As entrepreneurs, we’re idealists always facing doubters, cynics and naysayers.
Like any self-respecting entrepreneur, I have a desire to take on new challenges while proving the doubters wrong. This has manifested itself on many fronts. As someone always rooting for the underdog and fighting for equality and against injustice, the reality is the legal forum provides enormous tools to succeed in accomplishing your mission.
A First Front: Right to Representation, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
In 2006, News Corp/FOX/IGN/AskMen sued WatchMojo (a corporation) and myself personally in a frivolous lawsuit over a non-competition matter. They sought an injunction and were essentially planning to out-spend me with the aim of preventing me from doing… anything.
I studied injunctions, labor law, fair competition laws for 72 hours and it was clear their main tactic was to out-spend me but at the merits I would prevail. But had I listened to the risk-averse lawyers, I had no hope and had to capitulate. Nonsense. At one moment, I joked: “so the best strategy for us is to represent myself.” After a chuckle, I had my answer. I thus went to court and defeated them. But I almost didn’t even get a chance to have my day in court because in Canada, a laymen like me could not have represented a corporation (after all, its shareholders could then sue the company saying “WTF did a laymen represent us?”). So how did I manage to convince a lawyer to represent myself and effectively, WatchMojo too?
While it was anti-climactic, I managed to convince the judge to let me do so on two grounds. One was in the wording in the code of civil procedure to the effect that (paraphrasing and over-simplifying) “one of the defendants was not a corporation/individual) since they were suing both me and the corporation. The other was more logic: I asked the courts to let me (Ash, the individual) represent myself, since the charges were the same against me and WatchMojo, and even if the honorable court were to find the company guilty by default, then at the merits stage if as an individual I was not guilty, then by deduction, neither was WatchMojo. Either it worked on the merits of may argument or pity, but I proceeded to defend myself and prevailed. Nearly all of FOX’s departments went on to become licensing clients, and WatchMojo grew into a far more valuable business than my previous company. I will be publishing a post and a video on ContextTV’s with the juicy and boring details. #EventuallyForgiveNeverForget – but the point was, by setting emotions aside, I found the right legal tools to chart a path forward.
A Second Front: Expression & Freedom of Speech
The second time was when I ventured into copyright and fair use, and one after another, other laymen experts and even lawyers would rule my position out, falsely claiming that “commercial use automatically nullified fair use” (amongst other nonsense positions) even though our editorial and publishing style was not even deemed to be commercial in the context of copyright, and some commercial use do not nullify fair use at all. It took me a few years – a decade – but in the end, I prevailed, as most of those rights holders have now:
- explicitly agreed
- implicitly support or
- reluctantly conceded that from a legal sense, we were right all along and if anything, YouTube’s ContentID had conditioned them into thinking that CID = law, which is not the case.
Therein lied my challenge: I had to fight back but could not unleash my full wrath while fighting back, demonstrating my restraint while mounting our defence, fearing the full force of our unrestrained counter-fire could hit someone and aggravate a behemoth (or our overlords at YouTube!)
The struggle for fair use is never over, and recent history reminds us of its importance.
New Frontiers. New Challenges. New Cause?
I always loved debating and love a new challenge. What is a cause that is important to highlight, defend and fight for through a mix of legal combat, winning the hearts and minds & other means of asymmetric warfare?
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