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Liability Issues Return Concerning Online Posts
Brett_Tabke




msg:928864
 11:10 pm on Jan 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

[news.com.com...]

The student's essay, the product of a class assignment, alleged ethical and legal lapses at his former employer, an industrial automation firm called Ben-Tech. An executive at that company had urged student Eric Kaczor to purloin "all relevant materials, such as software and documentation," from Siemens and bring them to his new job at Ben-Tech, the paper asserted.

Tipped off by: TechDirt [techdirt.com]

...a libel lawsuit against a business professor who posted a student's essay to the web to start a discussion. The problem was that the essay detailed the story from one of his students talking about how a company, Ben-Tech, had allegedly pushed him to take confidential materials from Siemens, where he was employed at the time. While posting the paper to the internet was mainly for class discussion only, Google found it, and that helped Ben-Tech find it, and decide that it was libelous.

 

iamlost




msg:928865
 12:11 am on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

After retracting Kaczor's name, Mayer posted the rest of the essay

"given Mayer's education as a lawyer, his position as a professor of business law and that he teaches defamation in the course at issue."

I suspect that if the prof had rendered anonymous all proper names as he did the author there would have been no problem. A very silly faux pas by someone who, by his qualifications, should have known better.

Further on in the first story the comments by the company spokesperson fan the smoke if not actually reveal any fire!

I will follow this with some interest, several issues are likely to be addressed, if not settled out of court.

Chris_D




msg:928866
 12:28 am on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

Maybe educational institutions should in future consider getting written student permission before publishing a students paper.

<aside>
Did you notice that Techdirt is also now running 'nofollow' tags in the comments area? 'nofollow' looks like it is really taking off!
</aside>

Slone




msg:928867
 6:06 am on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

Maybe educational institutions should in future consider getting written student permission before publishing a students paper.

In my advanced accounting class, my university our professor openly announced all research and papers would be used as resources for a book he was publishing. It was communicated in so many words that the University had rights to class related material.

I am surprised this University does not have the same thing in place.

I honestly hated all my hard work going towards a Professors book.

walkman




msg:928868
 6:17 am on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

Forget about the rest, I would be extremely upset if a term paper of mine was posted online without my permission.

If this story is true, the prof. and the university, are going to end up paying.

walkman




msg:928869
 6:18 am on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

"I honestly hated all my hard work going towards a Professors book."

what if someone said no? was there an alternative?

Slone




msg:928870
 7:21 am on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

There were some questions to that...
Answer: There is another class offered next semester. (ha! can you imagine!)

I took the class anyway... My complaints aside, it was quite good. We got to sit in with the co-founder of Costco who paid us a visit :) -There is a man who had a plan!

gmiller




msg:928871
 10:12 am on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

I wonder how they're going to prove that the accusation is false and that the professor knew it to be false?

Then again, they could just try to make the lawsuit so expensive that the University caves in and issues a retraction rather than taking it to a verdict.

Brett_Tabke




msg:928872
 1:22 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

They got themselves a great real world case study for class.

However, if I were a college in that position, the first talk with the lawyer would be how much to sue the search engine that found the paper and republished it for.

So we have three parties at risk here:
- the students for making strong statements that may or may not be slanderous or libelous.
- the professor for is potentially illegal actions.
- the search engine for publishing the paper without permission.

This is 2005. My bet, is the kid gets the shaft and the college absolves itslef of the incident.

If Ben-Tech were smart, they would drop:
a) the legal action.
b) make a large donation to the college.
c) ask for rebuttal time in front of the class by their attorney.
d) ask that the rebuttal be published on the web.
e) apologize to the college for dragging it into court.
f) walk away with a masterful gain in Public relations.

createErrorMsg




msg:928873
 1:29 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

I honestly hated all my hard work going towards a Professors book.

I think the attitude of the educational world is that your hard work goes towards a grade. The professor has to publish regularly not only in order to keep his job, but also for the University in question to have desireable faculty in order to draw potential high-grade student applicants.

Since the professor is teaching you, your work can be seen (if you squint hard and tilt your head sideways) to be derivatory of the professor's thinking, and therefor freely his to use.

I'm not saying it's right, but this goes on ALL the time. It is, in fact, what graduate school is really all about.

cEM

djmadwax2




msg:928874
 4:12 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

[I honestly hated all my hard work going towards a Professors book.]

I see it as paying dues while you're a student.

Webwork




msg:928875
 4:24 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

So, Siemens talks with the kid (with his lawyer) and determines the kid is credible. Then, to make things really interesting to a jury, Siemens joins in the lawsuit (if credible) so that the jurors ponder just how evil any of the parties might be.

