Patterico's Pontifications

4/5/2013

David P. Metzger: Crusader for Justice, or Humorless Legal Thug?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:24 am

Ken from Popehat has an amusing yet irritating tale of a man being unmercifully hounded for a seemingly appropriate request with a humorous ending. In a nutshell, a fellow named Colin Purrington saw an organization (the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research) using language that he says originated with him. He wrote the Consortium asking them to stop, and added this “humorous coda” (in Ken’s words) to his email:

If you can cover the shipping charges, I would be grateful if you [would] send me the head of the person who did this.

Heh.

In response, attorney David P. Metzger sent Purrington an email, which said that the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research had had a copyright on this material since 2005! (One minor problem: Purrington’s language was from 2001, as a cursory Internet search would easily reveal). Ken explains the content of the letter:

The upshot of the letter was that the Consortium had copyrighted the language in question in 2005, and that unless Colin took it down from his website, he would be facing a lawsuit, statutory damages of up to $150,000, court costs, and attorney fees — Arnold & Porter-sized attorney fees.

Oh, but it gets better. Attorney Metzger also claimed that the “humorous coda” above was an actual physical threat:

Finally, I wish to express CPBR’s concern with your statement in the Purrington E-mail: “I would be grateful if you to send me (sic) the head of the person who did this.” This language was interpreted by CPBR’s staff as a physical threat against their personal safety. Should you make any further similar threats, CPBR staff will have no choice but to contact authorities to protect themselves.

And you wonder why people hate lawyers.

Ken says he has contacted Mr. Metzger for a response. After all, maybe the Consortium is really in the right. And maybe they actually thought Purrington’s funny ending paragraph was a threat. Maybe Congress and the President really care about our fiscal debacle and will pass a serious plan to fix it this year. (I bypassed the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy for an even more absurd example.)

But it sure looks like another episode of Lawyers Behaving Thuggishly.

What ought to happen, in my constitutionally protected opinion, is that people everywhere should write about this, and make fun of Metzger publicly for what certainly seems to be overbearing and humorless behavior. If the mockery is widespread enough, perhaps the client, upset at the embarrassment Metzger has brought them, will call for Metzger’s head on a platter.

P.S. I am sending Metzger a link to this post. He is welcome to respond. I hope I get a humorless email in response filled with absurd baseless legal threats. If I do, I’ll be certain to publish it here.

P.P.S. My email:

Mr. Metzger:

I would be interested in any response to this post.

http://patterico.com/2013/04/05/david-p-metzger-crusader-for-justice-or-humorless-legal-thug/

My readers would likely appreciate it if you could make your response threatening and humorless.

Patrick Frey
patterico.com

37 Responses to “David P. Metzger: Crusader for Justice, or Humorless Legal Thug?”

  1. colin purrington is a beanie baby name

    happyfeet (8ce051)

  2. That’s a brilliant email, Patterico.

    SPQR (768505)

  3. I’m with Shakespeare on this one.

    anchovy (4e6c42)

  4. If you make fun of the Lawyer online, you’ll open yourself up to a bullying lawsuit. Has Kate Gosselin taught us nothing!?

    NaBr (a094a6)

  5. None of this is funny, and I’m serious.

    By the way, for an even less amusing portrayal of lawyers I highly recommend BBC’s miniseries rendition of the Dickens novel Bleak House.

    Amphipolis (d3e04f)

  6. No fair warning him. :)

    SarahW (b0e533)

  7. See, in my email to him, I went with passive-aggressive. You went with openly snide. There are so many ways to play this.

    Ken (2e87a6)

  8. And they both work, Ken, they both work.

    SPQR (768505)

  9. It reminds me of the famous Cleveland Browns counsel’s response to a lawyer-letter complaining about paper-airplane flying at Browns games.

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/02/regarding-your-stupid-complaint.html

    Gromit (341ca0)

  10. Ima seriously going to have to consider naming my next cat Purrington.

    elissa (3e20bd)

  11. Anchovy,

    Do you think we really need to kill all the lawyers or if we only kill half of them will the others get the message?

    Jim (ba6a58)

  12. Sounds to me like the “humorous coda” was nothing more than a request to send a head that was assumed to have already been separated from its body. What’s wrong with that?

    Hired Mind (7f3e0d)

  13. What Colin Purrington might look like

    http://imgur.com/Jp65715

    SarahW (b0e533)

  14. Very well done, SarahW!

    elissa (3e20bd)

  15. LOL! SarahW

    Literally.

