Freedom of Speech and Social Media

Freedom of Speech and Social Media 
by Sue Basko

Contrary to popular opinion, Freedom of Speech does not mean you get to say whatever you want.

Over the past year, many people nationwide have been arrested for what they wrote on Facebook or Twitter.  Most of these postings have been written in reaction to violent incidents, such as the Sandy Hook school shootings or the death of Trayvon Martin.  Most of the postings promised or advocated further violence.  Most of the people arrested, that I know about, have been mentally ill or had a history of violence or erratic behavior.  Others wrote such explicitly violent things that it would be a mistake for officials not to take it seriously.   Better to be safe than sorry, seems to be the rule.  In the aftermath of numerous incidents where young people committed shocking violence, such as the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shootings, the Sandy Hook school shootings of little children, and the Boston Marathon Bombings, if you threaten violence, you are likely to be taken seriously.

 In most instances of arrests of Social Media posters, police were alerted by someone who read the post and was alarmed by it. That means, in most instances, the police are alerted by Facebook friends (or friends of friends) or Twitter followers.  So, it is not the NSA or the FBI or local police watching your every word and turning you over to authorities, it is your Facebook friends.  In most instances that I know of, the charges have been state charges, in whatever state the errant poster resides.  In some of the instances, the poster is given very high bond and is therefore kept in jail for quite some time awaiting trial.  I assume the bonds are set high to protect the public, or the proposed victims, from potential violence.  A good rule is to assume that if you post violent things,  your post will be taken at face value and will be taken seriously.

Laws are different in every state.  One charge that might be lodged against a Social Media poster is “terroristic threatening.”  “Terroristic threatening” is defined differently state to state, just as other offenses, such as “rape,” are defined differently state to state.  In some terroristic threatening laws, it is the effect the words have that makes them qualify as terroristic threats.  A typical example of a terroristic threat law is if the words cause a building to be evacuated, or cause safety precautions to be taken, or frighten 10 or more people, then they may be considered terroristic threats.  Sometimes the law will have an intent requirement.  The person whose words frighten a group of people will often argue that the words were a joke, that they were “just kidding.”  That is a defense that might be used at trial, but it won’t usually keep a person from being arrested and charged in the first place, if the words seem serious and have led to trouble.

Every time one of these Social Media threat posters is arrested, there comes a flurry of other people posting or complaining that this is a violation of Free Speech.  It is a common misunderstanding that free speech means you can say or write whatever you feel like.   People sometimes get into a pedantic scholarly First Amendment law professor type of argument about such terms as “incitement,” “fighting words,” and “protected speech.”  That’s all cool to argue in an amicus brief, but the bottom line is it does not do you much good if you are sitting in jail with $100,000 bond for posting what to most people sound like death threats.  This blog post is not about arguing theory, it is about keeping my readers out of jail.  

Here are some basics about FREEDOM OF SPEECH and SOCIAL MEDIA:

1. Freedom of speech is between the people and the government.   A Social media company is not the government.  A Social Media company can set any rules it wants.  A Social Media site can force its users to be polite and considerate.  That does not in any way violate Free Speech, because the Social Media company is not the government.

2.  Speech might not violate the rules of the Social Media company, but might still be illegal.  This is especially so on Twitter and Facebook, which have refused to formulate reasonable rules for its users and utterly fail at stopping abusive and illegal postings.  That’s why there have been many arrests of people for things they posted on Facebook and Twitter.  The common sense rule is that it is up to the Social Media user to  know the law and not to depend on the site rules as a guide to what is legal or not.  

3. If you post on a national Social Media such as Facebook or Twitter, you can be held criminally responsible for violating the laws of any State.  True, most Social Media criminal charges are made in the State where the poster resides, but this does not have to be the case.  A prosecutor in the state of the victim could bring charges, and so could a federal prosecutor.  Jurisdiction will depend on the exact wording and intent of the law and on which prosecutor is interested in the situation.

4. Social Media is international. If the victims are in a different nation, you can still be held responsible.  The recent French case involving Twitter users posting anti-Semitic tweets, where Twitter tried to shield the racist harassers, ended out finally with Twitter turning their information over to the French authorities.  Will it turn out that the abusive tweeters are French, or will they be Americans or from which nation?  This will be interesting to watch.  Yes, there are issues of jurisdiction and these are often complex.

