Sued For Blogging about Publicly Available Information

Are they kidding?

From my Apple dictionary:

absurd adjective what an absurd idea! preposterous, ridiculous, ludicrous, farcical, laughable, risible, idiotic, stupid, foolish, silly, inane, imbecilic, insane, harebrained, cockamamie; unreasonable, irrational, illogical, nonsensical, incongruous, pointless, senseless; informal crazy, daft. antonym reasonable, sensible.
What am I talking about? This, from Slate Magazine:

BlockShopper was following standard operating procedure by linking to publicly available Web sites. But Jones Day got mad. The law firm (a big one, at 2,300 lawyers) has never publicly said why it sued; maybe the powers that be there thought the posts compromised their lawyers’ privacy. Housing records are public documents, but the Web turns public into accessible, and the firm presumably wasn’t thrilled about having its attorneys’ home purchases broadcast. Jones Day demanded that BlockShopper remove the items. When BlockShopper refused, the firm sued the 15-staff startup for trademark infringement. Jones Day’s legal theory was that BlockShopper’s link would trick readers into thinking that Jones Day was affiliated with the real estate site.

Thanks to Joel, who thanked Marlow, for pointing this out.

This is an interesting and a frightening limit on what one can do with “public” information. Is the next step removing said public information from the public’s view?

Next week I have a post or two that describes clients’ processes of searching for homes – taking full advantage of publicly available information.

Update 02/24/2009: ars technica has a report:

The complaint cites the issue as “confusion”—the claim was that people visiting BlockShopper and seeing the links in question might assume that it was somehow officially related to Jones Day. This, of course, was a ridiculous claim, but BlockShopper tried to play nice and consented to a temporary restraining order that required the site ti remove the links. Soon thereafter, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Citizen jointly filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of BlockShopper, pointing out the obvious: “linking is what web sites do—that is, after all, why it is called the ‘World Wide Web’.”

This, from Techdirt, is astonishing:

Even worse… the judge in the case helped out. Rather than tossing out the case immediately and reprimanding Jones Day, the judge supposedly told the operator of Blockshopper:

“Do you know, young man, how much money it’s going to cost you to defend yourselves against Jones Day?”

(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today)

2 Comments

  1. Daniel February 20, 2009 at 09:21

    Jim: Just to play devil’s advocate, what about information that someone makes publicly *accessible* but doesn’t want that data publicly *distributed*. i.e. CAAR makes the MLS data publicly available via mycaar.com but does not allow anyone to repost that data anywhere else (I would know). Or what about your blog articles that you make publicly available? Obviously there is a big difference in linking to information and copying information, but it’s a slippery slope. We need to start making judges take Internet 101 classes…

    Reply
  2. Jim Duncan February 22, 2009 at 09:25

    Daniel –

    I see what you’re saying, but think the MLS is a false comparison – public records are *public* records, and the MLS is a private organization.

    Regarding my blog posts – I absolutely am concerned about my blog posts … based on the little information available about this suit, I can see that I could be dragged down by this concept. Posting articles about public data is part of the freedom of the press, and this is where I would highlight my wearing of the “journalism” hat … and hope that some organization with resources challenges this ruling.

    Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *