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Managing Editor: David Lat
Editor: Elie Mystal
Assistant Editor: Staci Zaretsky
Contributors: Kashmir Hill, Marin, Mark Herrmann, Jay Shepherd
I'm an editor emeritus at Above the Law. I am still a contributor to ATL, but now spend my days at Forbes writing about privacy, technology and the law at The Not-So Private Parts. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook.
This weekend, New York Times tech journalist Jenna Wortham made a confession that could be used to send her to prison for a year or more. What was the startling criminal admission? She uses someone else’s password to sign into HBO Go to watch “Game of Thrones.”
[Some friends and I] all had the same plan: to watch the season premiere of “Game of Thrones.” But only one person in our group had a cable television subscription to HBO, where it is shown. The rest of us had a crafty workaround.
She says “crafty.” A federal prosecutor might substitute “illegal” there….
Attorney John Steele says he has sued more than 20,000 Internet users. Now he's the one in legal trouble.
“It should be clear by now that this court’s focus has shifted from protecting intellectual property rights to attorney misconduct.” — U.S. District Judge Otis Wright
John Steele, the lawyer who told me he’d made “millions” going after people who illegally download pornographic movies, is experiencing some legal trouble of his own. A district judge in Los Angeles has questions about the way in which Steele and his colleagues have conducted their litigation. Ars Technica and Popehat have been providing detailed (and often gleeful) coverage of a series of hearings that may lead to the unraveling of hundreds of lawsuits filed by Steele and his colleagues at Prenda Law against alleged XXX-movie lovers whose IP addresses were caught downloading the films online.
Steele and his colleagues have been pursuing “John Does” who download XXX films without paying for them for copyright violations. When I interviewed him last year, he told me he had filed over 350 of these suits, and that he was at that time suing approximately 20,000 people. The tactic is similar to the one employed by the recording industry years ago, but where RIAA wanted to scare people out of illegal downloads by getting massive, scary judgments in highly publicized cases against individual Napster users, Steele and the lawyers like him are content to get relatively small settlements — deal letters often ask for $3000 or so — from individuals who pay up quietly to avoid being named in public court filings for allegedly watching a film such as “Illegal Ass 2.”
But now Steele and his firm are starting to run into serious problems.
Last week, I went to the preliminary hearing for Chris Bucchere, a software developer charged with felony vehicular manslaughter. On a workday morning in March 2012, Bucchere struck and killed a 71-year-old pedestrian, Sutchi Hui, in a busy, crowded intersection. Bucchere’s case has gotten a lot of attention in San Francisco, both because this is a case of manslaughter by bike rather than by car, and because Bucchere garnered criticism for writing about the incident on an online biking forum afterward, particularly because he ended the post by lamenting the “heroic” death of his helmet.
As in many urban environments, there is strife between the different classes of commuters in his city. Bucchere epitomized for many the reckless biker who takes liberties with the laws of the road — annoying drivers — and does not take seriously the damage that can be done on two wheels to those on two legs — annoying pedestrians, and in this case, mortally injuring one. The case interested me because press reports indicated that data from Bucchere’s Strava account — an app that bikers can use to track their rides — had been used to show how fast he had been going and to prove he had ignored stop signs.
District Attorney George Gascón told me the Strava data was part of the reason the city had decided to bring such severe charges against Bucchere. “It implies he was trying to compete with himself,” Gascón said. Bucchere’s online comments also played a role. “His helmet was more important than a human being.”
The Strava data did not wind up being instrumental in the hearing at all, though; instead 30 seconds of surveillance video took center stage.
A good chunk of America was Googling “class action” this weekend thanks to Facebook. Millions of the site’s users received an email in the last few days with the subject “Re: LEGAL NOTICE OF SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION.” Those that didn’t immediately delete it as spam discovered they’re entitled to up to $10 from the social networking giant for putting them in “Sponsored Story” ads. That’s when Facebook takes something you Liked or a link you posted and uses it in an ad aimed at your friends. (So, word to the wise, never ever post a link on Facebook to a 55-gallon gallon drum of sex lube.)
