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SOPA and PIPA Are Bad

Update: KCCI just posted a great news story of me, countering arguments by PIPA/SOPA co-sponsor Sen. Charles Grassley. You can watch it here.

SOPA and PIPA Are Bad
There seems to be some confusion on this issue, so let me make it clear. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are bad. They are bad for you, bad for me, bad for anyone with a blog, a Facebook profile, or any other type of website. SOPA and PIPA are bad for anyone who uses the Internet.

Isn’t Stopping Infringers a Good Thing?

Yes, and ever since the Copyright Act of 1790, United States law has provided copyright owners with the tools they need to stop infringers. Not only that, but the entertainment industry has gotten many additional laws passed. These new laws not only increased the length of copyright protection from 28 years to 150 years or more, but addressed everything from downloading, to file sharing, to circumventing digital rights management (DRM) software. Needless to say, even without SOPA and PIPA, the entertainment industry has more than enough recent laws at its disposal to stop copyright infringers.

So What Are SOPA and PIPA All About?

What Congress and the entertainment industry want you to believe is that SOPA and PIPA are about stopping online piracy. They argue that it is still too difficult to target infringers who have moved their operations overseas. If passed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Attorney General to target the companies providing Internet service to alleged infringers. It would also force search engines and websites to remove links to allegedly infringing websites and allow seizure of advertising and other revenue coming from the United States. The reality is that SOPA would not work. It would do nothing to actually prevent people from accessing the alleged infringing overseas websites. Even if the domain name was filtered, people could just type in the Internet Protocol (IP) Address directly and access the website. Although SOPA will not stop people from accessing overseas websites, SOPA will stifle innovation and generate thousands of new lawsuits. SOPA will take money taxpayers and small companies are currently spending on innovation and redirect that money into the pockets of attorneys, hired by our government and the entertainment industries to stifle that innovation.

Why Have I Not Heard of This?
You might think that a bill that threatens to affect what you do every day (assuming you use the Internet every day) and has nearly 1,000 registered lobbyists working on it, would make the news. Unfortunately, most major news providers, including Fox News and NBC-Universal, are strong supporters of SOPA, and have chosen to keep both SOPA and PIPA out of the limelight while Congress attempts to pass the bills into federal law.

Why Is Congress Supporting SOPA/PIPA?
Individual members of Congress will give you different reasons why they are supporting this innovation-killing legislation. There is no denying, however, that the entertainment industry has spent millions of dollars pushing SOPA/PIPA. Looking at just two of the bills’ sponsors, Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), they have collectively received nearly two million dollars in campaign contributions from the TV/Movies/Music industry.

What Are the Dangers of SOPA/PIPA?
The danger is that big companies will use SOPA/PIPA to put small companies and websites out of business. Less competition would be great news to large media concerns that have been steadily losing market share to the Internet. While a bigger, broader and more diversified Internet is good for you and me, it is bad for large entertainment companies that refuse to innovate as fast as their smaller competitors.

SOPA/PIPA would also make it easier for large entertainment companies to use automated programs to search the Internet and send erroneous copyright take-down notices. According to Erik Martin, the general manger of the popular Reddit website, “human beings aren’t even looking at this – the potential for abuse is huge.” SOPA/PIPA threatens to place law-abiding small companies in the position of having to redirect innovation resources to pay an attorney to respond to a baseless infringement take-down notice.

Another danger of SOPA/PIPA goes to the heart of Internet security. The Internet is based upon a system of numerical addresses, called Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. The Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) takes a domain name, like Google, and translates it into the associated website’s unique IP address, such as 209.85.145.105. While typing either Google.com or 209.85.145.105 into your address bar will get you to the same place, domain names, such as Google are much easier to remember. By allowing the government and the entertainment industry to filter the Internet, SOPA/PIPA risks opening up the secure DNS system, as well as even more secure systems, such as DNSSEC, to exploitation by cybercriminals. Not only that, but the SOPA/PIPA domain name blocking provisions will do little to cripple offshore infringing websites. Simply typing in the IP address, instead of the domain name, into your address bar makes the SOPA/PIPA domain name blocking provisions worthless.

