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How to I get my property back that someone refuses to return?

Burlington, VT |

The property is film footage and vhs tapes crucial for a documentary film I am working on. I will file a police report. What else can I do?

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Attorney answers 5


It is unlikely filing a police report will get you very far unless the holder of the property didn't come into possession lawfully. If it's a cameraman, editor or other worker on the film, they probably won't do anything.

A strongly worded demand letter from your lawyer might get you the footage back, but if the other side is determined to hold on, your remedies will be found in the Courts.

Of course if you owe money to the person who's withholding the footage, you will likely be countersued.

DO NOT ENGAGE IN ANY KIND OF SELF-HELP. I've seen people break into the person's house or car, or otherwise "steal" back their footage, or even engage in extortion, and it's never a good situation. Jail is a definite possibility, if you try this


It depends. If the other party has a potential claim to the material and didn't actually steal it from your home (or something similarly nefarious) then it's not really a police matter, but a civil one. As the prior poster said, hire a good lawyer and send a demand letter requesting the return of the material. If that doesn't work, file a lawsuit demanding the return of your personal property. If the need is urgent and you have clear proof of wrongdoing by the party in possession of the material, you might be able to get a TRO issued either turning over the material to you or (if exclusive rights are in dispute) allowing you access to it for copying purposes. I wouldn't hold my breath on getting a TRO, though.


I agree with my colleagues and suggest you don't waste your time or the policepeople in what is obviously not a criminal matter.

Your litigation remedy is a civil suit for "converting" your personal property that you own and that this person has no rights to. Note that if this is a co-authorship issue, or an issue of e.g., an editor who hasn't been paid for their work, then the element of whether or not they have rights to possess the property becomes complicated quickly. Conversion comes with the threat of punitive damages, so it might be worth your while to hire a lawyer to assert your rights.

Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.


If "someone" is the photographer, it is not clear that the footage is your property or that you have any right to such return. If you are the "photographer", you likely do.

Your remedy is to file a suit for conversion of property with a request for expedited hearing and an order that they be returned. You will need a Vermont lawyer for that if "someone" is in VT or has the footage in VT, otherwise you may need a local lawyer where "someone" is domiciled.

As noted by my colleague, do not even think about "self-help" or "vigilante justice" as that makes you the bad guy (and possibly a criminal) and, besides, bad guys tend to lose in court.

So far, this is free to you. Until you pay a fee, I am not your lawyer and you are not my client, so you take any free advice at your sole risk. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.


Without knowing more information, I could not begin to advise you. Filing a police report is only appropriate if a crime has been committed, and I would need to know far more information about the facts and circumstances before knowing whether a crime was committed. Often situations like this arise when there is a dispute over one of two things---authorship or money. As someone who occasionally handles criminal law matters relating to intellectual property rights, it is at least conceivable that crimes have been committed. But it is far more likely that you are involved in a civil dispute of some kind.

One of the most important issues here is why you do not have possession footage and VHS tapes. Unless there is a written agreement, the photographer or videographer owns the copyrights in footage and tapes. If you are not the photographer and there is no written agreement, you will have great difficulty showing that the materials belong to you. As a legal matter, you may be incorrect when you assert that the materials constitute your "property". Before advising you I would need to know how these materials were created, what role you played in creating the materials, and why you don't currently possess them. Is there a dispute that you owe someone money?

Also, before considering whether you have a claim, we would need to discuss whether you have suffered actual damages and if so, how much. And of course--you have a duty to mitigate your damages---if there are alternative ways to obtain the footage that you need, at low cost, you may be required to do so since otherwise your claim for damages might not be successful. The bottom line is this--you clear need to retain counsel if you wish to pursue this matter.

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