Fraley v. Facebook, the class action lawsuit that could make a bunch of Facebook users a little richer and a bunch of class action lawyers (led by Robert Arns) a lot richer, was filed in California in 2011 by an enterprising group of plaintiffs led by seamstress Angel Fraley, shortly after “Sponsored Stories” launched. They claimed the company had violated the law by using their names and likenesses in ads without their permission and without paying them. (Lead plaintiff Fraley later dropped out of the suit citing Facebook lawyers’ aggressive tactics, which basically consisted of digging up embarrassing material about her from her profile page.)
Facebook and the plaintiffs settled the suit in December to the tune of $20 million. That $20 million is covering the class action lawyers’ fees ($7.5 million plus expenses), with the rest either being divvied up among approximately 125 million presumably-aggrieved Facebook users who appeared in Sponsored Stories ads, or, if the demand is too great, divided by a bunch of non-profits that work on privacy issues. If the amount of money divided by the number of claimants comes out to less than $4.99 each, the money goes to the non-profits, who surely must be in the midst of planning a major “Rock The Claim” campaign. Unfortunately, I can’t help out.
The change comes on the heels of corporate owner Facebook giving itself the right to dip into the data Instagram has on its users, which means Instagram’s photos will start being fed into Facebook’s well-oiled advertising platform.
[Y]ou hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service…
In other words, Instagram recognizes that it shouldn’t screw over users who have private accounts by using their photos in ads aimed at the general public (though they can put them in ads aimed at your friends).
Thanks to spyware, an FBI dad got a gift-wrapped child porn case.
Like any dad, Joseph Auther was worried about what his son might get up to while exploring the wilds of the World Wide Web. So when his 7th grade son got a school-provided laptop from Whispering Palms School in Saipan in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, Auther decided to install a monitoring program on it. He went with a spyware program called eBlaster from SpectorSoft, a company based in Vero Beach, Florida. Unbeknownst to his son, the program captured his website visits, his keystrokes, and every email, chat, and instant message he sent and received. This was all delivered up to his dad in emails, while giving the monitored person no hint that it was doing so.
Auther has a special appreciation for the benefits of surveillance. He’s an FBI special agent. In April, he discovered he was being transferred to the FBI office in Denver. At the end of the school year, Auther let Whispering Palms principal Thomas Weindl know that his family was moving and that they would be returning the school’s laptop. Weindl, 67, was actually a friend of the Auther family; when he got married earlier that year, Auther’s wife gave a reading at the ceremony. Auther told Weindl that he would return the laptop after he removed all of his son’s files, programs, and games.
Auther first took the laptop to his FBI office and asked his colleagues how to wipe it clean. Apparently they don’t have many cyber experts in the Mariana Islands, because they were unsuccessful. So Auther had to instead take it to a computer repair shop, which cleaned out the old files and allegedly re-imaged the hard drive to return it to its original settings. Auther didn’t tell the shop about eBlaster being on the computer — perhaps feeling a little Big Parent shame — but assumed that it would be wiped along with everything else. He then returned the computer to Weindl….
If I’ve learned one thing from Above the Law’s experiment in matchmaking, it’s that throwing two pretty people together is about as effective in generating something that sticks as a DOJ prosecution of [fill in the blank].
I recently matched an “open-minded” female law student with a lawyer on sabbatical in San Francisco, figuring that they would both have unstructured time for hanging out. She was looking for someone “ambitious, confident, and outgoing.” He self-described as “Impossible is Nothing.” So that seems like a perfect match.
I had them meet at Candybar. Superman made a good first impression: “I was hoping for a tall, dashing, Biglaw attorney. But really, as long as he was easy on the eyes and not shorter than me, I’d be happy,” writes our female law student, who given the chance to bed any lawyer, fictional or real, chose Harvey Specter of Suits. “And happy I was.”
