Proud Member of the “Rakofsky 74″
Rakofsky badge (by Amy Derby ©)
Recent Posts
Subscribe via email


Technology 4 Lives

Archive for the ‘Intriguing Legal Theories’ Category

The Oatmeal redefines legal badassery

This is how you do it.

1. Create a brilliant web comic with thousands of fans.

2. Keep tabs on unauthorized redistribution of your own intellectual property on the web.

3. Identify websites that profit from unauthorized, unattributed copies of your work. Contact them regarding the copyright infringement.

4. When the infringement doesn’t stop, write a factual, sourced, entertaining blog post detailing the activities of one of said websites. Get the website to remove your stuff.

5. Wait about a year.

6. Receive a letter alleging defamation against said website from a lawyer whose main claim to fame is litigation over a porn site (not that there is anything wrong with that), demanding an unreasonable settlement.

7. Remain calm.

8. Respond with wit and sarcasm, remaining calm and clearly outlining a counteroffer.

9. Raise the demanded settlement amount online in sixty-four minutes.

10. Continue raising orders of magnitude more than the originally demanded amount.

11. Sit back and allow the world to marvel at your epic pwnage.

Share

Crystal Cox is Getting So Much Free Speech Coming at Her, She Probably Got Some in Her Eye

Redwood sunlight by NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThere is not much I can add to the saga of Crystal Cox except for a few dirty puns. The bottom line of this story is that a “blogger” is not always a journalist. Sometimes a “blogger” is just an extortionist. I will relate the story by shamelessly quoting from better legal bloggers.

A good summary, in dramatic form, of how Crystal Cox operates comes to us from Jordan Rushie:

Imagine this…. you Google yourself. To your surprise, a whole bunch of stuff that is blatantly untrue comes up. Being an adult, you call the person who wrote it. This is how the conversation goes down:

“Did you write all that stuff on a website about me?”
“Yup. I’m an investigative blogger journalist!”
“Um, a bunch of the stuff you wrote about me is untrue. Actually all of it is.”
“Oh sure, I know. But I’m a journalist blogger so I can say whatever I want. First Amendment, bitch! But tell you what – I’m also reputation manager. If you pay me $2,500 a month, I’m sure a lot of that untrue stuff would go away.”
“Uhhhhhh… wait a second. You wrote a bunch of stuff that’s untrue about me. And now you’ll only take it down if I pay you?”
“Yup! And if you DON’T pay me it’s going to get worse! I’m going to buy a bunch of domain names that involve you and your family. Not only will I smear your reputation, but I’ll smear theirs, too! I’ll write all kinds of stuff, like call your wife a slut! I’ll even go after your four year old child!”
“That’s extortion!”
“No silly, it’s not extortion! It’s journalism! Investigative journalism!”

You’re probably saying to yourself “nah, that couldn’t happen. That’s illegal. A person could get in a lot of trouble for doing something so irresponsible and probably illegal.”

Too bad that’s exactly what Crystal Cox did. Twice now. Maybe more.

Crystal Cox first came to the public’s attention last year, when a judge ruled against her in a defamation suit and ordered her to pay $2.5 million. After some hand-wringing over what this might mean for other bloggers, it eventually became clear that Crystal Cox actually runs an online, reputation-based protection racket. That is many things, but it ain’t journalism.

At the heart of the current kerfuffle is first amendment bad-ass Marc Randazza (Full disclosure: he’s my lawyer in this thing I’ve got going on. That’s how I know he is a bad-ass.) When Crystal Cox did not get what she wanted from Marc Randazza, she went after him by registering dopey domain names like marcrandazzasucks.com. When that didn’t work, she went after his family, registering domains in the name of his wife and three-year-old daughter.

This is not a valiant warrior fighting the forces of darkness to defend freedom of speech. While it may be true that the front-line warriors for free speech (and I mean the speakers themselves, not their attorneys), are often ultimately fighting to clear the way for people who actually have something useful to say, Crystal Cox doesn’t even fit that description. She is not a reporter, journalist, or even the kind of blogger who just regurgitates other people’s news in a restated format (something about which I know a thing or two.) She is not a blogger in any meaningful, useful, constructive sense. She is a thug, nothing more, as court documents and her own statements and actions amply demonstrate.

