her a $100,000 loan to launch a private art club in Manhattan. 

Netflix Deal

Sorokin’s story picked up widespread attention in the summer of 2018 when Vanity Fair and The Cut published stories about her. HBO and Netflix later began working on projects about her as well, with Lena Dunham behind the HBO project and Shonda Rhimes behind the Netflix series. 

According to a new report by the New York Post, Netflix acquired the rights to Sorokin’s life story in June of 2018, months after her arrest, but before her trial began. The New York Times also reported that this was part of a larger deal to buy the rights to information detailed in an article published by New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler in May 2018. 

Netflix’s contract with Sorokin allegedly gives her $100,000 for her story, along with a $15,000 per episode consultant fee, and $7,500 in royalties per episode, the Post reported citing court documents.

New York State Gets Involved 

The Post also reported that the first payout was $30,000 that went directly to Sorokin’s lawyer. Now New York State is trying to stop Sorokin from getting any money from Netflix for herself.  

In late May, the office of the New York State attorney general filed a request to block a $70,000 payment from Netflix that Sorokin was set to receive in June. The state cited the “Son of Sam” law, which is designed to stop criminals from profiting off publicity around their crimes. That legislation passed in 1977, after many speculated that a notorious serial killer might sell his story to a writer or filmmaker. 

Along with blocking the $70,000 payment, Attorney General Letitia James is also working to stop Sorokin from earning the consultant and royalty fees. On top of that, a judge in Albany temporarily ordered Netflix to not pay Sorokin until the matter is settled through litigation, except for the $30,000 for her attorney’s unpaid legal fees, according to court records obtained by the Times. 

“The monies sought to be preserved herein, constitute ‘profits from a crime,'” Assistant Attorney General Adele Durand wrote in recently-filed court papers cited by the Post.

Instead, Durand said the proceeds of Sorokin’s Netflix deal should be donated to the New York State Office of Victim Services, for redistribution to the people impacted by her crimes. 

Todd Spodek, Sorokin’s lawyer told the Times: “It has always been Ms. Sorokin’s intention to pay back her victims.”

“I anticipate resolving the issue without further litigation,” he added. 

This is somewhat similar to what Sorokin said to the Times in a jailhouse interview from May. According to the newspaper, she said she always had the intention to pay the money back and had been trying to raise millions for a social club she thought would be a lucrative investment. 

However, in that same interview, she admitted that she was not actually sorry for duping her victims.“I’d be lying to you and to everyone else and to myself if I said I was sorry for anything,” she said. “I regret the way I went about certain things.”

The Times also reported: “Ms. Sorokin was asked if, given the chance, she would do the same things again. Ms. Sorokin shrugged. ‘Yes, probably so,’ she said, laughing.”

As of now, the Netflix series is still in development. As far as the HBO production, that deal was struck with one Sorokin’s victims, former Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel Williams, who Sorokin stuck with a 62,000 bill for a trip to Morocco. Williams also published a book about her experience with Sorokin that was released on Tuesday.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The New York Post)  (Business Insider

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Bruce Willis Denies Rumors He Sold His Likeness For Deepfake Use

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Deepfakes face criticism from Hollywood to social media.


Willis Debunks Rumors

Actor Bruce Willis denied rumors over the weekend that he sold his likeness to the deepfake company DeepCake. 

Willis agreed last year for his face to be used in a commercial for a Russian telecoms company. For this commercial, DeepCake digitally edited Willis’ face onto a Russian actor. This sparked rumors that Willis had sold the rights to his likeness for the company to use in future projects. 

However, both management for Willis and DeepCake itself denied any partnership or agreement for these rights.

“Bruce couldn’t sell anyone any rights, they are his by default,” DeepCake said.

Agreements for the AI generation of actors have been heard of before, however. Recently, actor James Earl Jones agreed for his voice to be technologically generated for the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise. 

