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7:09am on Friday, 22nd February, 2008:

Bullying by Lawyers


I don't like it when people use the law as an offensive weapon.

Last June, in-fighting among directors of the gold-farming company, IGE, resulted in a law suit. Papers were filed, copies were obtained, and these were put on the Internet. People commented, and then everyone moved on.

Well, everyone moved on except for the lawyers of one of the people involved, Brock Pierce. They wrote threatening letters to MMO Citizen (where the original documents were placed), Broken Toys (where much of the comment occurred) and Virtually Blind (where much of the comment on the legal side of the case occurred). All of them took down what they'd put up.

The thing is, other than perhaps Virtually Blind (for obscure reasons to do with legal propriety), they didn't have to. The original complain was sealed by the court, which means that no further copies can be distributed by the clerk of the court. It does not mean that copies already held by members of the public have to be kept secret. Brock's lawyers, in asking for a takedown, were basically raising the possibility of an expensive and drawn-out court case for those who didn't comply, which, in the USA, means you're down thousands of dollars even if you win. This is using the law as an offensive weapon.

The court case itself is nothing special. The document does contain some entertaining allegations by Alan Debonneville against Brock Pierce (which is what Broken Toys picked up on), but the reason I downloaded and kept my own copy was because of the insight it gave into the inner workings of a company servicing the gold-farming industry. I've met Brock Pierce a couple of times, and found him to be charming, intelligent and open to ideas — not at all the demon he's often painted. He also has a thick skin — far worse has been said of him than is raised in this document, and I don't think he'd be all that worried by what was said (it makes Alan Debonneville — whom I've also met briefly — look far worse for saying it than it does Brock for having had it said of him). However, the lawyers he's employed appear to have taken to their task of defending him with far more vigour than is seemly.

Bravely, some people (in particular Matt Mihaly), have defied this bullying and repeated the sections of the document that appeared on Broken Toys, along with the original comment.

I'm not that brave. However, I'm a researcher into virtual worlds, as are many other people, and this kind of documents is very useful to us. It's wrong that one can be taken off the Internet by dint of the threats of lawyers. I also happen to live in the UK, and don't have to worry about losing my house should an aggressive email arrive from a US law firm. Furthermore, as you might expect of a researcher, I took a copy of the original document as it appeared on MMO Citizen.

I've put this back online at http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~rabartle/debonnevillecomplaint.pdf. If you want to read it, that's where it is.

Bullies with money are still bullies.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).