Personal Responsibility: an archaic ideal?

What happened to the days when people took responsibility for not only thier own actions but the results if accidents that happen to them?

 An injured woman who slipped in an Alaskan parking lot can sue the federal government for failing to remove snow and ice, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday. – [Yahoo/Reuters]

When did it become par for the course for people to sue for slipping and falling on ice? More importantly, why does that make sense to anyone? People don’t intentionally put ice out to make people fall. It’s not a malicious act. It’s an act of nature. Why should anybody be forced to expend the time, energy and/or cash clearing out their own sidewalk? Because it’s on their property? Hogwash!

So what happens if nobody owns the land that you happen to slip and fall on? Who do you sue? God? Mother Nature? How dumb is that? How can it be the rule of the land that if you have an accident on someones property, they are automatically at fault for it, even of they have successfully avoided any similar accident for years?

How about people stop blaming everyone else for accidents that are often just the fault of their own carelessness? How about being more responsible, like walking more carefully when they see ice? Or waiting for hot coffee to cool down before drinking it? These laws shield those who lack common sense, are allowing people to become dumber and dumber every day. Before you know it, we will all be stupid Eloi, hunted and consumed by legal Morlocks…

In icy Alaska, Army can be sued over fall – [Yahoo/Reuters]

Litigating the Almighty…

I ran into an interesting article today, about a rather unusual case. It appears that no target is to great for the odd frivolous lawsuit. Or so this Nebraska lawmaker claims:

State lawmaker Ernie Chambers filed a lawsuit Friday against the Almighty — acknowledging he/she goes by numerous aliases — for causing “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues” and other alliterative catastrophes.

The suit, Chambers vs God, asks the court for a “permanent injunction ordering defendant (God) to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terrorist threats” which affect innumerable persons, including Chambers’s constituents.

Chambers told local media he filed the suit to make a point about frivolous lawsuits frequently seen in US courts, citing a recent one against a judge. – [Yahoo/AFP]

OK, bud, we get the point. Notwithstanding the fact that it is common knowledge that there are a vast number of frivolous lawsuits brought to court in any given week, I fail to see how this particular stunt proves anything.

Any judge in their right mind would throw this out. And that will be that. And he wont have proven anything we don’t already know. Like the fact that he has too much time on his hands…

God sued over pestilence and terror – [Yahoo/AFP]

The RIAAs Worms Turn!

The RIAA seems to be a prominent fixture in the online media these days. And given that they seem to have adopted the rather short sighted strategy of knowingly suing both guilty as well as innocent members of the very demographics that they could have been legitimately making a lot of money from, it isn’t hard to see why. But now it seems that they may truly be getting ready to experience a full size serving of their own brand of justice:

In cases which should by rights have been initiated by the Bush government on behalf of innocent families across America, falsely attacked by Warner Music, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony BMG, RIAA victims Tanya Andersen and Michelle Santangelo are determined to make the Big 4, as well as companies involved in the sue ‘em all morass, pay, literally and figuratively, for the distress they’ve caused and are still causing.

Go Tanya and Michelle! Though I have some reservations about the long term repercussions of Michelles’ legal approach, ( I think the justification for her claims and the resulting targets are only half right) , I was suitably convinced by Tanya’s list of complaints:

Her amended complaint is impressive. She’s citing negligence, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, federal and state RICO, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, trespass, invasion of privacy, libel and slander, deceptive business practices, misuse of copyright law, and civil conspiracy. – [p2pnet.net]

Wow. It looks like the RIAA is getting ready to have the book thrown at them. As I have said on many occasions, I have always felt that the big entertainment industries had all the right in the world to try and protect their business from pirates.

However I think they crossed the line when they started attacking any technology that could be used for file sharing, especially when these same technologies have proven so beneficial for so many other legitimate purposes. Even more heinous was the decision to sue people, en mass, without any kind of conclusive evidence, and use their legal and financial clout to extort them into settling.

What was the worst was when it became obvious that they were knowingly subjecting innocent people to this form of legalized extortion. I kinda think that they were definitely asking for this. And to be honest, the first line of the article actually echoes my sentiments exactly. Why has this obviously monopolistic corporate activity been ignored by the federal government? I am really interesting in seeing how this turns out.