Trying to shut her down is not necessarily the answer, though. In some ways, it is helpful to know that people like her are out there. As Marc Randazza says: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant. The cure for bad speech is more speech.”

Consider this my ray of sunshine.

Photo credit: Redwood sunlight by NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Share

Taking Down the Trolls – UPDATED

As part of my ongoing coverage of my experiences at South by Southwest Interactive 2012, here is a my recap of a session from this morning entitled “The Undoing of Copyright Trolls” (#UndoTrolls on Twitter). Here is a recap of my notes on the session:

I've had my own run-ins with some pretty big trolls

I've had my own run-ins with some pretty big trolls

The session was conducted by Robert A. Spanner, president of the Trial & Technology Law Group. Copyright trolls, a relatively new phenomenon, acquire copyrighted material or work for someone with copyrighted material. They then go on the internet & look for people using that material. When they find someone they think has posted infringing material, they shake them down for money. The troll’s role, in essence, is that of an extortionist.

He says the problem began with production and record companies that gave the impression that infringement was a capital crime. If the public thinks copyright is extremely serious, this makes copyright trolls’ job much easier because people are more likely to cave in to demands.

Here are a couple examples of people who take a different view of copyright:
Angry Birds: the owner of these universally-recognized images views copyright infringement as free additional exposure for his products.
Neil Young thinks distributing music over the internet has taken the place of radio, meaning it is the best way for new music to quickly get wide exposure.

The most famous copyright troll is Righthaven, a company Spanner says was created specifically to be a copyright troll. Righthaven apparently acquired all of the production from the last several years of a Las Vegas newspaper. Its agents would locate infringing material online and attack.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allowed them to subpoena user info from the ISP to find out who posted an image. The troll has to provide certain info to get the subpoena. Trolls, Spanner says, are not very good at filling out the paperwork to get the subpoena. They have to pursue these cases in volume for business reasons, so they don’t always pay close attention to the paperwork. Trolls, he says, “say the darnedest things” in these papers.

Two documents required by the statute: a declaration of infringing material, identifying the material with some particularity, and a statement of copyright owner. These two documents, as filed by a copyright troll, often conflict with each other. Usually, they are full of misstatements. The trolls “learned their tactics in the sewer,” according to Spanner.

Once he files and wins a motion to quash the subpoena against the troll, the case should get thrown out for lack of evidence. The next step after getting a motion to quash granted is for the defendant to take down the offending material. This really screws the troll.

If the troll claims an error in the first petition, it must submit a revised request for a subpoena or drop the matter entirely. The troll has to identify the infringing material. If the material is taken down, the troll has nothing to claim. The troll has to show current use of the infringing material, which troll now cannot do. The troll also has to show that they have given the ISP enough information to locate and remove the infringing material, which the troll also cannot do. As a result the case gets thrown out a second time.

Courts have held that, if the troll fails to meet these statutory requirements, the case must be thrown out. Therefore, Spanner argues, if you can get past the first subpoena, you have a defense to copyright infringement under the DMCA.

At this point an audience member asked a question re: why Righthaven is called a “troll.” Spanner answered that trolls are only interested in collecting money, not so much in enforcing copyrights. It is not the fact that they are enforcing copyrights, in and of itself, that’s the problem. It’s that, according to Spanner, they do it so badly. Trolls have no interest in litigating. They may even drop defendants from a suit if it gets too hard, but they also tend to file mass suits against thousands of defendants with disparate circumstances, because it is more efficient than filing separate suits..

Now that you beat the troll, Spanner asks, are you done with him? The troll can’t bring the case again, so it is a pretty clear victory. Spanner says a copyright lawyer should consider putting the troll out of business at this point. After losing a case in this way, a troll could be facing tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees. It would not take many such motions to put a troll out of business entirely. A motion for attorneys’ fees is what brought down Righthaven.

It is not generally known, says Spanner, that if you win at that first phase of the litigation (the DMCA subpoena), you win.