Unfortunately, she was no Lois Lane. He says: “I think I’ll start with the tl;dr to hopefully save some of the otherwise wasted billables on my lame story: She is a cute, fun girl who I just unfortunately didn’t feel much of a connection with, probably because of the damage law school is doing to her.”
Hey, you knew you were signing up for a legal matchmaking service. Damaged goods expected….
Based on the initial round of Courtship Connection dates in San Francisco, it seems the city has as much chemistry as it does technology start-ups. I hate to break it to non-Californians: not only do those on the Best Coast have great weather, but dating there seems to be a breeze.
That’s based just on the first two lawyer couples I sent out. I hope am sure San Francisco will yield some disasters yet.
I paired up our first set of twenty-somethings based on equal levels of hotness in Facebook photos, and numerous albums that involved traveling and outdoor activities.
Our “lively snowboarder” lady lawyer said she was looking for someone “quiet-er, anti-douchebag, witty, preferably handsome.” Given the opportunity to bed any legal type, living or dead, fictional or real, she chose Atticus Finch, “played by Gregory Peck, natch.” Her date says he’d be a “professor” if he weren’t a corporate lawyer. That seemed Finch-level noble. Professor Biglaw self-described as “witty” — which is what Lady Snowboard is seeking — and “sarcastic, relaxed, well-traveled.” Given the chance to bed a famous legal character, he chose “Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny.” Technically, I think that means he prefers to date a non-lawyer, but things seemed to work out regardless…
Belvedere Vodka is still suffering a hangover from the rapey ad it broadcast on its Twitter and Facebook feeds last month. Alicyn Packard, the terrified-looking woman who refuses in the ad to “go down smoothly” on an obliviously-happy bro, has filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court against Belvedere parent company Moet Hennessy USA, reports KTLA. She claims emotional distress after the company used her image without her consent in “an ad that’s so offensive to so many.” (And yet so funny to so many others.)
The ad was up on Twitter and Facebook for only an hour before someone came to his or her (let’s be honest, it was probably “his”) senses and deleted it. But as with heavy drinking, it only takes an hour to make an embarrassing spectacle of yourself….
Happy Valentine’s Day to you if you have a date lined up tonight! For the rest of you, Happy Staying-In-To-Watch-A-Movie-And-Drink-With-Your-Single-Friends Day. Last year, two Washington lawyers actually let me set them up on a V-Day date. This year, with my pool of Chicago candidates, I didn’t bother. I wouldn’t wish the boring Chicago dating scene on my worst enemy. Playing matchmaker and condemning more lonely souls to a yawn-inducing evening is as cruel as running a dog-fighting ring. At least the latter leads to a little biting and scratched backs for the participants.
So Courtship Connection is moving on and heading West. Hey San Francisco, do you have any single types willing to put their love lives into ATL’s not-so-capable hands? Fill out our survey! I will try to send you out on a blind date with a seemingly-compatible fellow legal type. You will dish the dirt afterwards. I will write about it, keeping you anonymous. And ATL commenters will provide their sincere, caring, and helpful commentary.
While waiting for the California girls and boys to jump into our dating pool, I will share with you the final Chicago date. Like the others, it did not go well. Why? Someone’s inferiority complex killed the mood….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
Are you challenged by the costs and logistics of maintaining your office, distracting you from the practice of law?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media in Corporate America. But it is relatively safe to say that most law firms and lawyers are slightly behind the social curve. Most lawyers, at minimum, use LinkedIn, for networking. Some even use Twitter for pushing out short, pithy content, while many have Blogs, where they write their little hearts out. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” is not always true though in the world of Social. In the Social World – it is best to listen, give back and engage.
Social Media is a communications tool that can deeply educate you about the needs and wants of your clients and prospects when used in conjunction social media monitoring and sharing tools.
Take this quick quiz and see if you know how to use Social to help you engage more with your clients or to better service the ones you have.