You don’t own your tweets

In his ruling, Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. said, “If you post a tweet, just  like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of  privacy.”

The excerpt is taken from a good layperson’s overview of the case and law that can be found here.  The ruling has its genesis in a trespass prosecution connected with the Occupy movement.

Here is a worthy comment on the context of the decision from Natasha Lennard at Salon:

Of course, the lesson to take away is to tweet with caution. It’s also worth keeping in mind that, although throwing up some important insights, this court battle began over a charge for marching on a bridge. As Stolar puts it, “It’s prosecutorial overkill; using a sledgehammer to squash a gnat.” Harris agrees. He is (as he tends to be) disappointed in the state and surprised that a Harvard Law-trained ADA’s time is being used to pursue his minor charge. The precedent set, however, should give pause to those of us who live (perhaps too much of) our lives through Twitter.

The Ethics of Cyber Mooching

David Sirota explores the question:

Healthy interpersonal relationships always involve a careful dance around the hard-to-define line between friendly sharing and selfish mooching. Homeowners wonder: How many times is it OK to ask to borrow my poorer neighbor’s lawn mower? Family members ponder: How often can I ask to borrow the museum pass from my economically equal cousin? Friends consider: How frequently can I ask to use a wealthier buddy’s NBA season tickets? In each of these questions (and you know you’ve asked yourself one of these), we are really asking when the other person will think we’ve crossed the Mooch Line, and when that person will angrily implore us to just save up and buy what we want for ourselves.

In the Internet age of frictionless data transfer, such unanswered — and potentially unanswerable — queries are now even more pervasive. Whether sharing legally (lending Kindle books, etc.) or illegally (ripping DVDs, pilfering Netflix or an MLB.com pass, etc.), whom we ask and how much we ask them for are ethical quandaries whose rules shift depending on familial connection, types of friendship and economic status (among other factors). (A disclaimer: Nothing in this article condones any illegal sharing of anything. It is only to acknowledge that such illegal sharing does, in fact, occur — and then to explore the ethical implications of that kind of behavior.)

Sirota presents three options to avoid mooching:

Option 1 is bartering. If someone gives you something that they are paying for, return the favor with something they want that you already have or purchase. Lend them a Kindle book. Let them have access to your Wi-Fi network. Something.

Option 2 is putting up some cash to help defray the cost of what you are getting. In the case of HBO Go, TechCrunch’s data tell us that many believe a fair market price is something along the lines of $12 a month (less than the full HBO subscription, but still fair because you don’t get all of the versatility of that subscription).

Option 3 is getting the service in question from someone higher on the economic food chain, preferably within your family, where (theoretically) the Mooch Line is a bit more forgiving, and where parents and grandparents in particular have a near ancestral obligation to permit mooching.

Do the same options work for pirated content? They arguably do as between the moocher and moochee, although they don’t do anything to address the injured content distributor.

Personally (in the context of legal sharing only, of course), I usually go with Option 1, in the form of looking for opportunities to help those who have shared with me, rather than in the form of outright bartering.

Business Ethics Scorecard

From Ezra Klein:

A new global survey from Ernst & Young finds that companies are more likely to use cash bribes in hopes of improving their performance than they were two years ago: 15 percent of respondents (who included some firms’ chief financial officers) said they are willing to make cash bribes, compared to 9 percent in E&Y’s 2010 survey.

 

Similarly, 5 percent said they “might misstate financial performance” to make themselves look better, compared to 3 percent in the last survey. Ernst & Young explains that bribery and other corrupt practices are significantly more likely to happen in “rapid-growth markets” in the developing world, pointing out that 39 percent of survey respondents said that bribery and corruption occurs frequently in their countries.

More barriers to entry into the shrinking legal services market

Ben Trachtenberg points out the failings in New York’s new pro bono legal service prerequisite for bar admission in today’s New York Times:

Mandatory pro bono work for lawyers is a good idea. But Judge Lippman’s plan is deeply flawed, as it affects only aspiring lawyers who have not yet gained admission to the bar. As a result, the beneficiaries of Judge Lippman’s largess will be served by people unlicensed to practice law — who by definition have no real practice experience. (Though internships and law school clinics are useful training grounds for future lawyers, they are no substitute for the rigors of licensed practice.)

The Lippman plan hurts these budding lawyers most of all. Recent law school graduates face a growing employment crisis: the Law School Transparency Data Clearinghouse lists 67 schools (out of the 185 that were scored) with full-time legal employment rates below 55 percent. At the same time, law school tuition and student debt have skyrocketed. The average 2011 law graduate from Syracuse owes $132,993, not including any debt incurred for undergraduate education. At Pace, the figure is $139,007; at New York Law School, $146,230.