What Can I Do?
Contact your congressional representatives today. There are already many federal laws in place to prevent online infringement. While SOPA and PIPA will do little to curb future online infringement, they will, if passed into law, stifle innovation, censor the Internet, and make the Internet less secure. On January 18, 2012, websites like Google, Reddit and Wikipedia gave you a small taste of what SOPA and PIPA are all about. If you prefer that SOPA and PIPA not censor thousands and thousands more websites, contact your Representatives and tell them to vote “No” on SOPA, and contact your Senators and tell them to vote “No” on final passage of PIPA. Tell them you will remember their votes on Election Day.

Brett Trout

Posted in Copyright Law, Internet Law. Tagged with , .

SOPA – This New Censorship Bill is a Job Killer

SOPA
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the deceptively named Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) introduced the bill on October 26, 2011 as H.R.3261. SOPA expands the Internet censorship provisions of the Protect IP Act, a bill Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) shepherded into law earlier this year. These additional restrictions make it easier for large corporations to stop websites from getting paid, not for just allegedly infringing content, but for all content on the website, even if the alleged infringement makes up only a tiny part of the website’s content. SOPA threatens not only to censor a small amount of allegedly infringing content, but a lot of non-infringing online content along with it. The result will be a law much better suited to punishing entities that disagree with the entertainment industry’s vision of a censored Internet than stopping piracy.

Job Killer
Michael O’Leary, representing the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the film industry trade group, argues the motion picture and television industry supports jobs. Google, Facebook, Twitter, venture capitalist, civil liberties groups and trade associations say just the opposite. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has even labeled SOPA a “massive piece of job-killing internet regulation.”
Several members of Congress not swayed by entertainment industry contributions have come together in bi-partisan fashion to defeat SOPA, warning that SOPA will result in an “explosion of innovation-killing lawsuits and litigation [...] At a time of continued economic uncertainty, this legislation will result in fewer new businesses, fewer new investments, and fewer new jobs.”

Won’t SOPA Stop “Pirates”

I don’t know what your definition of a pirate is, but my definition does not YouTube, just because one person uploaded a video of their kid playing with a puppy, while a portion of a copyrighted song played in the next room. But SOPA does not discriminate. SOPA does not require a judge or jury to decide what does and what does not constitutes piracy before an alleged “victim” unilaterally shuts down an entire website. As for the pirates? SOPA will do little more to stop pirates. SOPA is like continuing to reduce the speed limit for everyone, because one or two criminals keep driving through town at 100mph. You are only punishing the people already following the law. Large scale pirates depicted in industry advertisements are clandestine and mobile, creating their own closed networks. Even if the industry were to spend time tracking pirates down and shutting off their access, these “real” pirates would be back up and running on a new private network within hours. The entertainment industry knows this and knows it is much easier to target legitimate companies, where alleged infringement may make up less than 1% of their online activity, than to focus on dedicated criminals, where infringement makes up the majority of their online activity.

Won’t SOPA Help Artists
While entertainment industry giants are in favor of SOPA, many individual artists are not. Smaller artists understand “piracy” for what it is, “a symptom of a new technology (the internet) that many haven’t yet understood how to monetize.” SOPA is trying to use twentieth century legislation to thwart twenty-first century technology. SOPA makes the internet more difficult to use, while pirates continue to make content easier to steal. The solution is not to make things harder for the good people. The key is to make it easier for them to obtain content legally. While it is not clear what the new paradigm will look like, services like Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and Grooveshark are embracing new technology and giving us a glimpse of more artist and consumer friendly alternatives.

So Who Do SOPA the The Protect IP Act Benefit?
If campaign donations are any indication, the entertainment industry and certain members of Congress will be the primary beneficiaries of the new internet censorship embodied by SOPA. The MPAA is no longer playing coy. Pushing for the new Internet censorship at yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, O’Leary tried to address the argument that SOPA would frustrate the implementation of a more secure domain name protocol, namely DNSSEC, stating “this argument conveniently ignores not only the history of the creation of DNSSEC but also the very nature of Internet protocols, which is simply this: when new developments or circumstances require changes to these codes, the codes change,” And just who is responsible for making these changes? Well, the second biggest industry donor to Senator Patrick Leahy’s (Protect IP Act) election campaign committee, and the biggest donor to Representative Lamar Smith’s (SOPA) election campaign committee, are both the TV/Movies/Music industry. So if it turns out you have a problem with the protocols implemented by either SOPA or the Protect IP Act, and the MPAA does not, how likely do you think it is that those protocols are going to change?