He spoke about mass troll cases as well, with hundreds or even thousands of defendants accused of BitTorrenting movies. Some pretty cool software detects BitTorrent users in the stream of the internet. It is apparently rare to see a BitTorrent case without thousands of defendants. From the troll’s point of view, if 10% each pay $3,000 to avoid hundreds of thousands in statutory damages, the troll will get rich.

Spanner cited two cases of mass cases that did not go well for the troll. In a case in Fort Worth, Texas the ISP filed an elaborate motion to dismiss the troll’s subpoena. This was a nightmare for the troll, who just wanted to get money quickly. In a case involving the movie “Call of the Wild,” a troll filed suit over five different movies, naming more than 5,700 defendants. All of the defendants were sued in D.C., despite the fact that they were from literally everywhere. Even movie companies called it improper joinder. The judge allowed discovery to determine if joinder of all of the defendants in D.C. was improper. Eventually, after an extensive search, troll could only find 3 people out of 5,700.

I asked about what specific rights the trolls acquire for the copyrighted material, i.e. do they acquire the rights to enforce the copyright and collect royalties, or just enforcement? I’m not even sure how that would work, but it occurred to me that, if it is possible to only acquire the enforcement rights (or whatever they would be called), that would create an odd situation where a party is enforcing a right without actually suffering a harm, in the sense that the enforcement rights holder doesn’t actually lose anything due to the alleged infringement. Turns out it is not always clear what rights the troll obtains–these cases seem very unusual. I’m glad I learned this stuff, but that’s about it for me on this issue.

UPDATE (03/13/2012): It sounds like Righthaven is pretty much f***ed (via Wired):

Righthaven, a copyright-troll law firm that failed in its attempt to make money for newspapers by suing readers for sharing stories online, was dealt a death blow Tuesday by a federal judge who ordered the Las Vegas company to forfeit “all of” its intellectual property and other “intangible property” to settle its debts.

The order is an ironic twist to a copyright trolling saga that began in 2010, when Righthaven was formed with the idea of suing blogs and websites that re-post newspaper articles or snippets of them without permission.

U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro of Nevada ordered Righthaven to surrender for auction the 278 copyrighted news articles that were the subject of its lawsuits.

Share

Rich Guy Does Something Creepy: Deluxe Edition

Polo playersJust sit with this story for a while:

A wealthy Florida man has adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend as a daughter in a move critics say will protect the man’s assets during an upcoming lawsuit surrounding a deadly car accident.

Polo Club Palm Beach founder John Goodman, 48, adopted his longtime partner Heather Laruso Hutchins in October, The Palm Beach Post reports.

The strategy could shore up Goodman’s wealth as he confronts a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Scott Patrick Wilson, The Associated Press says. Wilson was killed in 2010 when Goodman allegedly ran a stop sign. The trial begins March 27.

Goodman had previously set up a trust for his two minor children. If Wilson’s parents win their civil suit, they cannot receive any compensation from the trust, The Post reports.

Hutchins, as Goodman’s third legal child, is now entitled to a third of the money in the trust. However, another court could later rule that Hutchins isn’t entitled to a share of the trust, Fox News reports.

A lawyer for the Wilson family claims it’s a ploy for Goodman to keep money for himself. But Dan Bachi, Goodman’s lawyer, told The Palm Beach Post, the adoption is to guarantee his children’s future and denied that it was spurred by the lawsuit.

He’s now dating his daughter. There, I said it. Based on my reading of Florida criminal statutes, this does not legally constitute that thing that begins with the letter “i.” It still seems creepy. And opportunistic. Also, what happens if they break up?

Photo credit: By Siddha (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Share

Lactation is not a medical condition related to pregnancy, says Houston federal judge

Manual Breast Pump 2005 SeanMcCleanTexas once again distinguishes itself in the legal field. I sure do wish Texas would stop doing that.

U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes of the Southern District of Texas recently granted summary judgment to a defendant in an employment discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of  Donnicia Venters. In a nutshell, Venters had worked at Houston Funding for about two years when she took maternity leave on December 1, 2008. While on leave, she says that she communicated regularly with her direct supervisor, asking if she would be allowed to use a back room of the office to use a breast pump while on breaks. She specifically wanted to use a back room that afforded privacy. She claims that the vice president in charge of such a decision reacted rather negatively, and that she learned she had been laid off when she attempted to go back to work in February 2009.