If the jury determines than an employer was evil enough to in fact have encouraged the wrongful taking of intellectual/business property AND then, to attempt to suppress or deal with the revealation by suing a kid/college/professor who was simply telling the truth, would the measure of punitive damages be enough for the kid/college/professor/Siemens to end up owning the company?

Looks like a judo move to me. I'm with Brett on the end game strategy, except as to the claim against G.

Does Google's defense include "just tell us no-follow/no-index and we won't"? In the age of spiders is spider repellant a threshold duty to be fulfilled before a claim can be brought against a spider? Is a spider a trespasser if you leave the door open and put out the welcome link? Interesting subject, likely to be settled in legislatures and the courts because the signature page to a settlement by consent would take too long to circulate and too many people would ask for modifications.

walkman




msg:928876
 5:33 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

"I wonder how they're going to prove that the accusation is false and that the professor knew it to be false?"

Good point. I'm not sure how that is settled, but if I have a website, and you send me an article that says: "X Congressman raped college student," don't I have an obligation to first check it out? The company was accused of doing something illegal and could cost them a lot of money in a lawsuit.

Webwork




msg:928877
 5:48 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

The essence of fraud is concealment, so in matters such as this, one doesn't expect to pick up the phone and ask the former employer to validate the story.

Which still leaves a few avenues open: 1) How credible is the kid? 2) Was his ex-employer (if the story is true) dumb enough to have provided the kid with anything in writing to back up his story? (email, etc.) Or even - if the kid was fearful of being drawn into a crime or wrongfully fired for not playing ball - did the kid make any recordings of conversations/meetings? 3) Did anyone else receive the same treatment?

Due to problems of proof I'm reluctant to accept sexual harrassment cases that weren't promptly reported to the police or higher ups, but there are plenty of women who - for a variety of reasons don't make such reports if they can avoid it. When somone comes to my law office with such an 'unreported office case' I've learned to ask: Do you know of anyone else whom the jerk did this to?

It's amazing how the floodgates open. One woman steps forward and suddenly my office chairs are filled with several other women: nice, decent, upset, in disbelief of their own willingness to hide or deny there was a problem, just so they could keep a job to feed their kids or put a roof over their heads.

So, if this was a corporate M.O., with all the publicity, I wouldn't be surprised if other people step forward, even at the peril of being drawn in to the nastiness. However, that peril may also hold some back in this somewhat different circumstance of being party to an alleged fraud/theft/conversion.

MultiMan




msg:928878
 6:47 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

Is a spider a trespasser if you leave the door open and put out the welcome link?

I think they ARE, actually.

These days, G$ is so incapable of anything legit and the googlebot does not know how to fully function.

I know of a huge site that discovered that G$ had invaded the site where G$ did not belong, listing 100s of different pages that should never have been listed. The site had a robots.txt file. It had so many directories that the robots.txt file had more than 20 DISALLOW lines in it. When using G$'s url-remove system, G$ was incapable of de-listing the files.

It turned out that G$ is so inept that G$ could not make googlebot with the functional capability to then be able to read so "large" a robots.txt file. (It was barely more than 5K.)

G$ was absolutely inept in the situation. Here they were, invading a site they were not supposed to and listing the invaded pages. The site was using proper protocol standards for the robots.txt, but G$ was utterly useless in solving the problem.

G$'s "advice" was to alter the robots.txt file to use an ALLOW command for G$. That's right. G$ was actually suggesting the use of something that is NOT part of the Robots Exclusion Standards -- something which could destroy the site in other SEs (i.e., other SEs who are strictly compliant with the standards protocols).

Ultimately, the solution required a tedious manual insertion of the META ROBOTS NOFOLLOW code in the HTML of 100s of files. G$ was the one who wrongfully invaded the site and not followed the robots.txt file, but it was the site admin that had to do the hours of work to solve the problem G$ caused. From my perspective, it is G$ who owes the site admin financial compensation for the work that G$ should have done itself in making the googlebot functional.

What all this shows is that G$ is utterly inept with its googlebot. Their "advice" is dangerous and sabotagingly wrong. Yet they were the ones who wrongfully invaded a site.

So, no, given such ineptitude of G$, I absolutely DO believe that a SE should be held liable for invading, regardless of robots.txt or not.

The onus is on the SE coming onto the site. If PageRank/linkbacks theory is supposed to be so important, then G$ or any other SE has no business listing any page that is not linked by any other source. They should only come to pages they crawl by way of links. And if the SE's spider/bot does not obey the robots.txt file, the site owner should be allowed to sue for huge damages no matter what the content --if only to deter SE's from making inept spiders/bots like googlebot.

So, again, I do believe SE's should be liable for trespassing indeed. If you come to my door, I might welcome you onto my porch, but that doesn't mean that you have a right to enter my house -- even if I did not lock my door! :)

I wonder if my post here might make a good separate thread to discuss, as well?