    Pious Agnostic (40defc)

  16. “…the Consortium had copyrighted the language in question in 2005…”

    “… Purrington’s language was from 2001…”

    How can you Copyright something that was previously published/used by another?

    askeptic (b8ab92)

  17. Do you think we really need to kill all the lawyers or if we only kill half of them will the others get the message?

    Don’t they say that 98% of lawyers give the rest a bad name?

    askeptic (b8ab92)

  18. Down here in Alabama, the University of Alabama Birmingham medical school has decided to stop experimenting on lab rats and opted instead for lawyers (patterinco & friends excluded). There are three reasons for this decision:

    1. Lawyers bear a striking anatomical similarity to humans,

    2. There are so many lawyers, and

    3. No one gets emotionally attached to lawyers.

    Arch (0baa7b)

  19. naming my next cat Purrington

    planned obsolescence?

    never mind, however its a good name for a kitty

    E.PWJ (bdd0a6)

  20. Arch (18): I’ve heard the same joke with one more reason: 4. There are some things even a rat just won’t do.

    Dr. Weevil (68e2a6)

  21. I always admire the incredible restraint people show in not shooting all the lawyers.

    Curt (902dca)

  22. Look: The actual Mr. Purrington has a page full of sweet kittycats. Repurrsive.

    http://photography.colinpurrington.com/Nature/cats/18414143_nSPTQk/1644412269_2XwgCG6#!i=1644412269&k=2XwgCG6

    SarahW (b0e533)

  23. Let’s assume for a moment that Purrington was deadly serious in his request. Let’s assume that he was actually asking the Consortium to behead the person who had copied his work, pack the head in some suitable material, put it in a box, stick a UPS label on it, and ship it to him. How on earth could that be interpreted as a threat? A threat is “I will do X”. What was he threatening to do? “You deserve to die” is not a threat. “I hope you die” is not a threat. “Please kill yourself” is not a threat. “Please kill that other fellow” may be incitement, but it’s not a threat. Even “you are going to die” is not itself a threat, though in some contexts it may hint at an unspoken “…I know this because I’m going to make it happen”, which is a threat.

    So even assuming Metzger utterly deaf to humour, his response is thuggish (as well as stupid).

    Milhouse (15b6fd)

  24. That said, I’m a bit disturbed by Purrington’s assumption that plagiarism is illegal, and should be punished in the private sector just as it is in academia. Breach of copyright is illegal; plagiarism is not, and outside academia and a few other specialised niches is not even considered wrong. In most of life, when you come across a good idea you adopt it and pass it on. Originality is not a value in most areas.

    When Martin Luther King delivered sermons that he’d heard from other people, he was doing what all preachers do, and what is expected of them; an academic thesis is expected to be original; a sermon is not. Ditto for a story; storytelling is an ancient art, and many of the stories told are just as ancient. When you tell a story or sing a song you are not claiming that it’s your own work, and nobody understands you to be so claiming, unless you actually say it is. When you propose a cost-saving idea to your boss, she doesn’t care whether you thought of it yourself; all that matters is whether it’s a good one.

    So his warning against paraphrasing, or “stealing” his idea, falls very flat. Nobody who is not submitting it as original work for credit ought to have any compunction about repeating the ideas contained in his manual; just don’t use his actual words, at least until he’s been dead for 70 years. And that’s not a threat!

    Milhouse (15b6fd)

  25. “Originality is not a value in most areas.”

    Milhouse – Honesty is a value in most areas of life and adopting the ideas, writings, or thoughts of another as one’s own without acknowledgement can lead to significant embarrassment and negative consequences.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  26. Milhouse – Honesty is a value in most areas of life and adopting the ideas, writings, or thoughts of another as one’s own without acknowledgement can lead to significant embarrassment and negative consequences.

    There is nothing dishonest about adopting someone else’s ideas, writings, or thoughts. It is dishonest to pretend they are ones own original thoughts, but in most contexts in life there is no such implication; nobody assumes that what one says or publishes is necessarily original, so there’s no passing-off. Only in academia and a few other very narrow niches is there an expectation of originality, so that failing to acknowledge someone else’s original work amounts to dishonestly claiming it for oneself.

    Milhouse (15b6fd)

  27. Daleyrocks, when you hear a sermon do you expect it to be the preacher’s own ideas? Are you disappointed if you recognise it or substantial parts of it as something you’ve heard or read before? How about when a comedian tells a joke you’ve heard a hundred times before — is he guilty of plagiarism? Of course the answer in both cases is no, because in neither case is there an expectation of originality.

    Milhouse (15b6fd)

  28. I thought the consortium had copied his text word-for-word and not credited it despite claim of copyright.

    SarahW (b0e533)

  29. “Daleyrocks, when you hear a sermon do you expect it to be the preacher’s own ideas?”

