If you could end a legal dispute by including a picture of a puppy in an email, would you do it? If the other party promised to do what you want if you send him a picture of a puppy, wouldn’t you at least try? What’s the downside? Everybody loves puppies (except Mitt Romney). I don’t want to sound like Winston Zeddemore, but if someone asks you for a puppy picture, you say yes.

A lawyer for Lockheed Martin evidently doesn’t share my desire to get along with others. When confronted with a domain registration dispute, a private citizen agreed to transfer a domain to Lockheed, so long as the company’s lawyer included a picture of a puppy in one of his emails.

The lawyer didn’t respond appropriately, and now there’s a whole Gizmodo post on the dust-up. Pictures of pets 1, stuffy lawyers 0….

The Gizmodo post is from David Galbraith, a man who registered the domain “designskunkworks.com.” He didn’t know that Skunkworks is an official mark of Lockheed Martin. Galbraith didn’t want to cause Lockheed any trouble. So when Lockheed informed him of the mark, instead of fighting with them, he sent them a perfectly nice letter:

Dear [Lockheed Lawyer],

I’m happy to transfer this domain, since for ethical reasons I do not wish to be associated with Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of cluster bombs and weapons of mass destruction, or any of the people such as yourselves who represent them in such a harassing manner.

The domain was bought in good faith that it was not a trademark violation, since skunkworks is a commonly used term. I do not host this domain and any monies being made from it are by the domain registrar, whom you can contact separately. Since I have no idea how to assign a domain please send detailed instructions.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t perfectly nice. But Galbraith ended his email in a super nice way:

Here is a picture of an 8 week old kitten taken by Sasan Geranmehr to take your mind off things

Aww… Can I haz domain name?

The Lockheed lawyer responded with instructions on how to transfer the domain name, but with no hint of humor. Galbraith, after continuing his somewhat childish snark about Lockheed’s business model, came up with a deal to make the whole issue go away:

So here’s the deal. I’m out of pocket $9.99 for the domain you want me to give to you and doing this transfer to gift it to you is a considerable hassle vs letting the domain lapse, as is, without me ever using it (I have cancelled automatic annual renewals and will never host any website there), which I agree to do unconditionally. I also doubt I would win a fight against someone with nuclear weapons with my Swiss Army Knife.

If you send me a link to a picture of a really cute puppy, I’ll transfer the domain to you.

Now, maybe Galbraith was just being sarcastic. Maybe he was going to drag this out as long as possible? Maybe he never had any intention of transferring the domain to Lockheed because of his moral convictions over Lockheed’s weapons production.

But if you are Lockheed’s lawyer, don’t you send the puppy picture? Don’t you at least take a stab at ending this issue? Lockheed doesn’t have a slam dunk case for the domain. Obviously they expected to just be able to bully Galbraith off of the domain without a big fight.

The Lockheed lawyer offered to cover Galbraith’s costs for the domain, but didn’t send over a puppy picture. So Galbraith responded:

Speaking of which, since the costs of me providing you with what you need to process the $9.99 reimbursement you offer would exceed the amount offered, and since, without doubt, the costs for your client to process this would also exceed the amount. Further, since the costs for yourself to organize this reimbursement would also certainly exceed this, it would be both a waste of money for all parties concerned and merely a symbolic gesture…

I look forward to receiving a wonderful picture of a puppy (as long as it isn’t a Chihuahua, or any other dog that is smaller than a domestic cat when fully grown) after which I will gladly go through the detailed instructions your client would ideally like.

At that point the Lockheed lawyer declined to respond at all. That’s the second best option, behind sending over a picture of a Great Dane and saying, “Your move, buddy.” But Lockheed’s silence didn’t stop Galbraith:

It’s now September and I’ve received less than one puppy image…

I genuinely believe the world would be a better place if eminently solvable legal disputes were resolved by the ludicrous ritual exchange of somewhat cloyingly saccharine pictures that nevertheless made people whose personality has been subsumed by institutional groupthink melt like grannies huddled round a new born.

I don’t agree with Galbraith, at least to the extent that he’s motivated by Lockheed’s manufacturing. But I do think that lawyers need to be flexible and make deals when they can. Here, we don’t know what Galbraith would have done had he received a picture of a puppy, but there’s no clear upside for Lockheed to adopt an aggressive, non-puppy posture. They tried to bully Galbraith off the name, it didn’t work, so why not try to cut a deal?

And just to show that I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is:

How to Respond to Legal Threats with Cute Animals [Gizmodo]


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