The EEOC filed suit against Houston Funding on her behalf, claiming that the company fired her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on a number of grounds including gender. Discriminating against an employee due to pregnancy or a related condition is considered a form of gender discrimination prohibited by Title VII.

Houston Funding countered that it fired Venters because she “abandoned” her job. The company claimed that she did not stay in contact with the relevant supervisors, and that after several months, a meeting was held and the decision was made to fire her. She learned of this on or about February 17 when she tried to return to work.

Judge Hughes, in granting summary judgment to Houston Funding, seemed to agree with their account of events. Nevertheless, the judge ruled that Houston Funding’s actions would not constitute discrimination whether they actually occurred or not. The statute only covers discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition,” he wrote in his opinion. A “related medical condition” could include “cramping, dizziness, and nausea while pregnant” (emphasis added). Since Venters “gave birth on December 11, 2009 [sic]…she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended.”

This is a rather strict reading of the statute. He seems to think that “or related medical conditions” only applies to “pregnancy” and not “childbirth,” which seems overly restrictive. My federal civil procedure is rusty, but it seems like there is a genuine issue of fact as to why the company fired her. He skips right over that and makes a blanket ruling that lactation is not a “medical condition” “related to” pregnancy or childbirth. I have a distinct feeling that many, many people who have directly experienced both pregnancy and childbirth will take issue with this characterization.

Of course, in a world where a significant number of lawmakers seem to think a medically-unnecessary invasive procedure that has put the word “transvaginal” into the national lexicon is hunky-dory, maybe I should not be surprised that a judge thinks he can redefine the medical processes of pregnancy.

Photo credit: SeanMack at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

Share

Breach Ben Stein’s Contract (Allegedly)

Kyocera wanted a pitchman for some electronic product they are selling. They approached Ben Stein, who was in a funny scene in a movie 26 years ago, had a Comedy Central game show that launched the career of Jimmy Kimmel, and who has otherwise been a colossal embarrassment to all that is intellectually honest. They offered him $300,000 to appear in some commercials or something. Somehow, it took Kyocera three months to figure out that Ben Stein holds positions that are rather counter to the scientific mainstream (but that make him a darling, I’m sure, on the Republican cocktail party circuit) on the non-question of man-made climate change. So they withdrew their offer to him.

I have a few concerns about Kyocera here, in that they are an electronics company that apparently does not know how to Google someone.

The bigger issue is this: faced with the withdrawal of a proposed contract still under negotiation, Ben Stein sued, claiming not only breach of contract but violation of his religious liberties.

The complaint, filed on January 11, 2012, alleges that a valid contract exists between Stein and Kyocera because there had been both “offer” and “acceptance.” He claims that, although the parties had not signed a final contract, their agreement is nonetheless legally binding, in part because he had already changed his plans to accomodate Kyocera.

This sounds more like promissory estoppel to me than breach of contract, but that wouldn’t get him the full $300,000 value of the contract in damages. Still, any first-year law student will tell you that “offer” and “acceptance,” in addition to “consideration,” are fundamental components of a binding contract. (Second-year law students might tell you that it is a little more complicated than just that, but go with me here.) I therefore cannot categorically or snarkily dismiss a breach of contract claim in this case.

I can, however, snarkily dismiss his claim for “wrongful discharge in violation of fundamental public policy,” in which he claims that Kyocera’s withdrawal of their offer discriminates against him for his religious beliefs. He is basically asking the government to tell a business what to do on a matter (in his mind) of religious conscience. Don’t Republicans generally oppose that?

At least Stein has the honesty to admit that his questioning of anthropogenic global warming is based on religious doctrine and not any sort of scientific knowledge. I wonder if that was a deliberate admission on his part.

He throws in a claim for “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” because adhering to basic scientific knowledge obviously hurts his fee-fees.

This case has the hypothetical potential to put global warming denialism on trial, given that Stein either has to demonstrate that Kyocera dishonestly discriminated against a legitimate difference of scientific opinion, or he has to come right out and say it’s a religious doctrine and therefore not subject to the court’s (or Kyocera’s) review. Either way, science is likely to have a good day.

