Monday, June 4, 2012

National Tech Blog Calls AOL-Huffington Post Hypocrites for Threatening Maryland Juice // DLA Piper Idiocy EXPOSED

UPDATE: The national legal blog "Above the Law" picked up on the story of DLA Piper attorneys harassing Maryland Juice. Thanks for the lift!

Last week Maryland Juice reported on a disturbing threat we received from AOL-Huffington Post's law firm DLA Piper, on behalf of After excerpting portions of a Patch article in our commentary about accessory apartments in Montgomery County, we received a nastygram from AOL.  In spite of "fair use" principles, they claimed we were infringing on their intellectual property and demanded that we remove article excerpts and photos from Their threat letter stated, "we require that you immediately comply with our demands" and noted that they might "pursue any additional avenues."

Today, the technology bloggers at TechDirt picked up on DLA Piper's threats and called out AOL for complete and utter hypocrisy. Read this excerpt from TechDirt's article:
AOL Threatens Blogger With Copyright Infringement Charge... For Doing The Exact Same Thing AOL Has Done On A Large Scale

There have been plenty of accusations made against AOL's the Huffington Post concerning its habit of "over aggregating" content from other sites.... it would be pretty damn hypocritical for AOL to then threaten another blogger for doing exactly the same thing that HuffPo does, wouldn't it?....

Enter, Maryland Juice. A local Maryland blog, which recently had a post about some happenings in Montgomery County, which included relatively large excerpts of parts of an article from Patch, another property owned by AOL. It also included an image from the article. The Maryland Juice article included a significant amount of commentary about the article and, in particular, the photo, which was used to illustrate the point (that it was not a representative sample of county residents at the local meeting). And, yet... AOL lawyers sent a cease and desist letter....

... a few years ago, when HuffPo tried to do its own "hyper local site," it was accused of doing more or less the exact same thing (but with less commentary, and more copying)....

IN THE ERA OF THE INTERNET, COPYRIGHT TROLLING IS EVIL: Before we even get to a discussion about the merits of "intellectual property" and whether a firm like DLA Piper is "evil" for engaging in copyright trolling, it is important to understand the real harms in what they are doing. This sort of frivolous use of the legal system to harass volunteer writers like myself has a chilling effect on free speech, satire/parody, etc. I know online activists who have simply shut down their websites and/or removed perfectly legal content after receiving similar threats from multinational corporate law firms. After all, what unpaid blogger or YouTube karaoke singer has the resources or patience to defend against complex copyright litigation? Here is a quick blurb on copyright trolls from Wikipedia:
WIKIPEDIA: A copyright troll is a pejorative term for a party that enforces copyrights it owns for purposes of making money through litigation, in a manner considered unduly aggressive or opportunistic, generally without producing or licensing the works it owns for paid distribution. Critics object to the activity because they believe it does not encourage the production of creative works, instead it makes money from the inequities and unintended consequences of high statutory damages provisions in copyright laws intended to encourage creation of such works. 
The term for and conception of a copyright troll began to appear in the mid-2000s. It derives from "patent trolls", which are companies that enforce patent rights to earn money from companies that are selling products, without having products of their own for sale.

DLA PIPER IS SCREWING AOL SHAREHOLDERS WITH COPYRIGHT TROLLING BILLABLE HOURS: Notably, AOL is a publicly traded company, so when DLA Piper bills the company for frivolous work, it is the shareholders who are losing value. I hope your 401k or pension fund is not invested in AOL, because they're wasting your money right now! In this instance, and perhaps many others, the hours that DLA Piper is billing to AOL are not likely to yield them any monetary value. I would also argue that DLA Piper is actively harming the value of The Huffington Post and by going after people who are promoting and linking to their content -- especially while is still trying to get off the ground.

But this idiotic behavior is nothing new from the IP bar. This week, for example, The Wall Street Journal noted that the book publishing industry has mostly recovered its revenues after quickly embracing digital technology, unlike the music industry, which has sued every digital music technology -- starting with the first mp3 player. Of course, those boneheaded lawsuits (against everything from Napster to teenagers who download music) are done in the name of "protecting" intellectual property. The Wall Street Journal explained the problem (excerpt below):
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Ten years ago this Sunday, the record labels thought they had turned the tide against piracy when the wildly popular Napster—a service that allowed anyone to find and download recordings online—declared bankruptcy.... Sales have since declined by a further $5.5 billion—for a total plunge of over 50%.

Publishing has gotten off to a much better start. Both industries saw a roughly 20% drop in physical sales four years after their respective digital kickoffs. But e-book sales have largely made up the shortfall in publishing—unlike digital music sales, which stayed stubbornly close to zero for years.

This doesn't prove that music lovers are crooks. Rather, it shows that actually selling things to early adopters is wise. Publishers did this—unlike the record labels, which essentially insisted that the first digital generation either steal online music or do without it entirely....

DLA PIPER'S ANONYMOUS ATTORNEYS UNMASKED: Now, DLA Piper threatens to do the same "favors" for microblogging  that they did for the music industry. Maryland Juice wanted to know who the geniuses were behind the email address, so that I could respond to them person-to-person. But they never responded, so I went ahead and sent them my formal response, which was simply a link to my blog article about their idiocy.

But upon further reflection, Maryland Juice wanted to find out more about who exactly was making threats against our work. I had to engage in a little bit of digital sleuthing, starting with looking for clues in the threat letter I received. See the signature on the DLA Piper letter below:

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I was able to track down the benevolent attorneys responsible for the threats. I matched the initials on their signature block to names in DLA's staff directory. It appears that the specific copyright trolls who are trying to ruin the Internet are Ann K. Ford and Ryan C. Compton from DLA Piper's Intellectual Property, Trademark, Copyright and Domain Name practice groups:

AWESOME HUMAN BEINGS AT DLA PIPER: Ann K. Ford's bio notes that she loves suing and exploiting: "She works with clients to ... exploit intellectual property assets.... She also protects clients' intellectual property through the courts...."

Her underling, Ryan Compton, is also an awesome human being. Apparently, he schills for pharma and other benevolent industries: "He has experience working with diverse clients including multinational and Fortune 500 companies, software and technology companies, pharmaceutical companies and traditional mid-sized retailers and manufacturers...."

NOTE: Working intellectual property for pharmaceutical companies is usually code for stopping poor people from getting access to reasonably priced drugs (ie: anti-retroviral AIDS medication in Africa or Canadian re-imports for seniors in the United States). But this shouldn't be a surprise since DLA Piper also shuts down community Christmas plays and fights victims of human rights abuses who seek legal remedies:
LAW.COM: For a minimum of $50,000 a month, DLA Piper lobbyists are urging Congress not to sanction [Ethiopia] for human rights violations. It's a bold move, given that Zenawi's violent crackdown on protesters following contested national elections in 2005 was strongly condemned by human rights advocates.

So what could possibly motivate someone to try and stamp down volunteer bloggers? Here are a few clues from the Facebook pages of our friends at DLA Piper:

Ann K. Ford owns a horse! Suing people for Arianna Huffington must pay well.

Wow, copyright trolls get to hang out with Wyclef Jean! Sign me up!

Congrats on the beamer, Ann! Well deserved, well deserved.

Ann's underling Ryan Compton must be the victim of wage inequality though, because he's still eating pizza:

Don't worry, Ryan. Keep suing bloggers and you'll get a horse too!

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