    Milhouse – What kind of a question is that? The first paragraph of your comment #24 addressed plagiarism. You should refamiliarize yourself with its definition.

    “It is dishonest to pretend they are ones own original thoughts”

    Yes, this is exactly what I said, why are you disagreeing?

    “Only in academia and a few other very narrow niches is there an expectation of originality, so that failing to acknowledge someone else’s original work amounts to dishonestly claiming it for oneself.”

    You must live in a bubble, because it is a lot broader than academia and a few niches.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  30. Oh yeah? Where else is originality expected? Where else is plagiarism frowned on?

    SarahW, yes, they did copy his text, but that’s not the point. His claim was a lot broader than copyright violation, he also demanded that nobody copy his ideas, and that since this would be punished in academia it should also be punished in the private sector, and that is bunk. In the private sector, copying someone else’s idea is called smart.

    Milhouse (28f910)

  31. I didn’t realize he’d done more than try to get credit for the stolen text lifted from his page.

    SarahW (b0e533)

  32. Boss to Milhouse – Milhouse, did you come up with that dumb idea all by yourself or did you have help?

    Milhouse to Boss – I just copied that idea from what our competitor XYZ is doing.

    Boss to Milhouse – No wonder it seems dumb. XYZ is going down the tubes. Congratulations Einstein.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  33. “Where else is originality expected?”

    Milhouse – New product development

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  34. Boss to Milhouse – Milhouse, did you come up with that dumb idea all by yourself or did you have help?

    Milhouse to Boss – I just copied that idea from what our competitor XYZ is doing.

    Boss to Milhouse – No wonder it seems dumb. XYZ is going down the tubes. Congratulations Einstein.

    If the idea is dumb, then it’s dumb no matter what XYZ is doing. Copying it from them doesn’t make it any dumber. If anything, the fact that XYZ is also doing it somewhat mitigates its dumbness, because at least we’re not losing market place to them; that may be cold consolation but it’s better than none. But if it’s a smart idea, then the fact that I copied it from XYZ makes me smart.

    “Where else is originality expected?”Milhouse – New product development

    Not true. Even if it’s patentable, that prize goes not to the originator but to the first to file. And patents aside a good product is a good product no matter who came up with it. In fact coming up with just enough of a twist to enable us to evade XYZ’s patent can even be better than inventing the product in the first place, if that cost a lot of money and coming up with the workaround didn’t.

    The point is that in business copying other people’s ideas is not dishonourable. Even industrial espionage isn’t dishonorable per se, although nearly every means of performing it is itself dishonourable. What I mean by that is that breaking into someone’s lab is both illegal and immoral, and of course dishonourable. Breaking into a competitor’s lab and learning what they’re up to and copying their ideas is no more dishonourable. What’s wrong is the break-in, not the espionage. In academia, on the other hand, the break-in itself would be considered almost trival, to be readily forgiven if no damage was done, whereas the terrible offense of idea-stealing can ruin a person forever.

    Milhouse (28f910)

  35. I didn’t realize he’d done more than try to get credit for the stolen text lifted from his page.

    Actually he didn’t want credit, he wanted them to take the information down. Which he was entitled to, because it is copyright. But I was addressing the notice he attached to his work, which forbade not only copyright infringement but also plagiarism. Follow the links and read the notice, and you’ll see that it makes a very broad and legally insupportable claim. Most infringements of that notice would be perfectly legal, and honourable by most standards, but not by those of academia. The reason he felt comfortable making such a claim is because he is an academic, and these are the standards expected of him, so it’s natural for him to think they’re expected of everyone else too.

    Milhouse (28f910)

  36. “If the idea is dumb, then it’s dumb no matter what XYZ is doing.”

    Milhouse – It just makes you dumb for being lazy enough to copy somebody else’s dumb idea.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  37. “Not true. Even if it’s patentable, that prize goes not to the originator but to the first to file”

    Milhouse – Slow those goal posts down. First you talk about originality not having value. Then you blow the definition of plagiarism. Now all new products must be patented? What a crock of BS!

    Back to your original plagiarism point. It is an issue outside academia and whatever unspecified niches you claim. Think journalism. Think various areas of the law. How many lawyers do you believe start filings, contracts or documents from scratch rather beginning with a shell lifted from another client or transaction. It works much the same way in many areas of finance. The wheel doesn’t get reinvented every time a transaction occurs, but language gets modified to fit the circumstances and people want to know where the language originated they are working with.

    Originality retains much value in today’s world because the first to market with a new product, idea or feature can often capture share before competitors can react or copy the ideas or features closely enough. This is basic stuff.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)


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