What Can You Do?
Do not let this bill pass. Do not let the movie and recording industries punish artists and fans and dictate which websites you can visit. Do not let corporate behemoths use taxpayer resources to shut down taxpayer websites. Tell your Congressional representative this bill is a job-killer, tell them it punishes artists as well as consumers.

You can find phone numbers and email addresses for your representatives here. If you need a script, you can use anything from this post and/or your own version of the following:

“Hello [Representative's name],

My name is [your name] and I am calling from [your city and state] to voice my concern about SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. I do not believe this bill should be passed. The United States already has several laws in place for combating piracy, including the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the 2007 PRO-IP Act, the 2011 Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and others. This bill is a job-killer. I urge you to listen to your constituents, many of whom will be adversely affected by this bill, and vote “No” on the Stop Online Piracy act. Thank you.”

Brett Trout

Posted in General, Internet Law. Tagged with , .

Should I Get A Patent?

What You Say vs. What Your Patent Lawyer Hears
Clients ask me all the time, “Should I get a patent?” While that is certainly the most important question an inventor can ask of a patent lawyer, most patent lawyers answer this question incorrectly. A “Can I” patent question is right in the patent lawyer’s wheelhouse. A “Should I” patent question is not. Patent lawyers therefore tend to hear the question as “Can I get a patent,” which is a much different question. The “Can I” question relates to whether the invention meets the minimum criteria for patentability, namely is it new, useful and non-obvious. Another reason patent lawyers answer “Should I” patent questions as “Can I” patent questions is that the answer to the “Can I” question is “Yes” far more often, and it is a rare patent lawyer that could not use and extra ten thousand dollars. A final reason why patent lawyers often view the “Should I” patent question as a “Can I” patent question is that if the patent lawyer incorrectly answers “No” to the “Should I” question and the client loses millions because they thought the patent lawyer was answering the “Can I” patent question, the patent lawyer could be on the hook for millions of dollars in malpractice damages. Conversely, if the patent lawyer erroneously answers “Yes,” instead of “No,” the malpractice damages are probably more in the tens of thousands of dollar range.

Is It Worth Getting a Patent On Your Invention?
While it is important to get input from patent lawyers, accountants, marketers and business professionals, only you can answer this question. Many new inventors plan on selling their patents to large companies. This is very difficult to do. Unless you have existing contacts in the industry, many large companies will not even meet with a first-time inventor. What most inventors do not realize is that without a great management team, business plan and/or industry contacts, very few businesses or investors will be interested in an invention, even if it is patented. A good place to start to develop a business plan to determine things like your start-up costs, projected revenue, and how much a patent would be worth. Not all patents are created equal. Good patents are worth more than bad patents. What makes a good patent? Market, Breadth and Quality.

Market
Is your patent in a crowded market with low-priced substitutes? How much more can you demand from consumers because of your monopoly in this market? What percentage of this market can you reasonable hope to capture? If you are in a saturated low-margin market, with many viable substitutes, getting a patent on your product would likely be little more than a vanity.

Breadth
How broad will your patent be? Is your invention similar to what else is out there? Is is an obvious combination of what is out there? How easy would it be for your competitors to “design around” your patent? No one can tell you ahead of time how broad your patent will be. But if there are a lot of similar items already on store shelves and/or already patented, even the best patent lawyer in the world will only be able to get you a narrow patent, one that is easy for competitors to design around and which provides you little value.

Quality
The quality of your patent depends a lot on your patent lawyer. If you hire 100 different patent lawyers to draft a patent application on your invention, you will get back 100 different patent applications. No two would be the same. The quality of the patent applications would probably range from great to worthless. While great patent lawyers cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, bad patent lawyers can certainly make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. What makes a great patent lawyer? Look for a patent lawyer other lawyers recommend. Look for one with a lot of actual patent writing under his or her belt (search Google Patents for their name) and look for some particular expertise in the field of your invention. Look for a patent lawyer who has sued infringers for patent infringement and won. Patent litigators know what they need to put into a patent to win at trial and to convince infringers to settle.