RIAA named in first class action – [p2pnet.net]

The RIAA is crazy… Like a fox…

I just read an article talking about how the RIAA is now going after the Universities for failing to forward pre-litigation settlement letters to suspected file sharers:

Warner Music, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony BMG’s RIAA has come up with another tactic in their attacks on American university students.

It’s now blaming the schools themselves.

The Big 4 enforcement unit is after 16 Philadelphia students, completely ignoring mounting universal outrage against the ongoing harassment.

Actually, this is not so surprising. It fits perfectly with their current modus operandi of suing anyone they possibly can, notwithstanding the legal dilemma of actually trying to prove anyone actually did anything. What is not so obvious is what thier strategy is, and what it does and does not accomplish:

An RIAA ‘press release’ says “unsettled cases” were, “either because the university failed to forward a pre-litigation letter to the student or because the record industry’s initial settlement offer of a discounted settlement was ignored”.

As p2pnet posted, until fairly recently, the Big 4’s practice, “was to have about 750 subpoenas aimed every month not only at adults they were accusing of being massive online distributors of copyrighted music, but also very young children,”… – [p2pnet]

Now here are the important numbers. 750 subpoenas/pre-litigation letters a month. At around $3000 – $5000 per settlement. If we assume the minimum of $3000 per suit and 100% successful settlements, then relying on my rusty math skills that gets them somewhere in the region of $2,250,000/month. $2.25million a month. Thats $27Million a year. How exactly did they come up with these settlement figures?

Now given that file sharing does not seem to have been affected in any significant way by any of this, it seems to me like these lawsuits have taken on another purpose. Like a secondary income. And not just from illegal file sharers, but from anyone they think they can get away with suing. P2P software providers, P2P sites, college students, universities, parents, kids, it doesn’t seem to matter any more whether the people being slapped with pre-litigation papers were actually engaged in the practice of illegal file sharing or not.

The unfortunate thing about this is that you do not even have to be guilty for the RIAA to slap you with a suit. The RIAA knows full well that for the average citizen, it will be cheaper to settle, than to try and retain legal counsel to defend themselves in court, no matter how innocent they are, and are taking full advantage of that fact. The RIAA has adopted the methodology of a crime syndicate that moves into a bad neighborhood, and starts charging all the store owners, both good and bad, for “protection” money.

I can understand the need to prosecute those who are engaged in illegal file sharing, but it doesn’t even seem like they are even really going after file shares any more. Given the nature of some of the targets of these litigation letters, some of who are clearly innocent, it almost sounds like they are pretty much just pulling names out of a hat. Don’t any of the governing authorities see this is getting out of control?

RIAA blames universities for lawsuits – [p2pnet]

A SLAPP in the face of a fair legal system…

I read an interesting article about the MPAA and RIAA strategy for dealing with copyright infringment and, in particular, file sharing:

Going up against big guns
For insight into how tough it is to oppose the entertainment sector, consider the conclusions of some long-shot copyright cases Rothken worked on: RecordTV and ReplayTV ran out of funds before their cases were heard, and MP3Board.com settled.

There’s no telling whether the start-ups would have survived had their cases gone to trial, but Rothken argues that shouldering legal fees and bad press didn’t help.

Applying financial pressure is only part of Hollywood’s strategy, Rothken said. Another tactic is to sue founders as well as their companies. In 2000, the RIAA filed a copyright suit against MP3Board.com, a music-file search engine, as well as the company’s founders.

Instead of risking their own income, the operators of MP3Board.com settled the case and decided to stop linking to MP3 files, Rothken said.

“I can’t say what the MPAA’s strategy is,” said Gary Fung, founder of IsoHunt, a TorrentSpy rival and Rothken client who also is being sued by the MPAA for copyright infringement. “But they do know they have more time and money than we do.” – [C/Net News]

There is no doubt that file sharing technologies have contributed to the illegal piracy of music and video. I also cannot argue that the MPAA and the RIAA have a right to file suits against those who decide to share copyrighted works illegally. That being said, this is decidedly not what they are doing. They have taken the decidedly unrealistic approach of attacking the technologies rather than the people doing the file sharing.

