May 27, 2003  ·  Lessig

So it you want to read a story about extremists, here’s one that’s hard to beat. These people are looking for help, so anyone in New York who can help should follow up. I have permission to post this, but I haven’t verified the facts.

  • Ryan Mahoney

    Man that sucks! I wish I was a lawyer, I’d mess Darby & Darby up and make THEM pay fees. There’s no way that “virtual office team”, which are three common words, can infringe upon “OFFICETEAM”, which could only have been registered as one word because that’s the only way it’s special. You can’t register common words like office and team. That’s like the Joker from Batman trying to put a trademark on fish.

    But, alas, my jedi powers are limited to computers. :(

  • Jakob Karter

    The real villians of this piece seem to be Darby & Darby, who have a track record of doing this sort of thing. Robert Half International (rhi.com, proprieters of Accountemps, accountemps.com) seems more like the owner of the vicious attack dogs, not the actual dogs themselves.

    Looking at the allegedly offending site, I can see some business similarities, but certainly nothing that a reasonably intelligent person (rather than a lawyer?) would see as infringing. Especially since they use correct spelling, with all the requisite letters. ;)

    I’m also thinking that this is the kind of thing that Chilling Effects (chillingeffects.org) helps with. No mention of either RHI or Darby&Darby there, though. At least, not yet.

  • http://www.nagpal.info/ tarun

    Unfortunately this is the era of legal threats used for extortion, not everyone can afford a lawyer, nor do they understand their legal recourse. Why do you think so many people fold on receiving a cease and desist? Because a small startup doesn’t have the money to fight out court cases.

  • Karl

    I’ve been saying it for years. The sure way to stop these people from flexing their patents in improper manner is to send a few down the river for barratry. All we need are a few good lawyers who will work pro bono.

    -kd

  • http://www.virtualassistantjobs.com Tryna and Dan Fitzpatrick

    It’s been comforting to read your comments. Thank you! It’s great to know that we are not the only ones who think what they are doing is wrong.

    If anyone is interested, here is additional information:

    Darby & Darby Info:
    ———————-
    http://www.darbylaw.com
    Attorney Robert S Weisbein rweisbein@darbylaw.com
    Weisbein Number: 212.527.7715
    Office Tel 212.527.7700
    Fax 212.753.6237

    Case Number: 03 CV 3086
    Reference Number: 6565/62895

    Robert Half International
    ————————–
    http://www.rhi.com
    http://www.officeteam.com
    2884 Sand Hill Road, Suite 200
    Menlo Park, CA 94025
    Phone: (650) 234-6000
    Fax: (650) 854-9735
    Chairman, Pres and CEO: Harold Messmer, Jr.

  • ojsbuddy

    This is not a ‘Lawsuite’ ; this is merely a Scam. Ignore it . You can use the name if you want.

  • Randy Williams

    Larry -
    Doesn’t it strike you as a little irresponsible to post this story without checking even a single fact? By posting it, you knew that a large number of your readers would call and harrass the accused parties. Did it ever dawn on you that — before you unleash *your* Internet dogs of war — you should double check that you are not just getting suckered by the Fitzpatricks? What if it turns out that the Fitzpatricks have some private unfounded grudge against attorney Weisbein and are now using you to get even with him?

    You stopped being a balanced academic a long time ago. But when did you stop recognizing that you have some responsibility for your actions?

    Shame on you.

  • Lessig

    Mr. Williams, I am sorry if I gave the impression that I posted this “without checking even a single fact.” That is not accurate. And of course I accept responsibility for my actions, the “when did you stop beating your wife” form of your question notwithstanding.

    But as to the “balanced academic” point, maybe you’re right. I don’t know what balance in the face of extremism is. I think abuse of a valuable system — as the copyright, trademark, and patent system is — is wrong.

  • Randy Williams

    Larry — It’s a little hard to reconcile your original message (“I have not verified the facts”) with your vague response here. But that is almost secondary to the broader issue: you lead by example, and the example you set here, in your own words, was that it is okay to publish something like this without checking facts. Hence my original post.

    Which takes me right to your last paragraph; you don’t know what balance is in the face of extremism? That’s a cute bumper sticker, but nothing more. The reason we need smart people in these many debates is that these are hard questions and they require nuanced answers. Not half-baked responses. Not disruptive PR stunts.

    That is not to say that there isn’t value to extremism. Of course there is. It helps call attention to important social issues. But you can do more. You can call attention to important issues and at the same time help to craft the thoughtful responses. I don’t understand why you are willing to settle at accomplishing only the first of those goals.