Can you defend your patent?
The cost of getting your patent is chicken feed compared to the cost of successfully suing an infringer. Just the attorney fees alone average 1-3 million dollars per side for a full patent infringement jury trial. The key for a small inventor is to find a qualified, experienced patent litigator who will take the case on a contingent basis. In a contingent fee case, you do not pay any attorney fees unless you win. Convincing an attorney to take your case on a contingent fee basis means having a broad, high-quality patent, with damages large enough to justify the cost of going to trial. With a bad patent, it will be very difficult to a quality lawyer to take your case on a contingent fee basis.

Do the Legwork First
Determining whether or not you should pursue a patent on your invention takes some time. Find people you trust, attorneys, accountants, successful inventors and/or other business professionals who will sign a confidentiality agreement and help you build a business plan. If your business plan indicates a patent is a good idea, ask your advisers to recommend a patent lawyer. If they don’t know of anyone, ask them who they would ask for a recommendation. Search the patent lawyer’s name on Google Patent to see the kind of technology with which the patent lawyer is familiar. Check ratings agencies like Martindale-Hubble to see how the patent lawyer’s peers rate him or her (an “AV” rating is the best). Ask if the patent lawyer offers a free consultation and take them up on it. Ask them if you should get a patent and see what they say.

Brett Trout

Posted in Patent Law. Tagged with , , .

The Mobile Patent Wars – Google, Microsoft and Apple

Google
“[O]ne of the most effective ways to respond to a threatened patent assertion is to be able to assert patents of your own,” says Google’s patent lawyer, Tim Porter. Porter made that statement in response to a question about why Google was still buying up patents. Despite Google’s recent patent acquisitions, Porter believes “the current system is broken.” Overly-broad software patents, granted during a salad days of software patent grants prior to 2007, says Porter, are fueling litigation. Despite Google’s concerns over software patents, the company paid $12 billion to acquire Motorola and its portfolio of over 17,000 patents. From Porter’s perspective, Google has no choice, but to join in the patent arms race. “But the concern” says Porter, “is that the more people get distracted with litigation, the less they’ll be inventing.

Microsoft
Horacio Gutierrez, deputy general counsel for Microsoft, sees things a little differently. Gutierrez sees Google as “standing on the shoulders,” and reaping the benefits, of predecessors like Microsoft. To Gutierrez, patents are what drive innovation. Microsoft has already negotiated ten license deals with Android partners. For 2012 alone, Microsoft is poised to earn nearly $444 million in Android license fees. You need patent protection, opines Gutierrez, to encourage companies to the spend the millions of dollars, and years of effort necessary to develop new technology.

Apple
Up until recently, Apple and Google were in completely separate markets, and the relationship between them congenial. Once Google launched its iPhone-killer Android, the gloves came off. In the last month, Apple, along with Microsoft and Research in Motion, outbid Google to acquire $4.5 billion in patents from Nortel. Instead of suing the leviathan Google directly, Apple is suing the smaller companies that make Android hardware, like HTC. In its lawsuit against HTC, Apple alleges HTC’s android phone is too close to the iPhone. Google is assisting Android partners like HTC, even selling a patent portfolio to HTC, that HTC used to sue Apple. Apple is also attacking Google at its heart, releasing the audible search engine application Siri, that experts say will soon spread across nearly all Apple platforms. Before his death, Steve Jobs told his biographer that Jobs would spend his last dying breath, and every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in cash to destroy Android. Jobs felt Google stole the Android from Apple, and Jobs was willing to go “thermonuclear” to right the perceived wrong.

Small Inventors
As the players continue to wage lawsuit after lawsuit in the mobile platform patent arena, and Congress continues to tweak its rules on allowing software patents, small inventors may end up the losers. The USPTO has come a long way since granting such infamous patents as the Amazon “one-click” patent, but the system still has a few bugs. To address those bugs, and the unprecedented expanse of patent infringement litigation, Congress passed a major change to United States patent law. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, (AIA) will add some consistency to the mix, thwarting patent trolls and spurring innovation. Unfortunately, what promises to makes the AIA work more smoothly for behemoth corporations, may harm smaller inventors, who lack the resources necessary to take advantage of the protections the AIA affords. With many provisions of the AIA not taking effect until next year, however, by the time we learn the true cost of Congress’ latest effort to ease the battle of the Titans, it may be too late for many small inventors.

Brett Trout

Posted in Patent Law. Tagged with , , .