The various entertainment associations have sued numerous torrent tracker sites, on the basis that they are helping promote illegal file sharing. Now it may just be me but this seems to me no better than suing the gun industry for the common use of firearms in the commission of crime, or automobile makers for the high incidence of drinking and driving. And as usual, those who use the technology for legitimate purposes are always the ones to suffer.

What is even more distressing to me is not simply the fact that these suits are brought at all, but rather the strategies being used to win these suits. Rather than relying on the strength of the case, the RIAA and MPAA have begun a the methodical practice of SLAPPing defendants into submission. The SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, is designed to ensure a settlement not by virtue of any legal argument, but by wearing down the defendants financial resources until they are unable to afford to continue their defense.

This to me, is the ultimate abuse of the legal system. The fact that this type of activity is legally allowed to happen should be a cause of great concern, even for law abiding American businesses and citizens, because it means that the outcome of future suit brought against you may not be determined by the validity or legal strength of the suit, but rather by who has the most money. And that situation is fundamentally anathema to the concept of a fair and equitable legal system.

TorrentSpy lawyer battling ‘copyright extremism’ – [C/Net News]

O.J. Simpson Rides again…

Yet another chapter in the O.J. Simpson saga unfolds:

O.J. Simpson says his hypothetical account of killing his ex-wife in his aborted memoir “If I Did It” was invented by a ghost writer and filled with errors that he refused to correct for fear of appearing to be guilty of the crime.

Simpson related his involvement in the book, which was scrapped shortly before its release date last year amid a torrent of public outrage, in a rare, hourlong Internet interview streamed live on Tuesday by the Dallas-based Web site Market News First (www.MN1.com).

On Monday, after a long legal fight, rights to the book passed to the family of murder victim Ron Goldman, a friend of Nicole Brown Simpson who was slain along with Simpson’s ex-wife at her Los Angeles home in June 1994.

Goldman’s father, Fred Goldman, who originally opposed the book, said this week he wants it published because he views it as “an indictment of a wife-beater, of a murderer, written in his own words.”

Judith Regan, the publisher who originally brokered the book deal, has said she considered the book Simpson’s confession.

Simpson said the book was composed by a ghost author, and that he reluctantly agreed to include a chapter containing a “night-of-the-crime” account as told by him only after the publishers promised to clearly label it as hypothetical. – [Reuters]

Now this whole situation has an air of macabre incredibility. This kind of thing is only supposed to happen in movies right? I mean who, in their right minds, having been accused of murdering their wife and her friend, and been found liable in two civil suits, would actually attempt to participate in a book that chronicles the murders? Regardless of whether it was hypothetical or not? Could O.J. not have been aware of the storm of additional suits and hatred and such that this would create? There is just so many things wrong with this picture.

First off how can you do this, all the while hoping to convince people of your innocence? It’s a no win situation. Even the comment he made about not correcting the inaccuracies of the account rides dangerously closed to the line of making a self incriminating statement. If the account was truly wrong, and you are trying to clear yourself, then he should have been totally gung-ho about correcting it to explain how he didn’t commit the murder.

And how about this “Ghost Author”. If this “ghost author” knew enough to write a book he/she shouldn’t have needed his help. They should have had the cohones to put their name on it and go to the publishers. Unless the actual murderer wrote it, in which case O.J. qualifies for one of the most manipulated men alive on the face of the planet today.

But if that were not the case, Mr./Mrs. ghost shouldn’t have been writing the book anyway. As a result, they would have needed his sign off on it to publish it without him suing them. So either way, he had a choice in the matter. I believe a smarter/braver man would simply have said “No.” and walked away.