(h/t PZ Myers for the story)

Share

Not All Opinions are Created Equal: Martha Sperry, Frivolous Lawsuits, and the Impossibility of Arguing with Some People

“Why are people hating me for having my own opinion?”

Spend any significant amount of time engaging in discussions (arguments) on the internet and you will hear this. This is different from a situation with two people reaching an impasse between two opposing viewpoints. This refers to a person who basically refuses to defend their position, preferring to demand respect for an opinion because dammit, it’s their opinion.

I have yet to encounter a situation where it is not a craven attempt by someone who cannot defend their position to cast the attention back on the person who is kicking their butt. “No, I can’t defend what I am saying but you’re being mean!!!1!!!” is mostly how it goes.

I signed up for a Disqus account last week, and my third comment left on a blog thread garnered this response. I think this must be a record, but I do not expect any sort of prize.

It bothers me as an attorney (albeit an infrequently-practicing one), a blogger, a writer, and one who just enjoys a good argument now and then. It bothers me because it’s dishonest. No one hates you for having your own opinion, so don’t be so damn dramatic.

It bothers me because it is lazy. The argument is not going your way, so you are going to punt back to the other side.

Most of all, it bothers me for reasons that go beyond dishonesty. Trying to end an argument by appealing to some equitable notion that “everyone is entitled to their opinion” does not even deserve to be called “wrong,” because (and I cannot say this adamantly enough) not all opinions are created equal, and opinions are not worthy of respect or consideration if the opinion holder cannot or will not make an effort to defend them rationally and objectively.

This is why there can be no “honest” differences of opinion over the scientific theory of evolution versus ideas like creationism or its bastard stepchild, intelligent design, because their proponents are either ignorant of, or choose to ignore, highly relevant facts.

Let me be clear: people are free, thanks to the First Amendment, to state nearly any opinion they want, however crazy or groundless it may be. They are not free from challenge or criticism. In fact, challenge and criticism are essential to anyone learning anything, ever. Should those critics be polite? Sure, but honesty and integrity are much more important.

In a certain lawsuit brought against me and a number of media companies, lawyers, and bloggers by a certain young lawyer who Shall Not Be Named, news of a new settlement has surfaced. Back in December, an apology of sorts appeared on the blog of one Martha Sperry, along with some none-too-subtle swipes at people who would dare to use their blogs to call things as they see them and fight against frivolous lawsuits (an earlier almost-retraction appeared in October 2011). Other legal bloggers have addressed this quite admirably–I would direct you to Crime and Federalism‘s take-down of her apology for some excellent commentary.

Sperry’s blog post, aside from demonstrating a remarkable unwillingness to stand up for herself, also includes commentary from a few of my co-defendants taking her to task. Her responses invariably return to “I have my opinion and you have yours, so can’t we all just have ice cream?” I’m paraphrasing. Here’s a bit of what she actually said:

At this point, the matter seems more about tearing things down rather than building things up. And I fail to see the point of that.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion and I honor that.

I don’t know Martha Sperry, and I am sure she has her reasons for curling up in a ball and whimpering in response to a frivolous, meritless, groundless, jurisdictionless lawsuit, whatever those reasons may be. Her most recent comments to her blog post suggest that she remains a defendant in the lawsuit by He Who Shall Not Be Named (which makes her post all the more puzzling). At the end of the day, I don’t care if she settles with the plaintiff, or if she sells off all the assets of her business, moves to the South Pole, and tries to live as a penguin. I only care to the extent that it makes fighting for my own First Amendment rights (and by extension, hers) more difficult.

I also only care to the extent that pretending that an acknowledgment that “different people have different points of view” counts as an argument. It is actually laziness of the highest order. I disagree with every fiber of my being that we should always focus on “building things up.” We should, however, always focus on truth. When our opinions do not help us come to a greater understanding of the truth, then they are worthless.

Share

Celebrating a Year of Censorship and Attempted Censorship!