What Inventors Need to Know About The New Patent Law

Touted as a boon for inventors, the “Leahy-Smith America Invents Act,” (AIA) the largest patent overhaul in over a century, is looking more and more like a boon for patent lawyers. So what are the key changes, and how do they affect you.

First to file
The first-to-file provision of AIA moves the United States closer toward harmonization with the rest of the world. The AIA is a first-to-file system, but gives inventors a one-year grace period for filing after the public disclosure of details of the invention originating from the inventor. Previously, the United States had a first-to-invent system, giving inventors an opportunity to test their inventions before spending the money for patent protection. This change gives inventors a huge incentive to file a patent application as soon as possible. While this does not add much of a burden to large corporations, it can inflict quite a financial burden on smaller inventors.

Fee Increase
While the AIA promises patent fee reductions for small inventors down the road, the immediate affect of the AIA has been a 15% patent fee increase across the board. At some unknown date in the future, small inventors will ostensibly qualify for a 50% fee reduction (actually 42.5% if you factor in the immediate 15% increase and assume no additional fee increases in the interim).

Prioritized Examination

For $4,800, inventors can move their patent applications to the top of the examination heap and obtain a yeah or nay on their patent application within one year. Given the cost, this new program will likely benefit large corporations more than small inventors. Additionally, it would seem like shifting patent examiners toward these prioritized examinations runs the risk of delaying examination of other inventors’ applications beyond the current twenty-eight month turnaround.

Patent Marking
The AIA revises the old law on marking your invention with a patent number. Previously, anyone could sue you for false marking. Now, only the government and entities actually suffering an injury can sue you for damages associated with false marking. Additionally, the AIA allows you to mark your item with “patented” or “pat.” and provide a URL where the actual patent numbers can be found. Both of these provisions benefit smaller inventors, who often have a more difficult time keeping their required patent markings up to date.

Prior Use Defense
In 1999, the American Inventors Protection Act allowed accused infringers of “business method” patents to use the defense that they had been using the business method commercially more than one year before the inventor filed the patent application. The AIA extends this defense to a much broader array of subject matter, including processes, machines, manufacture, and compositions of matter used in a manufacturing or other commercial process. Given that they are less likely to protect their inventions, this new provision appears to be beneficial to smaller inventors.

Best Mode
While inventors must still describe in their patent application the “best mode” for practicing their invention, the AIA now prevents defendants from invalidating patents on this ground. As smaller inventors are probably more likely to run afoul of the best mode requirement, this change is good for small inventors.

Patent Trolls
Patent trolls are companies that do not manufacture anything, but simply buy up patents and sue people with them. While the AIA was touted as a troll killer, it ended up with very little teeth in this regard. One provision that did make it through was that it is now tougher for a patent troll to group several defendants together into one lawsuit. This makes it more difficult and costly for a patent troll to sue smaller inventors.

Pre-Issuance Attacks
Starting next year, third parties will be able to submit prior art to the Patent Office, along with a concise description of the relevance of the prior art. While these pre-issuance attacks may end up strengthening any resulting patent, a well-funded third-party may be able to use this new system to spend a smaller inventor out of a patent before it even issues.

Post-Grant Attacks

The AIA provides a new supplemental examination procedure. Under this procedure, the patent owner may request the Patent Office “consider, reconsider, or correct information believed to be relevant” to a patent. The main benefit of this supplemental examination procedure appears to be that it allows a patent owner to preemptively address issues relating to allegations of inequitable conduct during prosecution of the patent application.

Third parties will still be able to attack patents post grant. Under the AIA, a third-party can initiate an ex parte (the third-party is not allowed to participate in the review) post-grant examination by submitting to the Patent Office published prior art references, along with details as to why the references raise a “substantial new question of patentability.” If the Patent Office finds the prior art does raise a substantial new question of patentability, the reexamination proceeds without the third-party.

The AIA also provides for a new post-grant review. Any third-party may request the cancellation of one or more patent claims granted within the previous nine months. The Patent Office may authorize the post-grant review if the petitioner presents information that, “if not rebutted, would demonstrate that it is more likely than not that at least one of the claims challenged in the petition is unpatentable.” The petitioner is not limited to using only settled law under this type of reexamination. The petitioner may make also raise “a novel or unsettled legal question that is important to other patents or patent applications.” This appears to be a mechanism to take the interpretation of patent laws out of the hands of courts and place it into the hands of the Patent Office.

