A friend who’s a great criminal-defense lawyer in Collin County (and a former public defender and, before that, a former prosecutor) read my blog and asked me for permission to “steal” some of my writing for his website.
My first reaction was that my ideas aren’t my protected property. After all, lawyers copy each other’s material all the time. When I write a brief or a motion that works, I expect that other lawyers will incorporate my research and writing into their own briefs and motions. When I have found, something that will help my clients in a brief or motion that someone else has written, I have had no qualms about incorporating it into my own work.
Then I happened upon this article about Pham v. Jones. In that case, Michael Pham, a Houston “letter lawyer” who gets about 15 new clients each week (95% of his new business) at between $100 and $300 per misdemeanor and $500 and $750 per felony, sued Raymond Jones, another letter lawyer with identical rates, for sending out a letter and brochure substantially similar to the letter and brochure that Mr. Pham would send to potential clients.
(For those not familiar with letter lawyers: the term is not a one of approbation. Mr. Pham and Mr. Jones used a system for soliciting clients, wherein they would find prospective clients through Harris County arrest records. They would then mail those arrested individuals who had been released from jail form letters and brochures informing them of the legal services they provided. Mr. Pham would charge his maximum fee [$300 for misdemeanors, $750 for felonies] if a case were reset more than once.)
Here are Judge Hittner’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law from Pham v. Jones as well as the Attachments to Motion for Summary Judgment, including copies of the two letter lawyers’ letters to accused people, filed in that case.
Law Professor Thomas G. Field, Jr., who wrote the article that brought this case to my attention, wrote of the fact that lawyers copy each other’s material all the time: “Such practices, even if widespread, are no more relevant than claims offered by people who justify copying software, music and other digital content on the basis that “everybody does it.” (That goes to show you how little I know about intellectual property law.)
So, as I understand it, I have an enforceable copyright on the things I publish on the web. I could register the copyright and sue people who use my blogging in their own websites. Would I? No.
I try to behave so that if everyone else believed the same way the world would be a better place; I try to write so that if everybody else wrote the same things the world would be a better place. I’m more interested in my ideas propagating than in getting credit for them. I’d hate to think that other lawyers were, to get more clients, cynically pretending to believe what I believe, but anyone who wants to adopt my ideas as his own is welcome to them.
Attribution would, of course, be nice.