Legal Research Blog

 

Kaizen and the Art of Software Development

AgileWe’re launching a small upgrade this week to citation lookup. From any search page, you can search for a citation by simply entering the volume, reporter, and first page of a case (for example, 158 F.3d 693). You can also search for a bunch of cases by entering the citations separated by commas.

Until today, the citation lookup was very literal, looking only for cases that start on the page quoted. But that also means that if you searched using an internal pincite, such as 158 F.3d 694, or just got the first page wrong, you’d get no results.

So we’ve upgraded Fastcase’s famously forgiving search box by allowing pincite search as well. If you search for a case using the citation to any page in the case, now you’ll get the case you’re looking for, instead of a message saying that no cases start on that page. (You’ll also get a short message saying, “There is no exact match for this citation – nearest match shown.”)

This is a small upgrade – but it reflects something important about Fastcase and agile software development.

Fastcase is an agile development shop. So instead of releasing huge software updates every couple of years (think Windows 7 or WestlawNext), we roll out new software every couple of weeks. In agile development, we break up revolutionary change into two or three-week sprints of software development. We complete a project, test it, then roll it out – continuously, all year long.

kaizenThis allows us to stay nimble, and to build a culture of innovation. The Japanese call this process Kaizen, roughly translated as “continuous improvement through small changes.” The five main elements of Kaizen are teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles, and suggestions for improvement, and that really captures our ethic for continual improvement at Fastcase.

Because Fastcase is web-based, we can do this seamlessly, without an additional purchase or download, or any interruption at all. Fastcase is just better every time you log in.

That means that every few weeks, you’ll see new features, content, and data types on Fastcase. We’re scanning about 100 books a day right now to build the world’s most extensive caselaw library. We’re investing in infrastructure to ensure that the world’s smartest legal research system is also the fastest and most responsive. And we’re innovating to make Fastcase powerful, elegant, and smarter than any other legal research system in the world.

Fun Facts: Post-Tax Day Edition

One of our favorite blogs, TaxProf Blog has been chronicling this year’s stories in tax bringing us facts like how tax fraud is increasing by 181% this year and that the IRS is allowing kidnappers to take a dependent deduction for victims.

Our favorite story was about professional athletes. Did you know that twenty states require visiting athletes to pay state income tax for games played within the state? Reported in the L.A. Times and picked up by TaxProf Blog, it comes as no surprise that this is controversial as, in most cases, other highly paid professionals are not taxed for payments resulting from duties performed outside the home state. Imagine being Ichiro Suzuki, the highest paid player on the Seattle Mariners:

Athletes are taxed based on “duty days” they spend in each state. In baseball, there are approximately 181 “duty days,” meaning a player earning $1.81 million would make $10,000 each duty day. Therefore, if that player’s team had three games in California, he would be responsible for taxes on $30,000 of income.

At that point, all the tax collectors have left is a math problem to figure out that Ichiro Suzuki, the highest-paid baseball player in Washington, a tax-free state, will have to pay more than $218,000 in California taxes for the 25 games the Mariners will play there this summer.

L.A Times and TaxProf Blog

Finally, if you haven’t already seen it, here’s a fun tool: plug in amounts you paid for social security tax, medicare tax, and income tax and learn how much you contributed to national projects. For example, if you paid $20,000 in taxes this year, you contributed $140 to NASA. Check out your tax day receipt here.

Fastcase is Seeking an Administrative and Outreach Summer Intern

Work and learn with our smart, high energy team in a terrific location downtown in Washington, D.C. This paid position has a flexible start and end date but will ideally run from mid-May to mid-August. Potential to continue part-time through the school year if desired.

Desired traits:
• Ability to think on your feet
• Self-motivated and able to move projects forward without continuous oversight
• Well organized
• Positive attitude
• Past experience not necessary as long as you are ready to learn!

Tasks to include but not limited to:
• Administrative support
• Assisting with accounting processes
• Contribute to the corporate social media campaign- Fastcase corporate blog, twitter etc.
• Quality assurance, data management
• Some travel may be requested

Send your resume to kbiechman@fastcase.com.

Sony v. Hotz Ends in Settlement

Photo By /kallu

The digital space continues to be an area where the legal world searches for its footing. For the past decade, intellectual property rights holders have been fighting to maintain control over their product. The most notable and heated battles have taken place in the music, film, and software industries. There has been a back and forth between waves of tighter control through propriety devices/software and blunt force litigation.

2011 appeared to continue this path as another legal battle began. Expanding on the above theme, it moved onto hardware, specifically the Sony Playstation 3. Earlier this year, Sony’s Playstation 3, a high-definition gaming console was “jailbroken.” Jailbreaking or the freeing of a device from limitations imposed by its manufacturer or provider is typically associated with cellular phones- Apple’s iPhone in particular. In the phone’s case the modification allows users to bring the phone to any compatible service provider.