For inter partes (the third-party participates in the review) review, the AIA creates a new Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). Third-parties must wait at least nine months after the patent has been granted to request an inter partes reexamination. Once an inter partes examination is requested, the PTAB determines whether there is a “reasonable likelihood that the petitioner would prevail with respect to at least one of the claims challenged in the petition.” This is a higher standard than the ex parte “substantial new question of patentability.” If the petitioner fails to raise an issue that could reasonably have been raised, such as a known piece of prior art, the petitioner may be estopped from using that prior art in the future. Such estoppel, however, would not bind any defendant not a party to the inter partes reexamination.

While the AIA changes to post-grant patent examination would appear to generate better vetted patents, the time-consuming and costly procedures could bankrupt a small inventor before they can even bring a lawsuit for patent infringement. Unlike a lawsuit, with the potential of a monetary judgment to entice an attorney to take the case on a contingent fee arrangement, pre-grant and post-grant examinations offer no such enticement. Small inventors will have to finance them out of pocket.

Conclusion
Touted as a boon to small inventors, the benefits the AIA provides to small inventors are tiny, and the detriments large. The main downside to small inventors is the requirement that they race to get their patent attorneys to file patent applications for them as soon as possible to avoid losing their patent to a larger corporation with the finances to file early and often. Only time will tell just how good or bad the AIA is for small inventors. One thing for sure, however, is that the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act will certainly provide patent attorneys with job security for many years to come.

Brett Trout

Posted in Internet Law, Patent Law. Tagged with , , , .

The Flyover Effect – Trademarks, Patents and The Rebel Alliance

If you have never heard my voice, or if you have and you are dying to hear me wax philosophic on the wonders of intellectual property law, check out the latest episode of The Flyover Effect – Trademarks, Patents and The Rebel Alliance.

Posted in Internet Law, Patent Law. Tagged with .

Trout Selected by Peers for Inclusion in the 2012 Edition of the Best Lawyers in America®

Brett J. Trout has been selected by his peers for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Best Lawyers in America® in the practice areas of Information Technology Law and Patent Law. The Best bestlawyersLawyers® publication is the oldest peer-reviewed publication in the legal profession. For the past 25 years, Best Lawyers® continues to be regarded, by both professionals and the public, as the definitive guide to legal excellence in the United States.

The 2012 Best Lawyers in America® publication covers the largest and most targeted audience of any legal profession peer-review listing. Excerpts from the Best Lawyers® publication appear in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, and more than eighty-five other regional publications around the worls, reaching more than 17 million readers.

Best Lawyers selection process is based upon exhaustive and rigorous peer-review surveys. Over 3.9 million confidential evaluations by leading legal professionals are considered in the process. The American Lawyer describes The Best Lawyers in America® compendium as “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

Posted in Choosing the Best Lawyer, Internet Law, Patent Law. Tagged with , , .

Vote If You Love Your Lawyer

South by Southwest (SXSW) is a series of three conferences, held each Spring in Austin, Texas. Spread over ten days, each conference focuses on a different discipline: Music, Film and Interactive (Internet). Unlike most conferences, you actually have a vote on who speaks at SXSW. This year, I have thrown my hat in the ring and submitted a talk on why new companies need a good lawyer. If you want to hear why fledgling companies need a good lawyer to keep them out of trouble, or you just want to see me on a SXSW panel, be sure to vote. Here is the description of my presentation:

Love means never having to say, “your honor.” Successful businesses love their lawyers. Not because they’re cheap, or because they tell them what they want to hear, but because great lawyers avoid problems that put amateurs out of business. What can you say about a company that died? That it was honest and worked hard, but it never fell in love with a lawyer. With the right lawyer on your arm, clients know you’re worth a relationship. With the right contracts in hand, clients feel secure and stop exploiting you. A good lawyer makes you want to be a better business. Someday soon, you’re going to have to come up with the courage to admit you care. Of course, falling in love is scary. But don’t be so overwhelmed with loving a lawyer that you’re forever alone. And don’t fall in love with the first Lothario who tells you you have nice assets. Find a lawyer you love and who loves you. Start a business affair to remember.
Questions
Answered

Why do I need a lawyer?
What will happen to my company if I do not have a lawyer?
How do I find a lawyer?
What should I expect from my lawyer?
How do I keep the love alive?

