Attorney For the Offense


With the ominous warning "Watch out, Reason editors–your comment section is a potential legal liability!" reader Mark Bonacquisti alerts us to this Slashdot discussion about attorney Stephen Galton's lawsuit against Yahoo. Galton has taken offense at comments directed at him and an unnamed client on Yahoo's message boards:

One user, a person using the screen name "mumioler" who had posted the original messages about Galton's client that started the dispute, wrote a series of new messages calling Galton a "shyster" and an "overly robust geezer that makes a living walking behind the elephant with a shovel."

Sounds like a fair description of a lawyer (huh huh). Galton charges Yahoo with unfairly protecting negative commenters and not preventing message board abuse. He is trying to interest other California victims of saucy talk in a class action suit and is seeking "restitution, a permanent injunction and other forms of relief." Full Reuters story.

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  1. As I understand it, he’s whining (can I say that?) about Yahoo selectively editing messages. I’m willing to be corrected. Someone posted relevant excerpts from Yahoo’s TOS here and someone else linked to CyberSLAPP .

  2. this is surely the wrong place to say this, but i have free speech — so…

    i think it a plainly observable truth that “free speech” has become a terrible problem in our society. not in its ideal form — no one can deny its value as a check on institutions — but as it is so obviously abused in our times.

    the founders never pictures a society coming apart at its seams when they penned the first amendment. they lived in a society where free speech worked very well because the speaker could usually be counted on to self-regulate what they said — and those who didn’t were subject to intense peer pressure by their locality and small groups.

    but — in an age bent on taking emancipation and individualism to the bizarre extremes of utter refutation of any inconvenient obligation or responsibility — not only has the self-regulation of humble speakers been replaced by haughty arrogance, but the social groups that could have pressured the aberrant into civility have lost their bindings. the result has been a pattern of speech that may be free for the individual but is also abusive to everyone else and to society — and contributes directly to the rising militant factionalism and culture of pervasive fear in our nation.

    the fault i find with this is not the battle he chose to fight — the decline of civility in our soceity is amazing and appalling, and any attempt to reintroduce some is welcome, imo.

    the problem is that the weapon he chose to fight it with is every bit the uncontrollable civilizational albatross that free speech has become — and that’s a whole other thread, i’m sure.

  3. (apologies for the number of spelling/grammatical errors included — why is there no previewing mechanism on this board? lol…)

  4. gaius marius,

    I disagree with your argument, because it can be extrapolated (very easily) to apply to the right to vote, etc.

    But, you said your piece well!

  5. zorel, it can indeed — and i’m not particularly for majoritarian democracy either, as it happens, even though i know i would be one of those excluded from power if we went magically back to the aristocratic parliamentary system we were granted in the 18th c.

  6. i think it a plainly observable truth that “free speech” has become a terrible problem in our society.

    It’s only a terrible problem if you consider complaints like Galton’s as carrying any significant weight. He was offended at some namecalling. Boo hoo, what is this, the playground? Our society has considered lawyers to be the scum of the earth since long before the internet, before even television and radio. Galton needs to grow up and stop expecting the government to protect him from the fruits of his industry’s reputation.

    the decline of civility in our soceity is amazing and appalling

    So what? That doesn’t mean the shyster is entitled to money. Civility is not required, and a lack of civility does not mean you are entitled to special favors.

  7. perhaps, rst, as pertains to his particular issue, you’re right.

    but no one would argue the scopes monkey trial was about a biology lesson. insofar as this vignette illustrates of what is going on in our society and what the predominant viewpoints in it have become, its implications are far more insidious than any simple lawsuit.

  8. This is one reason I prefer NNTP newsgroups to “discussion boards” that have one clear host site.

    Of course, newsgroups are not immune to such things. Time Warner’s Roadrunner claimed jurisdiction over newsgroups hosted and operated by Microsoft recently, accusing a user of “Spamming” after he sent private emails to three people he was talking to in the group.

    Roadrunner defines Spam as any email that is reported as unwanted.

    You can listen to some interesting quotes from their “Abuse” department here.

    Interestingly, the “offending” email was not sent from Roadrunner servers. It was sent from the Roadrunner subscriber’s home machine to his (non Roadrunner) mail provider, and then on to the recpipient. The ISP that operated the mail server looked at the email in question and decided it didn’t come close to their definition of “Spam”.

    So essentially Roadrunner liberally applied their terms of service to email data that merely crossed their network – though it’s rules were not breached over that segment of the trip.

    Naturally they cite recent “CAN SPAM” as authority to do this.

  9. I meant to say: …recent “CAN SPAM” legislation…

  10. I was thinking that this guy just wants this story to get passed around, blog fashion, and then mine the comments for further ‘injustices’ against him. But then, I always head for the cynical justification first…

  11. It seems pretty clear that this individual is not the person who walks behind the elephant with the shovel — he is that which the person who walks behind the elephant shovels up.

    Hugs and kisses,
    Shirley Knott

  12. Rushmore student: “Fischer, I just thought you were Dirk Benedict’s chapel partner just b/c you wanted to bang his mom.”

    Max: “What are you, a lawyer??!!?”

  13. My God!! I find that man’s (Galton) actions offensive. Where do I sign up to file a class action suit against this person? I may not be able to post for at least 10 whole minutes after this. I might actually become productive at work. He’s ruined my night. Where do I sue, damn it?

  14. Wow, this one has been settled for the better part of a decade. I can’t remember which of the online companies it was (maybe Prodigy?), but someone sued for something very similar and the court ruled that they were acting as a carrier and not a publisher, and hence were not liable. There have been a few adjustments then, but as far as I know (and IANAL), that’s the law of the land.

  15. gaius marius: Indeed. If the Founding Fathers had lived in a time when people were trying to overthrow the existing government, making inflammatory speeches calling their beloved leader George a tyrant, and circulating anonymous pamphlets about how the government should be organized, they never would have gone for this “free speech” nonsense.

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