CyberTech Rambler

September 25, 2008

Laws and the internet age (Updated)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:42 pm

A lot of people will be fuming on the fact that one person sue the other for simply providing a hyperlink and web address to one’s website. In this case, a law firm appears to be unhappy about a negative publicity and tried to use trademark laws to intimidate another who provided a hyperlink to the law firm’s website, and labelled the hyperlink with the name of the law firm.

From what I understand from the report, it is classic intimidation by law suit where one party is hoping that it has a fatter bank account to bend the other to its will. I do not think that law firm thinks it has a case. If it did, avoid the law firm because this will be a symptom of incompetent. The law firm is hoping that the lawsuit will make the article goes away. Unfortunately, like a recently reported case where a police department decided to launch a criminal investigation over someone website linking to their’s, defendent’s lawyer will tell the defendent to keep the article/link on the website to ensure it will not be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

How to deal with these type of nuisance lawsuit? That is for the court to decide. To prove malicious intent will be difficult. However, there are things that can be done. First is to dismiss the lawsuit, after giving the plaintiff a say in the matter. After all, innocent until proven guilty. We need the plaintiff to “commit” the offence first. More importantly, every case is different in some ways, we cannot dismiss any case without first giving the plantiff a say for the fear of dismissing a potentially valid claim. Then, make the plaintiff pays for the lawsuit. Here is where a judge can make a different. If the case is frivolous, make the plaintiff pay “a bit more”.

For this case, the stack against the plaintiff is (1)the article only list public information (according to the article, (2)free speech and, (3) at the risk of teaching the plaintiff on how to mount a successful campaign, privacy. May be (3) cannot apply for a public figure and the community decided that the need for full disclosure triumph privacy concern. I was alarmed by the fact the full address is listed. In the case of a terrace house, this will be a big problem for me if someone listed the address of a person who is not a public official but whose job is only to support a public official. However, I think the address is a unit inside an apartment block. If so, my concerns about the privacy diminished. Even more if there is a door man on duty. (Updated 29 Sept: From Groklaw’s write up, it appears that at least for the defendant, the “public record” argument is going to triumph the privacy argument. In short, it means if the government published it, any one can republish it. Still, as Groklaw’s citation of a Virginia case shows, there are concerns about privacy.)

What will this lawsuit finally achieve? The status quo will be maintained. The only thing that the plaintif will achieve is the unnecessary clarification that trademark law cannot be used this way. We already know that. At least we will now have a case reference for other lawsuit of similar nature.


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