Bonus points if anyone gets all of the Love Story references.

Here are some other Iowa SXSW proposals you should check out:
Locusic
Behind the Scenes of a Music Festival

See you at SXSW!

Brett Trout

Posted in General.

Divorced Father Challenges Judge’s Order to Shut Down His Blog

ThePsychoExWife.com
42-year-old father of two, Anthony Morelli, is the author of a blog called The Psycho Ex-Wife. The blog, which receives 200,000 visitors a month, does not mention Morelli’s name, the name of his ex-wife, Allison Morelli, or either of their two children. Morelli’s ex-wife ran across the website while researching child support issues and deduced the posts, that mention the ex-wife being like “Jabba the Hut, with less personality,” were referring to her.

The Judge’s Order
Ms. Morelli brought the blog to the attention of Judge Diane Gibbons who, according to Mr. Morelli’s attorney, Kevin Handy, ordered the blog be taken down. According to the Press Release issued by Mr. Morelli’s law firm:

Despite the website’s apparent popularity and inclusion of unrelated content, a judge and former district attorney in Bucks County, Pennsylvania summarily ordered it shut down on June 6, 2011 without a hearing or testimony. The specific language of the order, entered by the Hon. Diane E. Gibbons states that “Father shall take down that website and shall never on any public media make any reference to mother at all, nor any reference to the relationship between mother and children, nor shall he make any reference to his children other than ‘happy birthday’ or other significant events.”

The Constitutional Rights at Issue
Handy asserts that the judge’s order violates both the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) and Fourteenth Amendment (Due Process) to the United States Constitution. Nationally renowned First Amendment expert and UCLA law professor, Eugene Volokh, seems to agree. According to Volokh “That strikes me as a pretty clear First Amendment violation; whatever the scope of family courts’ authority to protect children’s best interests might be, it can’t extend to criminalizing one adult’s public speech about another adult. I’m pleased that the order is being appealed, and hope it will be quickly reversed.”

Hard Cases Make Bad Law
It is an old adage, but never more true than in Mr. Morelli’s case. Hard cases make bad law. This refers to the tendency of judges to cross the line in situations where strict construction of the law goes against the aggrieved party. The problem is that if such arbitrary line-drawing is upheld on appeal, other judges will be forced to follow the same faulty logic in the future. Allowing judges to shut down entire blogs without appropriate Due Process or First Amendment considerations is not a precedent bloggers want to see upheld.

Even assuming that allowing Mr. Morelli to vent against his ex-wife would not be in his children’s best interest, that is no reason to take away his Constitutional right to free speech. If what Mr. Morelli posted to his blog is not true, his ex-wife is free to pursue an civil action for defamation. If what he wrote is true, or simply his opinion, then he should be allowed to include it in his blog. Allowing people to say hurtful things about their ex-wives is one of the prices we pay for living in a free society.

In her ruling, Judge Gibbons went beyond prohibiting speech about Ms. Morelli. She ordered the entire blog, much of which did not even reference Ms. Morelli, be shut down. This broad ruling limited not only Mr. Morelli’s freedom of speech, but the freedom of speech of the website’s growing community of contributors. A judge is free to say that Mr. Morelli should not post hurtful things to his blog, but to make it a crime is outrageous. If this ruling is upheld, expect to see a domino effect of judges shutting down blogs and enjoining bloggers from discussing certain topics online.

If you write a blog, or are just an earnest defenders of the First Amendment, you can donate to Mr. Morelli’s appeal here. I did, because “Monsieur [Morelli], je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerai ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire”

UPDATE: A redacted version of hearing transcript is available here.
Brett Trout

Posted in Internet Law. Tagged with .

Copyright Law – The Government vs. The People

The Indictment of Aaron Swartz
United States federal prosecutors indicted 24 year-old Harvard Fellow, Aaron Swartz on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, recklessly damaging a protected computer and aiding and abetting. Read the full indictment here. What was Mr. Swartz’s alleged crime, for which he faces up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine? Mr. Swartz is accused of the digital version of taking books from a library. Granted, Mr. Swartz allegedly took about 4 million articles, book reviews and other content, but unlike a theft from a library, copies of all the materials still remain in the original library.

