Tortfeasor Madness

Well madness might be an overstatement, but a lot of people seem receptive to the tortfeasor shirt idea – and the shirts are selling well. The first orders should be arriving within days. Thanks to Alice, Katherine, Lane, and jd2b for the links!
It’s pretty fun to walk down a crowded street wearing a tortfeasor t-shirt. Most people sort of glance at it and keep moving, but you can tell who the lawyers and law students are; they look a little longer, and they can’t help but reveal a little grin as they pass by.

Tortfeasor Shirts

Today I’m officially launching a project I’ve been working on: The website is just a place to buy tortfeasor t-shirts. Basically I wanted to make up some tortfeasor shirts, but I wanted quality (none of this iron-on stuff). This, coupled with the fact that other people seem to want the shirts as well, has prompted me to start a little business selling t-shirts. I wanted to keep the prices low. I was selling shirts via café-press for a while, but they charge at least $15 per shirt plus shipping, and they don’t screen print. My shirts are $10 each. If you live in Boston you can pick one up and save the shipping – let me know.
Those not in law school or the legal profession might be wondering what exactly a tortfeasor is. First you have to know what a tort is. My torts professor introduced it like this, “Torts… A tort is a wrong committed against someone. You see these guys on TV late at night, ‘Have you been injured in an automobile accident?’ and you think… ‘yeah I dunno if I want to do that’, but torts are a great area of the law.”
A tortfeasor is “one who commits a tort”. So if I skate on your front steps, I’m a tortfeasor (trespass). If I punch you in the face, I’m a tortfeasor (battery). If I’m a surgeon and I carelessly remove the wrong organ, I’m a tortfeasor (negligence). The tortfeasor is to civil law as the criminal is to criminal law.
So spread the word, tortfeasor shirts are in stock. Buy a shirt and wear it to your first day of torts class. Or wear it to the exam. Or wear it while you’re getting up to mischief. I wouldn’t recommend wearing it as a defendant though.

Standards, Patents, and WC3

I finished a paper a couple weeks ago about delayed patent enforcement as a business strategy. There have been a couple of companies lately that have “found” patents that covered a particular widespread technology. These companies have tried, and even succeeded in cashing in on these patents. For example, last year Forgent succeeded in getting substantial licensing revenue for their patent that covers the technology used to create jpeg files.
Of course, part of the reason a particular technology might attain widespread use is the fact that people can use it for free. In the case of jpeg, the technology is especially valuable because it has become a standard. It is recognized by virtually every imaging and browsing application. Would it have been so popular if people had to license it originally? Perhaps not.
In areas where standardization is key (ie communication technologies – we all have to use the same telephone standard for telephones to be effective), standards often come about as the result of standard setting organizations. If a standard setting organization chooses to adopt, and then influences the spread of, a proprietary technology, the technology rights owner (the patent holder) can charge significant licensing fees.
These fees are limited by the standard setting organization’s rules. They may require that member companies charge only “reasonable” fees, or they may require that member organizations relinquish any technology rights (not really – but they agree to a free license). There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems (and I’m not ready to claim that one method is better than the other) but I found it interesting that W3C has recently gone to a royalty-free system. They’ve also explained the decision.

Museum of Techno

I’m not sure whether the museum of techno is actually a real museum, but I find their site pretty amusing. They have some good kick drum samples too. “Enjoy a summer’s evening of fine food, stimulating conversation and, of course, arse-caning nose-bleed techno.”