Deepfakes Online

This comes as deepfakes are facing mounting criticism online, including from prominent YouTube personality and author, Hank Green. He recently tweeted about a channel that uses similar deepfake technology and AI-voice generation to parody popular YouTube creators. He stressed his concern that while the channel in question may not be nefarious, this technology could end up being harmful. 

“There are ways to do this that would be much worse, more mean spirited, and more exploitative than this,” Green said. “And I’m very worried about what that will look like, because if this is working (and allowed), people will do it.”

Among other issues, Green mentioned these videos could abuse monetization and sponsorship opportunities while exploiting someone else’s face and brand. Green even implored YouTube to evaluate its terms of service as the popularity of deepfakes rise. 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Mashable) (The Telegraph)

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Thousands of Students at Nearly 100 Virginia Schools Staged Walkout Over Anti-Trans Policies

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More than 20,000 comments have been submitted to the Virginia Department of Education over the rules.


The Walkout

Public high school students in Virginia are protesting new Department of Education guidelines issued by Gov. Glenn Youngkin that could impact transgender students.

Among other measures, the guidelines dictate that a student will only be referred to by the name, sex, and pronouns listed in the district’s official records. The only way to change the records is by written request from the student’s parent or guardian. 

Students would also require a court order or legal documentation if they want to be referred to by a different preferred name.

Versions of these guidelines are set to be adopted across the 133 school districts in the state after the 30-day comments period expires in late October.

This prompted more than 12,000 students in nearly 100 schools across Virginia to participate in a walk-out in protest on Tuesday.

“Our main goal is to ensure that we get enough pushback to these regulations so that they don’t get passed, and even if they do get passed, that school boards will be under enough pressure to reject them,” one lead organizer said.

Concerns About Guidelines

Supporters of the guidelines believe these policies will give rights back to parents by keeping them informed about and responsible for this aspect of their children’s lives.

“The guidelines make it clear that when parents are part of the process, schools will accommodate the requests of children and their families,” a spokesperson from Governor Youngkin’s office said. “Parents should be a part of their children’s lives, and it’s apparent through the public protests and on-camera interviews that those objecting to the guidance already have their parents as part of that conversation.”

Students and others who oppose the measures fear they could lead to bullying or harassment of trans students, who might not be able to go by their chosen gender and name while in class.

As of the evening of Tuesday, more than 20,000 comments have been submitted to the Virginia DOE. Upon closing the comment period on Oct. 26, staff at the DOE will review submissions and recommend any changes necessary to the draft. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (USA Today) (Guardian)


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Actor James Earl Jones Gave Green-Light for His Voice to be AI-Generated in “Star Wars” Properties

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What does this mean for the future of actors and AI in movies?


James Earl Jones Hangs Up His Hat

At the age of 91, actor James Earl Jones has decided to step back from his role as Darth Vader in the famous “Star Wars” trilogy, allowing Skywalker Sound to use voice archives to create AI-generated dialogue for the character in appearances moving forward.

For the prequel series on Disney+, “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Skywalker Sound hired the Ukraine-based startup Respeecher to craft the dialogue using their AI technology and Jones’s recordings from previous performances. Essentially, they take the recordings and “teach” an AI how to replicate the patterns and tone of Darth Vader that scared so many for so many years. 

AI in Hollywood

AI voices have been a point of controversy for a while. For example, “Roadrunner,” the documentary about the late Anthony Bourdain, used AI technology to replicate Bourdain’s voice, reading letters he had written during his life. This sparked backlash online from those who found it unethical to use someone’s voice posthumously. 

“Star Wars” has gone beyond generating just voices — using AI to achieve a variety of feats. In 2016’s “Rogue One,” filmmakers digitally resurrected Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. In the same movie, they used CGI to put Carrie Fisher’s face on a double. They later used the same method after she passed away.

That same CGI was also recently used to digitally de-age Mark Hamill for his role as Luke Skywalker in the Disney+ show “The Book of Boba Fett.”

It has not been confirmed if Jones will be paid for the continued use of his voice in this manner, but his family did say they were pleased with the work done on “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

See what others are saying: (Vanity Fair) (ABC News) (AV Club)

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