After commencement, things get worse. Law graduates often borrow more money for bar preparation, to pay for both living expenses and prep courses, which can cost more than $3,000. Even graduates with good jobs lined up face tight summer budgets; many work in retail or food service to make ends meet, as do many law students. The irony is that many recent law graduates may well qualify for the free legal services Judge Lippman will bestow on New York’s poor. It is from these struggling New Yorkers that Judge Lippman demands over a week’s unpaid labor.

In case you have a need for even more sobering news, LegalZoom has filed for an initial public offering.  Richard Granat illuminates the dent in small-firm revenues that LegalZoom may be creating:

LegalZoom’s data in the S-1 filing is now available for everyone to analyze:

  • In 2011, 490,000 orders were placed through their web site;
  • 20% of all limited liability companies in California were done by LegalZoom;
  • During the past ten years, LegalZoom has served over 2,000,000 customers.
  • Revenue in 2011 was $156 million.

These are impressive statistics and provide support for the proposition that consumers and small business prefer a very limited legal solution that is just good enough to get the job done, rather than pay the high legal fees charged by the typical attorney.

Bounded Ethicality

Over the past couple of decades, psychologists have documented many different ways that our minds fail to see what is directly in front of us. They’ve come up with a concept called “bounded ethicality”: That’s the notion that cognitively, our ability to behave ethically is seriously limited, because we don’t always see the ethical big picture.

One small example: the way a decision is framed. “The way that a decision is presented to me,” says Tenbrunsel, “very much changes the way in which I view that decision, and then eventually, the decision it is that I reach.”

Essentially, Tenbrunsel argues, certain cognitive frames make us blind to the fact that we are confronting an ethical problem at all. …

“If you’re thinking about a business decision, you are significantly more likely to lie than if you were thinking from an ethical frame,” Tenbrunsel says.

According to Tenbrunsel, the business frame cognitively activates one set of goals — to be competent, to be successful; the ethics frame triggers other goals. And once you’re in, say, a business frame, you become really focused on meeting those goals, and other goals can completely fade from view.

From NPR.

New Pro Bono Requirement Prior to New York Bar Admission

As if the $130,000+ law school price tag and horrific job market were not enough of a deterrent for would-be lawyers.

Starting next year, prospective lawyers must show that they have performed at least 50 hours of law-related pro bono service before being admitted to the New York state bar, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced yesterday.

The chief judge said in his annual Law Day address at the Court of Appeals that the requirement would serve a two-fold purpose: It would address the large, unmet need for lawyers to represent the poor and it would inculcate in aspiring lawyers a career-long duty to serve the public.

“If pro bono is a core value of our profession, and it is—and if we aspire for all practicing attorneys to devote a meaningful portion of their time to public service, and they should—these ideals ought to be instilled from the start, when one first aspires to be a member of the profession,” Lippman said to a crowd of judges, lawyers and legislators.

(Emphasis added). More here.

Justice and Criminal Justice Fees

Economist Alex Tabarrok writes:

Debtor’s prisons are supposed to be illegal in the United States but today poor people who fail to pay even small criminal justice fees are routinely being imprisoned. The problem has gotten worse recently because strapped states have dramatically increased the number of criminal justice fees. In Pennsylvania, for example, the criminal court charges for police transport, sheriff costs, state court costs, postage, and “judgment.” Many of these charges are not for any direct costs imposed by the criminal but have been added as revenue enhancers. A $5 fee, for example, supports the County Probation Officers’ Firearms Training Fund, an $8 fee supports the Judicial Computer Project, a $250 fee goes to the DNA Detection Fund. Convicted criminals may face dozens of fees (not including fines and restitution) totaling a substantial burden for people of limited means. Fees do not end outside the courtroom. Jailed criminals can be charged for room and board and for telephone use, haircuts, drug tests, transportation, booking, and medical co-pays. In Arizona, visitors to a prison are now charged a $25 maintenance fee. In PA in order to get parole there is a mandatory charge of $60. While on parole, defendants may be further assessed counseling, testing and other fees. Interest builds unpaid fees larger and larger. In Washington state unpaid legal debt accrues at an interest rate of 12%. As a result, the median person convicted in WA sees their criminal justice debt grow larger over time.

Worse, these fees are often charged before the individual has been convicted. Tabarrok makes the point that while there is some appeal to passing the costs of the justice system on to its “users,” these fees put a heavy burden on those least able to pay, including both criminals, who are usually poor, and their families.  Debt related to the fees creates additional barriers to reintegration into society, thereby undermining the effectiveness of the system.

The whole post is worth reading, along with the comments.