If I were in his shoes and I were innocent, I’d be trying to wash my hands of the whole deal. Move on, leave it all behind. Not making/participating in/editing/whatever a book about it. On the other hand though, if I were Nicole’s parents I would also be trying to do the same thing…

As I have pointed out in another post, peoples greed tends to often get the better of them. Even if people have a legitimate reason to sue another any honorable intentions often gets swept away by the prospect of making some cold hard cash. And I think “cold hard cash” is a good description. It makes people’s hearts cold and hard. Ok I just reread that aloud and realized that it is may be the corniest/cheesiest thing I’ve posted to date. Let that be a warning to you. Anyway, back to the matter at hand…

What I’m trying to say is this. Even though the Goldman estate may have legitimate reasons to want to have the book published, sometimes that reason will be overshadowed by the prospect of the money they will make. I’m waiting to see if they donate the money from the book to a domestic violence cause or pocket it under the following, oft-used rationalization: “I deserve it”…

What do you think they’re gonna do?

O.J. says ghost author wrote flawed murder account – [Reuters]

A boorish dentist makes a killing…

Today we learn about a dentist turned prankster, who, in the middle of a dental procedure on one of his employees, decides to engage in a practical joke which backfires, then back-backfires in his favor:

An oral surgeon who temporarily implanted fake boar tusks in his assistant’s mouth as a practical joke and got sued for it has ended up with the last laugh.

Dr. Robert Woo of Auburn had put the phony tusks in while the woman was under anesthesia for a different procedure. He took them out before she awoke, but first he shot photos that eventually made it around the office.

The employee, Tina Alberts, felt so humiliated when she saw the pictures that she quit and sued her boss.

Woo’s insurance company, Fireman’s Fund, refused to cover the claim, saying the practical joke was intentional and not a normal business activity his insurance policy covered, so Woo settled out of court. He agreed to pay Alberts $250,000, then sued his insurers. …

… In a sprightly 5-4 decision, Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote that Woo’s practical joke was an integral, if odd, part of the assistant’s dental surgery and “conceivably” should trigger the professional liability coverage of his policy. – [Yahoo/AP]

Now I found this case interesting for a number of different reasons. First off is the question of whether an somewhat embarrassing picture is really worth $250,000. Who decides these things? For a picture of you cheating on your wife, maybe. Or evidence of you embezzling funds. Or pics of you committing murder. Most definitely. But for a practical joke picture of you with boars tusks? I dunno.

The next interesting aspect of this case is the question of whether or not this prank could be considered part of doing business. I suppose I would agree that, had he not been engaged in an actual bona fide procedure, the stunt would not have been possible. And if his modus operandi for running his business was “All slapstick, all the time!” then this mishap would even be a legitimate insurance claim. Either way, it would suck to have to be this guys insurer.

Last, but certainly not least, how did he end up with an award of $750,000 in damages in addition to the $250,000 he paid out to the distraught ex-employee? HOW? And more importantly, WHY? Does this make sense to anyone? How does the insurance companies earlier refusal to make good on a stupid prank boars tusk claim net him an additional $750,000? Am I missing something? From where I’m sitting, he should have been happy just to get back what he paid out to the ex-employee.

It seems like the law has become more of an alternative income source for some folk, than a vehicle of justice…

Prankster dentist wins in court – [Yahoo/AP]

Why we need “MedMal” Caps.

Yesterday I read an interesting article about a couple who sued a doctor for failing to properly diagnose a birth defect in their firstborn son:

In what is being called a “wrongful birth” case, a jury awarded more than $21 million to a couple who claimed a doctor misdiagnosed a severe birth defect in their son, leading them to have a second child with similar problems. – [Yahoo/AP]

However the couples lawyer made a statement I found interesting.

Searcy said he would push state lawmakers to pass a bill awarding the Estradas money over the $200,000 cap.

“I believe that this case is so powerful and this tragedy was so preventable and is so poignant, that it is the kind of case that should rise above the fray and rise above party politics,” Searcy said. – [Yahoo/AP]

Out of curiosity, I decided to get the opinion of a subject matter expert, a very talented OB/GYN I have known for many, many years. The verdict? Well, the couples doc messed up. But in contrast to the opinion of the lawyer who tried the case, my subject matter expert, the Good Doctor, thought the award was on the high side. No surprise there.

Now in this particular case, the suit was well warranted. But the comment by the lawyer brought up a very important issue. The lawyers statement would seem to imply that claim caps are simply a result of “party politics”. Me personally, I think the caps are necessary, if for nothing more that the fact that people are not self regulating.