    Lastly, I am in general a fan, so there was no hidden “wife beating” slam in the first post. You are clearly doing a great deal of important work, and for that you deserve praise. I merely find it frustrating to see you settle for half-best. If you don’t push for more, who will?

  • Lessig

    Randy (If I may):

    I wanted to take this offline, but apparently this isn’t your email address.

    Let’s separate the particular from the general.

    The particular:

    You asked how do I know the complaint is legit — that it’s not just someone with a vendetta, etc. I agree, my post did not make that clear. I implied that I had had contact with them by saying I had permission to post, but I should have made that point clearer. Of course it was appropriate to determine that the complaint was in good faith, and that these people were legitimate in making the complaint.

    What I did not verify (and these are the “facts” I was referring to) was the allegations that they made. But I don’t think that’s necessary or appropriate. Lists and blogs all the time repeat allegations, and so long as they are tied to a real person and there is an opportunity to respond, I believe that linking is totally fair. If you disagree, I’d be eager to know why, but you’d be disagreeing with a custom, and not just me.

    Re the general: you said I have lost by “balance as an academic”

    That’s the part I am less willing to accept, at least without an argument. Sure, a blog post is a bumper sticker. But I don’t think it is fair to say of my work that I have not tried to draw attention to the nuance in these issues. I’ve written literally thousands of pages about the nuance in these issues. The problem as I see it is that we are getting not the hard questions wrong, but the easy questions wrong. And that’s not because there’s not sufficient nuance out there.

  • Tryna Fitzpatrick

    Please, I invite anyone to check the facts of the case! would be happy to provide anyone with the information that they need so that you can see that our motives are true.

    We were contacted by a reporter from Forbes Magazine as a result of this posting. HE IS CHECKING the facts as we speak and is going to try to get the story published in the next hardcopy edition of Forbes magazine.

    The other person being sued, Nancy Brown, has posted her summons and judgment online. I hope to get ours online this week.
    http://www.virtualgalfriday.com/thevirtualoffice/judgement.html
    http://www.virtualgalfriday.com/thevirtualoffice/complaint.html

    Until that time, I welcome anyone who is interested to contact us for documents, additional information or anything else that you might need to verify the facts.

    Thank you,
    Dan and Tryna Fitzpatrick
    321.733.1700
    info@virtualassistantjobs.com

  • Randy Williams

    Larry -

    Apologies for the email mixup. My only email access is from a work account, and I am reluctant to give that one out in a public forum for fear of SPAM. Besides, a public conversation has some charms. Although I am happy to stop if that is what you think best.

    On confirming facts, I take it that you and I now agree. Before posting this, you should have (my point) and did (your ultimate response) check to make sure this was not just some trouble-maker. The general norms of blogging are not important to me; what is important is that bloggers with a huge following exercise care in how they use that power. You have now clarified that you did, which is good to hear, and clearly the right thing to do.

    On the question of balance, maybe my experience is atypical, but I work with a large number of young people (high school and some college) and they love you, read your books and your blog, and they have no sense of nuance or balance at all. They think that Napster and Grokster are clearly good, and that RIAA and MPAA are clearly bad, and that there is no room for disagreement. The troubling part is that they think they learned it all from you.

    I myself see issues like those to be closer calls. Should Grokster have some responsibility for designing its service in a way that shows at least a modicum of concern for existing copyright rights? I think so. And I am sure that there is a respectable argument to be made on that side. When I tell the young people that, I usually can gradually convince them that the issue is in fact a difficult one, with serious concerns to balance and weigh. But it frustrates me that they walk in thinking they already understand the issue, when they clearly don’t. And, again, they often think they learned it all from you.

    So our question then turns to this: is it that these young readers are missing the nuance you build in, or are some of your popular press writings and blogs leading these kids to think the bumper sticker really is the right answer? I see Ryan Mahoney (above) half-joke about roughing up the lawyer, and I wonder.

    Again, I have great respect for much of what you do. My own thinking on many issues has been beneficially influenced by your writings and perspective. But waging a weekend war on Starbucks, or making the Ryan Mahoneys of the world think they can know the right answers without doing any critical thinking, might be causing more harm than necessary.

    That was what worried me when I saw the post we’ve talked about today. Maybe I am alone, but my first thought was to have some compassion for lawyer Weisbein, who very likely (and possibly underservingly) has had a very bad day today.