In this case, the system becomes completely open, allowing users to fiddle with the internal code, install applications, and likely pirate games. The entire process of discovery was presented during a conference in Berlin and was posted online in a three part series. The crew that managed to accomplish this monumental task claimed to have only attempted jailbreaking the device after Sony decided to remove the use of Linux as one of the system’s features- a key feature since the system’s debut in 2007 which was removed by a software patch in April 2010.

The case raised some interesting questions from the very beginning. For one, there was the matter of jurisdiction. Sony wanted the case tried in California for three reasons:  their stated Terms of Use, the location of Sony America in California, and the process to jailbreak was posted on YouTube, a California based company. The defendant however lived in New Jersey and the process was uploaded there. In February the judge who was deciding the issue gave this skeptical statement to Sony’s attorney- “…if using Twitter or Facebook is enough to bring a case to San Francisco, “the entire universe would be subject to my jurisdiction.”

Another issue was the role of an electronic Terms of Use agreement, the language of which was in dispute. A ruling on such an agreement could have had wide ranging implications for consumers and how they interact with EULAs (end-user license agreements) and Terms of Use agreements as well as the role and authority of such terms. Sony’s tactics for addressing its intellectual property rights would have likely also have been brought to the courts attention. One of the more interesting aspects would have been to see is how the court addressed the act of jailbreaking itself. One of the members of the team was also responsible for jailbreaking the iPhone, which was ruled lawful in July 2010 by the Federal government. It would have been interesting to see what was deemed different, if anything, between the two cases.

Alas, after several months of waging an effective public relations campaign, the case was recently settled.  Many of the questions that the case could have raised may never be answered, leaving legal uncertainty in its wake. Sony and the defendant both claim victory. Neither side gave in. The only information that has been released about the settlement is that the defendant will agree to not work around any of Sony’s decryption or help others to do so.

However, the code is now out on the internet. Apparently you could even tweet parts of it. Anyone can search for the program, download it onto their PC, and use it with no special equipment necessary. There is no getting the cat back into the bag. Sony cannot remove it from the internet. At least everyone was spared a case that could easily have become the circuses that the RIAA and Hollywood bring to the courtroom. While plenty of legal questions remain for the future, there is one thing that we can all take away from this:  you should always create a strong password.

Social Media Discrimination

We all know that it’s illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of factors such as age, sex, race, religion, and disability. But there aren’t clearly-defined laws against discriminating based on social media activity. With online access to ever-multiplying social media portals, employers are increasingly investigating employees’ social media information in order to make hiring and firing decisions. Should this be allowed? Can anything protect workers from this social media discrimination? Several recent articles address this expanding phenomenon in employee-employer relations.

A New York Law Journal article mentions Lifestyle Discrimination Statutes, which have been enacted in several states, and which may form a basis for protecting some social media activity. New York’s statute, called the Lawful Off-Duty Conduct Law (N.Y. Labor Law §201-d), prevents employers from taking action against an employee for any of the following: “political activities”; “legal use of consumable products”; legal “recreational activities”; and union membership along with exercising of union rights. The first three of these activities have been very narrowly interpreted by the courts, seemingly providing no solid basis for protection of employee behavior.

In New York, one employee alleged she was fired because of political affiliation, but the court did not apply the law’s political prong to protect her. Another case involved a state employee fired after an outside-of-work argument with a state official in a restaurant. A claim under the recreational activites prong did not help her. The law specifically defines what constitutes protected political and recreational activity, and courts have adhered closely to the wording. Courts have refused to interpret dating as recreational. Cohabitation has also been denied as a recreational activity, and thus not protected against becoming grounds for firing. Although social media wasn’t involved in these cases, they show clearly how the small scope of protected political and recreational behaviors is unlikely to encompass internet postings. The union activity provision of this law may offer more hope to workers however. On October 27, 2010, the National Labor Relations Board filed a charge of unfair labor practice against an employer for firing a worker who – on facebook – referred to her boss as a psychiatric patient. That case was settled before a hearing, leaving no conclusive precedent in its wake, but we can infer that claims of union activity might be the best ways to protect social media posts for now.

Employees and attorneys may soon find creative ways to apply Lifestyle Discrimination Statutes. Moreover, some states have more broadly worded laws than New York. Colorado’s open-ended wording begs interpretation, as it seeks to protect termination for “any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours.” But in employment-at-will states like New York, very little behavior is safe from incurring adverse employer action.

The phenomenon of discriminating based on employees online behavior can also be explored from the employer’s point of view.  With social media, employers may have loads more information about a potential job candidate before making a hiring decision. Bosses may learn details about an applicant’s personal life, including religion, disability, or national origin for example. Those handling hiring decisions must remember that this information can’t be a basis for discrimination, no matter how it was obtained. By using social media as a way to screen candidates, employers open themselves up to the risk of using it illegally. Jessica Miller-Merrell’s blog offers advice for employers navigating these waters.

Courts are clearly still defining their stance on social media activity. We need to continually keep watch for new developments. We can follow the blogs of professionals who deal with these issues, and keep tabs on relevant court cases in progress. Employees and employers alike must use caution when posting online and judging posts. For the time being, the burden seems to fall mostly on the employees to restrain their social media posts, until more adequate protections arise under law.