The Reasoning Behind the Download
Swartz is accused of taking the material from JSTOR, the organization that stores archives of the allegedly downloaded academic papers and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where the material was stored. Because the writers of these materials are generally academics, it is a reasonable assumption that the writers were not provided any direct monetary compensation for their work, and that they would personally prefer their work be broadly disseminated without charge. So, what is the problem? JUSTOR charges large fees for access to these academic papers, fees large enough to prevent you or me from ever having seen most of them. That said, under current copyright laws, JUSTOR is free to license this material and then charge whatever it wants for access. From a philosophical standpoint, it may not be fair or ethical, but under current copyright laws, it is still legal.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
In 1986, Congress passed The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to pursue people breaking into protected computers to obtain information. The Act provides severe criminal penalties for anyone who intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains information from a protected computer. Congress amended the Act many times, including several controversial amendments associated with The Patriot Act. Federal enforcement of The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act against people stealing government secrets, conducting corporate espionage and stealing financial information is the reason Congress enacted the law. More controversial uses of the Act involve large institutions pursuing individuals who are not accessing computers for monetary gain, but for uses the institutions simply do not like.

Government Enforcement
Large institutions would have recourse without the need for government intervention. Under current copyright laws, owners and licensees of the materials have a civil (money) lawsuit against anyone alleged to have taken the materials without authorization, or in violation of their terms of service. Because damages in the Swartz case would be complicated to prove, a civil lawsuit would likely cost more than the damages that could be recovered. Enter the federal government on behalf of the large institution. The federal government indicted Swartz criminally. This means that taxpayers will foot the bill for the costly case. JUSTOR and MIT can sit back while the taxpayers do the heavy lifting. While such action by the federal government may be justified in a case where someone makes hundreds of thousands of bootleg Blu-ray movies, what is the justification for spending (possibly millions of dollars) prosecuting a lone academic?

More to the Story
Criminals commit hundreds of cybercrimes daily, many involving the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why is the government going after a case involving an academic, involving what appears to be nothing more than speculative damages? According to Swartz’s website, he downloaded the materials to investigate the source of funding for the academic papers. Swartz authored numerous articles investigating the “corrupting influence of big money on institutions, including nonprofits, the media, politics and public opinion.” Knowing that a study was financed by a large entity seeking to sway legislation, would certainly be of interest in weighing the study’s merits. The fact that funding sources may not be readily apparent, may have even more impact on the study’s credibility. Exposing funding sources is, from the public’s perspective, a laudable endeavor.

My own experience requesting the federal government to pursue alleged corporate espionage, lead me to believe the agents handling cybercrime matters did not have much interest in pursuing a criminal case, even where hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages were involved. Why single out Swartz? Swartz’s history of investigating corruption may not have played a role in his indictment, but misconduct by federal prosecutors is not unknown, and they are very rarely held accountable for their misdeeds. Are the federal prosecutors in Swartz’s case corrupt? Unlikely. More likely, prosecutors are doing what they are told, prosecuting the case assigned. The real question is who ultimately decided to redirect vast taxpayer resources to this particular academic, and why? The benefit to JSTOR and the in terrorem benefit to the corporations funding the studies is obvious; the benefit to the American taxpayer is unclear.

The Manifesto.
Yesterday, a torrent user identifying himself as “Greg Maxwell” used The Pirate Bay torrent site to make publicly available a large portion of the materials available through JSTOR’s paywall. Maxwell also provided a manifesto detailing his thoughts on copyright enforcement. A portion of Mr. Maxwell’s manifesto reads as follows:

Large publishers are now able to purchase the political clout needed to abuse the narrow commercial scope of copyright protection, extending it to completely inapplicable areas: slavish reproductions of historic documents and art, for example, and exploiting the labors of unpaid scientists. They’re even able to make the taxpayers pay for their attacks on free society by pursuing criminal prosecution (copyright has classically been a civil matter) and by burdening public institutions with outrageous subscription fees.

While questions remain unanswered, at the present, at least from Mr. Maxwell’s perspective, the pirates have become the champion of the people, and the government their foil.

Brett Trout

Posted in Copyright Law, Internet Law. Tagged with .