Winklevoss twins continue lawsuit against Facebook

The key conflict in The Social Network (reviewed here and here) is the lawsuit that the Winklevoss twins bring against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. This lawsuit is continuing as the Winklevosses seek a larger settlement:

If they prevail, their legal appeal would overturn the settlement, now worth in excess of $160 million because of the soaring value of the privately held company.

The Winklevosses won’t say exactly how much they would seek in their high-stakes grudge fest with the billionaire Facebook founder, but by their own calculations they argue they should have received four times the number of Facebook shares. That would make any new settlement worth more than $600 million based on a recent valuation of Facebook at more than $50 billion…

Facebook has won multiple court rulings, and legal experts say the Winklevosses are likely to lose this one too…

The controversial origins of Facebook — who actually founded it and how — have been the subject of renewed debate since Hollywood offered its dramatization of the conflicting stories from the Winklevosses, both portrayed in “The Social Network” by actor Armie Hammer, and former Zuckerberg friend and Harvard classmate Eduardo Saverin, portrayed by Andrew Garfield. In 2005, Saverin sued Facebook for diluting his stake in the company and reportedly reaped a $1.1-billion settlement.

Zuckerberg has called the film, which received eight Academy Award nominations including best picture, “fiction.” In it, his character tells the Winklevosses: “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.”

But that’s exactly what the Winklevosses said they did.

The article suggests that the Winklevosses can’t really lose here: if the courts say they shouldn’t receive more money, they still get to receive the initial settlement. We can ask how much The Social Network influenced the decision to seek more money. There were relatively few people in the media who concentrated on the veracity or one-sided nature of this story. For many who saw this Oscar-nominated film, Zuckerberg looks like a jerk.

Of course, this movie and portrayal should have little influence on the courts. And the Winklevosses say they have new evidence for the courts to consider. But I suspect the case was brought in part because of the positive portrayal of the Winkevosses in this film. If this case were in the court of public opinion (and perceptions), would the Winklevosses win?

40,000 ways to file a lawsuit

How do you file lawsuits against 40,000 people you think are infringing your copyrights?  Sounds like the answer is “one at a time”:

Thousands of unnamed “John Does” in P2P file sharing lawsuits filed in California, Washington DC, Texas, and West Virginia have been severed, effectively dismissing over 40,000 defendants. The plaintiffs in these cases must now re-file against almost all of the Does individually rather than suing them en mass.

Let’s unpack this.  Copyright owners often don’t know the names of people they suspect of using the Internet to infringe their works — they only know that such-and-such an Internet protocol address allegedly accessed a pirated file of their content.  In order to match that address with a particular person, they often have go to court to compel an Internet service provider to tell them what account/person is associated with that address.  They can only sue individuals once they have actual names.

Copyright owners have been in the habit of suing thousands of “John Doe” IP addresses in one lawsuit and then using those names to settle quickly:

These rulings may have a significant impact on the copyright trolls’ business model, which relies on being able to sue thousands of Does at once with a minimum of administrative expense. The cost of filing suit against each Doe may prove prohibitively expensive to plaintiffs’ attorneys who are primarily interested in extracting quick, low-hassle settlements.

In my view, courts’ rejection of this tactic brings some procedural balance back to copyright infringement lawsuits.  Copyright owners often sue alleged infringers in courts that are convenient for the owner, and this can effect a substantial injustice.

Perhaps a concrete example is in order.  Let’s assume an individual defendant that (1) is unquestionably innocent and (2) lives in Iowa.  Let’s further assume the plaintiff copyright owner is a movie studio based in California who wants to sue her in Los Angeles.  As a practical matter, this defendant has a difficult choice.  Litigation is always inconvenient and expensive, but hiring a California-based attorney from Iowa and flying out to Los Angeles is probably more than a typical defendant can afford.  Under these circumstances, she may pay the studio a $2,000 settlement even though she’s innocent just to make the matter go away.  After all, it’s pretty easy to burn through $2,000 with a lawyer and travel expenses.

Given this procedural tilt favoring copyright owners, it seems only fair that they be required to file their suits one at a time.  If a copyright owner doesn’t think her claim is even worth a filing fee, she probably shouldn’t be filing that lawsuit in the first place.  Copyright was, after all, designed “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”, not to provide extra-judicial windfall profits to content owners.

Thanks to Matt Berntsen for the original link to the EFF write-up.

A $4000 mistake

Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.  A Canadian-based copywriting firm is attempting to parlay a very expensive mistake into favorable publicity:

“Like many other creative types in the web industry, our copywriters were not clear on image copyright laws, and we were taught an expensive lesson,” said Rick Sloboda, Senior Web Copywriter at Webcopyplus, which provides designers and businesses optimized web content. “We’re sharing our story, so others can learn from our experience and avoid the same mistake.”

In May, 2010, with the assumption Web images without copyright notices were “public domain” and free to use, a Webcopyplus copywriter used Google images to find an unmarked 400 x 300 pixel scenic photo to complement an article for a tourism client’s blog.

Webcopyplus has posted additional details on their blog, as well as some resources for obtaining stock photography in a way that won’t get one sued (including Creative Commons photos available via Flickr).