This monkey wonders why people are such asshats to one another...The always-intriguing and entertaining Popehat has put out his nominees for the “Censorious Asshat of the Year,” and the field is indeed proud. I am of course reblogging this for reas0ns, but I invite my reader(s) to take a look at the whole list and marvel at the human capacity for inanity.

To those who would use our hallowed legal system to try to quiet the voices of  those who would dare to hurt their fee-fees, intentionally or not, I simply have this to say:

Photo credit: The Thinker… by law_keven on Flickr.

Share

The American judiciary is not an event-planning service

Caveat emptor. Just look it up.

Seriously, though, few things in life are probably as important as good wedding photos. Possibly food, and maybe oxygen, but wedding photos are a very close third.

So it should come as no surprise that, in the face of sub-par wedding photos, a groom would seek legal redress.

[O]ne groom, disappointed with his wedding photos, decided to sue. The photographers had missed the last dance and the bouquet toss, the groom, Todd J. Remis of Manhattan, said.

Actually, yes, it does come as a bit of a surprise, and here’s why:

[W]hat is striking, said the studio that took the pictures, is that Mr. Remis’s wedding took place in 2003 and he waited six years to sue. And not only has Mr. Remis demanded to be repaid the $4,100 cost of the photography, he also wants $48,000 to recreate the entire wedding and fly the principals to New York so the celebration can be re-shot by another photographer.

If that were all, this might be an amusing footnote to the history of human weirdness. But of course that’s not all.

Re-enacting the wedding may pose a particular challenge, the studio pointed out, because the couple divorced and the bride is believed to have moved back to her native Latvia.

In case you are wondering, Latvia is outside of the subpoena power of any New York state judge. I think it’s in Europe somewhere. A judge has already dismissed most of the claims, but will allow the breach of contract claim to continue. The photographer therefore likely has little risk of actually having to re-stage the wedding. Who could say what the damages would be for a breach of contract here, though? How does one put a price tag on an 8 year-old wedding that led to a divorce three years ago, with the wife moving to the other side of the planet?

History will decide. In the meantime, if you are looking to recapture memories of yore, bring your own camera and leave the courts out of it. Sheesh.

Share

Boobs and booze: In Utah, never the twain shall meet

Utah bars: sweater puppy free since 1896!

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has fined Brewvies Cinema Pub in Salt Lake City $1,627 for violating “attire and conduct” regulations. The offense? While serving alcohol, the bar showed the move “The Hangover Part II,” which features nudity, sexual content, and so on.

It’s tempting to mutter “crazy Mormons” under your breath and move on, but this merits a bit more examination. Also, I don’t know that this has anything to do with the peculiarities of Mormonism in particular, and I’d rather make this about dumb laws being enforced in a dumb way than about any sort of religious thing.

See, here’s the thing that sticks in my craw: the fine levied against Brewvies is $400 more than the fine levied against another Salt Lake City bar, Jam in the Marmalade [Ed.: Huh?], for serving alcohol to a minor.

Yes, serving booze in the presence of two-dimensional boobs can carry a greater penalty than serving alcohol to someone not of legal drinking age. Something is amiss here.

To their credit, the officials in charge of assessing and enforcing the fines seem less than thrilled with the situation (although that did not stop them from issuing the fine in the first place):

“I’m struggling with the concept that an adult beverage may be served but an adult movie cannot be shown at the same time,” said newly appointed [liquor-control] commissioner Constance White.

Commissioner David Gladwell said he had concerns with the “grave” offense levied against Brewvies. He noted that Jam in the Marmalade restaurant was slapped with a lesser “serious” offense involving service to an underage drinker.

So, maybe there is a chance at either leniency in this case after a little hue and cry, or maybe some basic common sense regarding future incidents of people daring to watch an R-rated movie with a beer. I would also point out that Brewvies describes itself as a “cinema pub,” and its name appears to be a mashup of “brew” and “movies.” This is what they do. If you make it so they can only show Disney movies, you’ve sort of missed the point of a cinema pub.

To the many people in Utah who are not crazy (you know who you are), I invite you to come visit Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse. They have good burgers, beer, and more nudity than you can shake a stick at. Interpret that last sentence however the hell you want.

Share