    Thank you for taking the time to write back-and-forth on this.

  • James

    Randy –

    Your first thought was to have compassion for the lawyer Weisbein, “who very likely has had a very bad day today”? Why was that your “first thought”? What about the people he is bringing this claim against?

    At least it is his job, as an attorney, to take some heat and be in an adversarial posture. These folks seem to have done nothing to merit what Half and Weisbein are doing to them.

    I would think your “first thought” would be one of sympathy for them. Not a lawyer for a megafirm that is threatening to take their livelihood away.

  • Lessig

    Randy,
    Let me come talk to your students about nuance and balance. But it is a great thing that they are animated about these issues at all. Five years ago this was a totally invisible subject — despite the important harm the trend towards IP extremism threatens. It is extraordinary progress that they think about the issues at all.

    I am sorry if the “stunts” offend. I think they do some good. One of the greatest IP scholars of all time, Jessica Litman, writes in her wonderful book, Digital Copyright, that copyright law is filled with rules that ordinary people would respond to by saying, “There can’t really be a law that says that. That would be silly.” In my view, the more that IP law gets used against “ordinary people,” the more people have got to see just how extreme the law can be.

  • http://www.virtualgalfriday.com Nancy Brown

    I would like to thank Tryna & Dan Fitzpatrick for contacting me and for making our cases ‘known’. I am the owner of thevirtualofficeteam.com.

    I have taken the site down temporarily; the domain is redirecting to virtualgalfriday.com

    You can still see pieces of the original site here:

    http://www.virtualgalfriday.com/thevirtualoffice/index.html

    Remember that some of the images aren’t working..but the text is there and you can see what the fuss is all about. Our services are similar; but not identical. I do not operate a staffing agency, my business, like the Fitzpatricks’ is virtual. We do not hire employees; we use Independent Contractors to fulfill work assignments for clients.

    AND the real kicker for me is that we never had a client through The Virtual Office Team; for the last 2 years this has been a ‘dream’ of mine; a concept finally taking shape. AND now someone wants my domain name..I just have to scream “It’s not FAIR”..and it’s not!

    Nancy A. Brown
    nancy@virtualgalfriday.com

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar Timothy Phillips

    These URLs:

    http://free-the-midi.com/webmasters.htm
    http://net4tv.com/voice/story.cfm?storyid=2941

    describe a situation in which copyright (rather than trademark) law is wielded against numerous naive and/or weak parties who appear at least prima facie in technical violation of the law who can be expected to settle out of court.

    I have no way to know whether any of the allegations there is true, except that (1) A company called “Trycho Music International” does exist, and it (2) boasts that it “actively prosecute[s] unauthorized distribution of [its] recordings:”

    http://www.trycho.com/piracy.htm (last visited today).

    My view on the technical point, however, is independent of the truth of the claims made by the Music Relief Association: A MIDI sequence is not a high-fidelity “recording”. With MIDI sequences we have come full circle back to the situation we were in in the days of piano rolls. A MIDI sequence, like a piano roll, is simply an alternative form of musical notation; the MIDI sequence should not be separately copyrightable from the music. A MIDI sequence of entirely public domain music (i.e. no copyrightable “adaptation” or “arrangement” involved) should be sub-copyrightable.

  • Dan
  • http://www.mrxsss.com/ Mr. X

    hey Randy,

    “is it that these young readers are missing the nuance you build in, or are some of your popular press writings and blogs leading these kids to think the bumper sticker really is the right answer?”

    I got another one for you… Maybe they’re missing the nuance built in rhetoric like: “you are with us or against us.” Maybe they’re forced to pick a team and Lessig has nothing to do with it.

    You say you admire Lessig? And next line you think that “waging a weekend war on Starbucks [...] might be causing more harm than necessary.”

    It doesn’t take a doctorate in political science to see you’re a fake. Your pseudo-intellectual bs is not only pretentious, but also boring…
    Could you please post this stuff to your own blog so I don’t waste my time trying to avoid it? Thx.

  • Richard

    The same thing happened to me. The Fitzpatrick’s won their case and were very helpful in assiting me to win mine as well. The bottom line – Robert Half International uses strong armed hit men to go after small businesses. But now we (small businesses) are fighting back. I am very thankful to the Fitzpatrick’s who provided me with pages of data, advice, and research that led to the case against my business to be THROWN OUT of court and Robert Half’s hitmen to be warned against using unlawful tactics to pursue domain names that DO NOT BELONG TO THEM!!