[edited by: MultiMan at 6:52 pm (utc) on Jan. 26, 2005]

Essex_boy




msg:928879
 6:50 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

what if someone said no? - In my smalll world when I ran contary to the taught word I was ridculed so I would be very surprised if there was another option.

Jebus




msg:928880
 6:51 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

[I honestly hated all my hard work going towards a Professors book.]
I see it as paying dues while you're a student.

If your professor is profiting off of your work then you should get a discount on your tuition. Paying dues = paying tuition, nothing more.

BigDave




msg:928881
 8:04 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

However, if I were a college in that position, the first talk with the lawyer would be how much to sue the search engine that found the paper and republished it for.

Now that would be a hoot!

Imagine bringing in the university librarians to explain how it is their job to teach students how to use Google for reasearch, including using the cached copy when the original is unavailable.

Slone




msg:928882
 8:54 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

If your professor is profiting off of your work then you should get a discount on your tuition. Paying dues = paying tuition, nothing more.

At my University I view most of the professors as out of the loop in the real world. If they have to depend on our research and ideas to write some book… they I would not call them innovators. There are a few professors that have it, and are still active professionals… but those teaching full time can’t say they are actively in the profession they once were. “Professor” can be an abused title to earn extra income.

There is profit for the professor and the University. I agree the students should be afforded more for their contributions.

Would we be titled to the profits… it would be an never ending debate I believe which I don’t have time to engage.

walkman




msg:928883
 9:43 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

"G$"

No offense, but it's hard to read the post when you keep putting G$ G$ G$ G$ all over the place. Why don't you do a google sucks page instead?

wonderbread




msg:928884
 11:01 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

If your professor is profiting off of your work then you should get a discount on your tuition. Paying dues = paying tuition, nothing more.

Wanna talk about profits...books are pocket change. The really moola comes from the patents universities collect from thier students (and staff). Most major universities collect patents like baseball cards...and get some major cash flow from the royalties coming from them. Not to mention the so called pretige of having them. Thats just part of life going to a university...

- Nick

Jane_Doe




msg:928885
 11:19 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

I did a paper in college on drug abuse in society that included interviews with the local police. One of the officers bragged during the interviews that they would pick up known small time drug dealers and put them in jail on trumped up charges overnight just to bug them. They said even if they didn't have enough evidence to make the charges stick the guys would still lose a days worth of work at their "day jobs" and had to hire lawyers to get them out. So a lot of times they could do that enough to get them fired from their jobs just to bug them even if they couldn't gather enough evidence for a conviction.

My professor wanted to take my paper to the media and I said no way. It was probably the cowards way out but I was just a college kid with a part-time minimum wage job. I was scared the police would just start harassing me like that. I didn't think my professor would get very far anyway. It was just my word against theirs and I'm sure the officer would deny everything he told me if he ever thought he was going to get in any trouble over it.

BReflection




msg:928886
 12:44 am on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

Why don't you do a google sucks page instead?

That would require an especially advanced troll.

MultiMan




msg:928887
 12:58 am on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

The thread here involves liability issues, including a SE. I made an on-topic post showing that, since G$'s googlebot proves to be inept as it relates to showing content they should not, that demonstrates why a SE can and should be liable in some cases.

I raised an important evidence of why a SE (such as G$) should be liable, making a post that is on-topic, and yet it seems that too many G$ worshippers instead want to go off-topic and obfuscate the point of one example of evidence.

twist




msg:928888
 10:59 am on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

I honestly hated all my hard work going towards a Professors book.

Probably the whole irony of college. Every school has a bookstore where you buy books that covers the material that you learn in class. If the author of the book was so ignorant of the subject or was such a bad writer that you need a teacher to interpret the book to you then maybe it isn't the book you should be learning from. On the flip side, if the book is so good and the author does know what they are talking about then why in the world do you need the teacher? On the flip flip side, if the teacher is assigning you a terribly written confusing book then their not a good teacher.

Need some help with the following code,

Book is good = don't need the teacher;
Book is bad = teacher is bad = need to find better teacher;
if( teacher is truly great ) teacher writes book; just buy the book;

Can't figure out where the following goes in the above code,

broke = all my money - college tuition;

Of course this doesn't apply to people going to college for refrigeration or auto mechanics who need the equipment, but if you are going to learn business or programming...

createErrorMsg




msg:928889
 3:58 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

On the flip side, if the book is so good and the author does know what they are talking about then why in the world do you need the teacher?

I've never seen a book that could reword it's explanations if I indicated that I did not understand the original presentation of the facts. Most college professors I've met have been at least minimally interactive in this regard, and therein lies their value.

Also, college instruction is supposed to be about provoking thought, not merely passing information. A real, live, responsive person proves a good means to that end.

cEM

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