Category Archives: law

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.

$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?).

File Sharing Review

File sharing issues have seen a lot of developments recently. Last week, the RIAA unveiled software that instant messages users to let them know they are infringing. This followed shortly after a California District Court found that the popular file-sharing program Morpheus did not contributorily infringe the copyright of the works it was helping to distribute.
The motion picture and recording industries were thus having trouble going after the networks, so the RIAA went after the users instead (it all happened too fast to be an “either/or” situation of course). In nearly the same week that the DC District Court ruled that Verizon must give up the names of file sharers to the RIAA, the RIAA settled a case against four infringing university students for thousands of dollars each. Meanwhile, some RIAA members are still trying to milk an old cat; they’re suing Napster’s investors.
Finally, the NY Times reports that the record labels are developing weapons of mass destruction to infect and destroy infringing works on users computers.
File sharing is obviously a problem for the music industry, and they’ve made a strong case that it directly damages sales. Personally, I think the labels need to rethink the way they distribute, price, and even select music. (We’re finally starting to see forward bound steps in this area.) Ultimately, I’ll always be willing to pay for music if it’s good and if it’s reasonably priced. File sharing has probably not influenced how much music I buy, though it has had an effect on what music I buy (easier to find new / original music). The biggest factor effecting my buying habits has nothing to do with the music industry: my income.

EPIC Privacy Threat Index

EPIC has announced its privacy threat index “to track the growing threat to privacy resulting from the expansion of government surveillance.” (pr) (via Life, Law, Libido)
One cool thing about this is that the image is hosted at EPIC, so when (if ever) the privacy threat index is raised or lowered, the change will show up here. At the time of this writing, the threat was “Elevated”.
EPIC Privacy Threat Index
A word about the potential irony of supporting a pro-privacy group immediately after advocating to have all of my personal information stored on a credit card (on a website that makes it very easy to find information about me): I value the right to privacy, I just don’t value mine that much.

Creed Fans Sue Creed

Fans of the band Creed (muhahaha) are bring a class-action suit against the band for failing to “substantially perform” when the lead singer “was so intoxicated and/or medicated that he was unable to sing the lyrics of a single Creed song.”
This is one of those cases that sounds frivolous to people reading the articles (suing a band because they didn’t like the concert), but actually makes a lot of sense (in my opinion). Certainly, a duty to perform was created when the tickets were sold. Depending on what that duty was (would have to do a little research and analyze the specific facts), it’s conceivable if not probable that Creed breached their duty by failing to perform. I can’t seem to find a copy of the full complaint, but The Smoking Gun has the Statement of Facts section.

Bomb Your Laundry – Not Iraq

I just a read a footnote to a case that reads, “The combination of detergent and chlorine bleach is called ‘la bomba’ in Puerto Rico.” Clorox Co., Puerty Rico v. Procter & Gamble Commercial Co. 228 F.3d 24 (1st Cir. 2000). The thought of people thinking, “wow, that’s pretty dirty, I’m going to have to drop the bomb on these clothes to get them clean” is quite amusing to me.
Other pleasant bombs include la bomba the pastry and la bamba the song (to some).
For an interesting (less than scientific) cultural study, compare Google’s bomb images with bomba images.

Pick a Number…

How popular is your favorite number – and why? I’ve recently learned that numbers, like abbreviations, can be protected under the Lanham Act (trademark protection). Of course, like any trademark, we have to look at the mark in relation to the good. Thus, I couldn’t register “M5” and prevent anyone from using it, but I might prevent anyone from using it to identify a car. Indeed, just this month BMW registered “M5” for key chains, mouse pads, cuff links, etc. (D-oh, mental note: scratch that idea to start marketing M5 cuff links.) (For more info, check out and look up trademark registration #2683596.)
Okay, so “M5” isn’t really a number, but “777” is registered for cattle vaccines (1223871), sealants (1373772), vitamins (1135481), flashlights (1779611), and more – so there.
This morning however, I am truly fascinated not by the legal protection of numbers, but by their cultural popularity (keeping in mind that ours is a consumer culture). That’s why I’m so impressed with The Secret Lives of Numbers, a beautiful interface to illustrate the most popular numbers and the associations that make numbers popular (often products, but also years, codes, etc.) at various points in time. (via David Galbraith)