And Now A Word From Our Lawyer...
Column written by on Saturday, March 27, 1999
This is my first attempt at writing an editorial. I'm usually too busy authoring license agreements for clients or defending clients against frivolous lawsuits. However, a series of disturbing events and trends during the past week has prompted me to write this essay. Not only am I concerned about the possible lawsuit between User Friendly, et al and Some Mystery Company, I'm also worried about the legality of the Slashdot Effect and the rumors of Do-It-Yourself-License-Agreement-Kits.
Legality of the Slashdot Effect
One of my colleagues directed me to an obscure Missouri statute that could possibly make the Slashdot maintainers criminally liable for damages caused by the Slashdot Effect. At least, that's if Section 569.099 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri is loosely interpreted.
The law says, in part, "A person commits the crime of tampering with computer users if he knowingly and without authorization... Denies or causes the denial of computer system services to an authorized user of such computer system services..." The law classifies this crime as a class A misdemeanor. If this statute means what I think it does, Rob Malda could wind up in jail long before Bill Gates does.
I haven't had a chance to check the statues of other states or of the Federal government (or other countries, for that matter), but I imagine similar laws are probably in effect.
The recent brouhaha over theos.com is a prime example of the disruptive (and destructive) force of the Slashdot Effect. Not only did their website crash, but their voice mail system was overloaded! If left unchecked, the destructive force of the Slashdot Effect will only continue to escalate, which could make for a very ugly situation.
It's a great time to be a lawyer. With the Open Source(tm) revolution, a plethora of new software and content licenses have emerged. Just take a look at Slashdot; almost every day there's some new license introduced or there's a flame war over existing licenses. It's a lawyer's dream. Eric S. Raymond was right; you can make money from free software. I know I have. I've written hundreds of complicated licenses full of unpenetrable legal jargon for a wide range of clients, all while charging an exorbitant consulting fee.
I'm a bit concerned, however, about a recent rumor I spotted on Slashdot. Someone has created a Perl script that automatically creates a license based on a variety of parameters. Now anybody can create their own license by combining elements from the GPL, LGPL, NPL, MPL, APSL, NCL, BSD, and countless other licenses. The worst part is that they don't need to hire a lawyer to do it. Download a Perl script, execute, and they're done. I'm deeply disturbed about this. If this rumor is true, I may have to switch careers. I really don't want to end up as a door greeter at some Claw-Mart Supercenter.
You've Got Registered Mail
I'm sure you've probably been following the User Friendly, Segfault, and BeDope vs. Some Mystery Company Referred To As The "Evil Empire" showdown. I know the Humorix staff has been nervously watching this unfold. As James Baughn said to me yesterday, "Maybe Humorix's obscurity is a blessing in disguise. The Mystery Company doesn't know -- or care -- about us."
The methods of The Mystery Company's (TMC) law firm bother me the most. I can handle frivolous lawsuits -- I know I've filed my fair share in the past -- but I don't understand why User Friendly, et al, are the targets. It's not like the maintainers of the three sites have vast quantities of money. TMC doesn't seem to care about the old lawyer's saying, "Only sue people who have lots of money".
I'm also concerned about the main request of TMC. In their letter, they want the site maintainers to "portray them in a more positive light". I don't know what you call that, but I call such a thing advertising. [If TMC would like Humorix to "portray them in a more positive light," we'd be more than happy to send them the Humorix advertising rate schedule. -- The Editor]
Well, that about wraps it up. Thank you for not skipping to the next article when you discovered a lawyer had written this piece.
The above editorial does not reflect the opinions or policy of Humorix World Domination, or of the Lowe & Morals Law Firm.
THE ABOVE CONTENT IS PROVIDED "AS IS" WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. NO, THE CAPS LOCK KEY IS NOT BROKEN; THIS WARRANTY LEGALESE MUST BE IN ALL CAPS TO FULLY COMPLY WITH THE LAW. UH OH, THE CAPS LOCK KEY SEEMS TO BE STUCK. NO, WAIT A MINute, it's okay.
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[Mr. N. O. Morals is not a lawyer, he only plays one on websites. He is, of course, a fictional character. We don't think we have to mention this, but the Humorix staff is a bit edgy about lawsuits right now. -- The Editor]