Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A few words about copyright

Since we have a poster here who apparently needs a Schoolhouse Rock on our legal system, I will insert this note before continuing to trash the fugly. I am not a lawyer and none of the below should be taken as legal advice - it's just freely available information you can find anywhere online if you look for it.

There are 2 kinds of legal matters in the world: criminal and civil. Things that are considered wrong in a criminal sense are those that the government feels the need to get involved in correcting because there is a very important public interest at stake. These are things like murder, rape, treason. You don't need a lawyer to go after someone for these things - the government does it for you as a matter of public interest.

Then there are civil matters. These are things like breach of contract, copyright, property disputes, etc. In these cases, the government will not help you. The government's position is that if you want to right the wrong you believe has been done to you, you have to hire a lawyer and pursue it at your own expense. Now, with certain civil matters, like personal injury cases, the potential payoff is so great that lawyers can be convinced to take your case on contingency. This means you only pay for fees and costs until the outcome of the case, when you pay a percentage of any settlement or judgment earned to the lawyer. These cases can still be expensive, because you have to pay fees to the court, fees to the process server, fees to the court reporter, fees for transcripts, etc. This will be thousands of dollars anyway. (People who hire lawyers after seeing those "you pay nothing til you win!" ads are often SHOCKED and HORRIFIED to learn this fact of life. "Nothing" means nothing in legal fees only.)

Most civil cases, you have to pay a lawyer by the hour. Copyright falls into probably the #1 highest paid legal specialty - intellectual property. A mediocre copyright attorney is around $275 an hour. A good one is $400 and up. And for anybody who has not yet been involved in a lawsuit, they bill for everything. 10 minute phone conversation? Ka-ching. Letter that took 15 minutes for their secretary to write? Ka-ching. Time spent reading the Fugly Horse Blog to see what you're bitching about? Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. Photocopies, 15 cents a page if they're being reasonable, 25 cents a page if they're not.

You cannot litigate a copyright claim in small claims court, by the way. These things are handled in federal court only and you need a lawyer who is specifically admitted to practice in federal court. There is no cheap, DIY way to handle this kind of matter.

Moral of the story: Anybody can sue anybody. Does not mean they'll succeed, and in fact, the losing party often has to pay the winning party's legal fees. If you really think the best use of your money is suing a blogger on the Internet, who am I to interfere with your fun? You might want to do a teeny bit of research first about how hard it is to win these cases, or to show that you have been damaged in some tangible way. You know who wins copyright cases? McDonald's, when someone tries to open McDonald's Titty Bar.

But if you really want to throw your money in the toilet - hey, it is a free country. I can always start a sub-blog for amusing legal threat letters and publish them to entertain our other guests.