Basically, people are greedy. Most folks/juries that go into a courtroom aren’t thinking “what would be a fair award?” they are thinking “How much can I/would I want to get out of this?”. As a result, judgements/settlements seem to get higher and higher every year. And then you have the folks who sue, not because they doctor did anything wrong, but simply because they are unhappy with how things turned out. In either case, a settlement, judgement, or even just a trial, can be expensive, and the medical industry pays the price, whether they are at fault or not.

Thats not to say nobody really deserves what they get. I know there are cases, like this one, where large settlements or judgements are certainly warranted. But let’s think long term for a moment. Nobody can stay in a business that they can’t make a living on. Left to their own devices, people would run the medical industry out of business, and then there wouldn’t be any doctors left to sue. Or they would become so expensive we wouldn’t be able to afford them.

Yes, at this point that is just a hypothetical scenario, but still, with our very special brand of greed, if we had no caps, well, I could see us getting close to being foot loose and doctor free in about a decade or two…

$21 million awarded for ‘wrongful birth’ – [Yahoo/AP]

Copyright infringement. Guilty until proven innocent?

Yet another Mom gets targeted for, get this, posting a home video of her toddler dancing to Princes “let’s Go Crazy”:

She wanted to share it with other folks around the world so she uploaded it to YouTube, just like thousands of other proud parents have done.

What happened? Big 4 organised music cartel member Vivendi Universal claimed the recording infringed a copyright. – [p2pnet.net]

Apparently the video got removed from YouTube because Universal claimed copyright infringement. I guess you don’t even need to have actually engaged in verifiable copyright infringement to have your videos taken down. Someone merely has to accuse you of it. Now is it just me, or does it seem like the RIAA has YouTube wrapped around it’s little finger?

I’m sure there are many legitimate complaints of copyright infringement from the RIAA on YouTube videos, but shouldn’t they at least verify that some sort of infringement has actually taken place before removing videos? What happened to the rights of the posters? After all, without it’s posters, YouTube would be little more than, say, WebTube. Or InterTube. Or just ‘Tube. Now those don’t sound to popular do they?

Mum sues Universal over YouTube video – [p2pnet.net]

More RIAA College Shenanigans.

The RIAA is at it again:

Under the new scheme, the RIAA sends out what it calls ‘pre-litigation’ settlement letters. Actually, they’re self-incrimination documents and they’re designed to extort preset amounts of around $3,000 from students with the empty promise that by paying up, they’ll remove the threat of being hauled into court on charges of copyright infringement.

In reality, all the students are doing is providing the RIAA with personal and private information which can conceivably be used against them at some point in the future when the Big 4 agency ramps up to a new level of intimidation.

In the sixth wave of blackmail, the RIAA is targetting 23 universities nationwide with 408 ’settlement’ letters. – [p2pnet.net]

Yet again, the RIAA has resorted to mass mailing “pre-litigation” letters to specific colleges in an attempt to intimidate students into settling. I have, in a previous post, pointed out some of the legal pitfalls of this methodology, and why the RIAAs proposed case should never hold up in any but the most technologically ignorant court.

But the article above brings up even more reasons why such a case would be hard to prove, such as the possibility of spoofed IP packet addresses, where the IP address present in an IP package is not necessarily that of the computer that sent it. This and other factors, make identification by IP address, especially in a communal environment, with technologically savvy participants, a near worthless form of identification.

And it would appear that the RIAA knows fully well that this is the case, as it appears that many of the more prestigious, (and presumably more technology/law happy/savvy) colleges, such as Harvard, Yale, etc are conspicuously absent from the list, in spite of the fact that they would almost certainly have had a large number of file sharers among their populace.

It would appear that these “pre-litigation” letters amount to little more than blatant attempts to make suspected file sharers engage in self incrimination. If I were a student, staff, faculty or member of the administration at any of these 23 universities, I would consider this a great insult to my intelligence, and would refuse to cooperate with the RIAA simply on principle. But then again, that could just be my antisocial tendencies rising to the fore…

RIAA student victimisation campaign – [p2pnet.net]