$1 Copyright Proposal

Lawrence Lessig has proposed that someone propose a statute to charge copyright holders $1 per year beyond the first 50 years to maintain their copyright. This would mitigate some of the loss of public domain works to the copyright term extension act, which gives works protection for the author’s life plus 70 years.
Lessig estimates that 98% of works would enter the public domain after just 50 years, while the remaining 2% (works that still have commercial value after 50 years) can still be protected to Congress’s/Lobbyist’s liking.
I think this is a good idea. Under the current system, there are masses of works that are not in the public domain, but that have little or no commercial value. Disney and related media companies are effectively holding these works hostage by lobbying for increased protection over a few of their own works. The transaction costs of getting rights to these works (finding the copyright owner, seeking a license, getting a response) create an insurmountable obstacle to their use. Since these works have little commercial value, they warrant very little transaction costs. The imbalance keeps them out of the public domain, but leave them unused for commercial purposes (a/k/a worthless).
The $1 idea not only shifts the notification costs back to those who seek protection, but it also (and much more importantly) eliminates the transaction costs required to obtain a license to non-commercially-valuable works. This is extremely important for works that have social value (educational, artistic, and informational).
Lessig’s example of this need is also interesting. He points to a new project to digitize the Stanford University library. A project that could violate a lot of protected copyrights under current law. This digitization of information is important in improving access and usability of information, and as David Galbraith noted a while back, it cleans out one’s file drawers too (why tangitize intangibles?).

Street Wart

During the winter I noticed a small hole in the street next to the drain-grate. The whole got bigger and bigger until one day it collapsed, forming a pit about two feet wide and three feet deep:
Beacon Street Hole
The city apparently decided it was time to do something about it. Their first step was to make it go away by dumping a huge mound of asphalt on the problem.
Perhaps there are two universal solutions to problems: (1) throw money at the problem (accepted scientific maxim), and (2) dump a huge pile of asphalt on the problem (my proposed universal solution):
Beacon Street Asphalt Pile
In any case, the problem seems to be more than just a hole in the street. They’re out there cutting and digging every day, trampling everyone’s spring flowers in the process. What are they building out there?


I’m finishing up a fascinating book called Nobrow from John Seabrook. The number one Google result for John Seabrook is his nearly 10-year-old “home page” which he seems to have created for his book “Home on the Net”, but now appears to be abandoned. (Is it a home if no one lives there?)
Nobrow examines the intersection of culture and marketing and the new (single) road that they have both merged to become. My understanding of his theory is roughly that, in today’s consumer society, culture is defined by commodities, and the resulting definitions exist outside the scope of high-brow and low-brow because so little creative purity remains. I might have botched that explanation a bit…
More interesting than the theory are Seabrooks examples. He interviews George Lucas, and David Geffen, hangs around MTV, and writes for the New Yorker. He listens to gangster rap while contemplating his desire to appear in Ralph Lauren advertisements at the Princeton boat house. Thus his book perfectly employs the popularity technique that he writes about: cashing in on buzz by scraping off a little piece for oneself. Seabrook might not be a household name, but MTV, the New Yorker, Lucas, Geffen, et al. are certainly worth reading about. He keeps your interest by taking from mass media, the force that binds U.S. Americans together, the official religion of the United States.

Phone “Booth” Wi-Fi

While I’m excited to hear that Verizon is experimenting with using existing phone booths as wireless hotspots in New York, I’m even more excited to hear that Verizon is dropping their DSL rates from $50 to $30-$35 per month. Yeah! Now there’s something good for the common man.
The New York phone booth thing is cool, but who will really benefit? It’s only available to current Verizon customers, so it’ll presumably be people that already have high-speed access at home. Among those, how many will actually be near a phone booth in New York when they want to get online? While there are generally a lot of people on a Manhattan sidewalk, most of them are actually going somewhere – (probably somewhere with internet access) not just hanging around. Where would you hang around with a laptop? The park? Don’t they already have wireless there?
It seems like the only beneficiaries will be people in unwired (and unwirelessly wired) street-level cafes and such – still a cool idea, but not such a big deal.
One final complaint: Since when is a greasy phone on a stick a “phone booth”. Phone booths have walls and doors. In London they feature a bounty of escort flyers. In Switzerland they have little computerized phone directories. In the US, an actual phone booth is a rare find.