5.  Protected Political Speech does not include threats to kill. In the U.S., we are allowed to write things that criticize government and elected officials.  That does not include threats to kill or harm the officials or their families.  You can post saying you don’t like the work of President Obama, but you don’t get to post a threat to harm or kill him or his family. 

6. Your post might remain on Social Media and you might still be arrested. If you are posting your death threats on Twitter, be aware that Twitter is not likely to remove your threats or keep you from posting more threats.  Such a situation happened with Jarvis Britton, who was sentenced to a year in prison for tweeting death threats at President Obama.  Britton posted a death threat once, the Secret Service told him to knock it off, and he persisted and posted a new death threat.  Twitter does not have sensible rules that form guidelines for users. Twitter does not remove death threats.  Twitter does not keep abusive users from posting more abuse.   Just because your account has not been suspended by Twitter, does not mean the U.S. Marshals won’t be knocking down your door. 

7.  Being a U.S. citizen does not immunize you if you are in a different nation.  Some other nations have laws that make it illegal to defame a king or public official or to disrespect a religion.  If you are sitting in a hotel room in Riyadh posting hateful stuff about the Saudi royalty, the U.S. has no jurisdiction to override the local laws.

8. Arrest and Prosecution are Absolutely Different from Place to Place in the U.S..  Many police departments, even in large cities, don’t have anyone that knows anything about computers.  Many FBI offices have the same situation.  They are not likely to pursue a Social Media poster.  Other police forces or FBI offices have people knowledgeable about cybercrime, and they may be eager to try out their skills.

9. How Hard is it to Get Caught?  All in all, an abusive poster is most likely to be arrested if they post in their own name on their own Facebook page, or in their own name on a Twitter or Youtube account.  If a subpoena is required to discover the true identity of the user, in most instances, police or FBI won’t do that, unless they are politically motivated to go after someone.  But that does not  mean they cannot or won't  pursue you, so don't count on it.  Federal law also makes it a crime to post threats without revealing your name, so hiding behind a pseudonym may actually make your threats a more serious crime. 

10. If I removed a post off Social Media, can I still be charged with a crime?  Theoretically yes, but I do not know of any situation where a person removed an offensive posting and was later charged with a crime about it.  Usually, removing it is an indication that you knew it was wrong or that you did not really mean it and are trying to make amends.  Most people who are actually dangerous think they are right, and keep on posting more things.  

WHAT IS ILLEGAL TO POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE U.S.?  This list is based on federal law and on generalized version of state laws, which differ state to state, but have many similarities.  This list is certainly not a complete listing, but is simply a list of the most common types of Social Media posts that get people charged with crimes.  *See Note at bottom of page.

What's Illegal on Social Media?

1. Death threats or threats of any harm to any person.  This includes: threats against any person or their family, against their car or home, rape threats, arson threats, etc.  It is illegal to post a death threat against someone you know, someone you don’t know, a public official, someone famous, someone unknown – anyone.  You can usually be arrested if you post such threats “as a joke,” even if you “aren’t serious,” etc.  Whether you are arrested depends on if the victim reports it and  how interested the local police are in arresting you.  If you are easy to identify and locate and you sound dangerous, you are more likely to be arrested.

2.  Generalized threats of death or harm, such as posts telling others to kill people of a certain group or race, or statements saying you are going to kill or harm children or adults at a certain place. You statement might be considered a threat, an incitement, an urging, an exhortation, a plan, a terroristic threat.  You may say your post was not a threat, but a joke.  The bottom line is that normal, healthy, responsible people do not post such things, and if you do post such things, the police may be required to at least check you out. 

One such story is of Justin Carter, a 19 year old in Texas, was held for months on $500,000 bond for violent threats he posted on Facebook.  Although he said he would kill little children, after he was arrested, he claimed it was a "joke."  He was finally released after many months, when an anonymous person posted $100,000 to free him, pending trial.  There have been at least a hundred similar cases nationwide since the Sandy Hook school shootings.

3. Posting any sort of nude, partly nude, indecent, sexual, or obscene photo of anyone.  Social Media is a public space, and it may be viewed by all ages.  If you post such a photo of a person without his or her permission, this may be extortion, or stalking, or harassment -- or revenge porn.  If you post such a photo of anyone who was under age 18 at the time of the photo, that is distribution of child pornography. If you post any such photo, you may be engaging in crimes related to making pornographic or indecent materials available to children.  Some states specifically have laws that make it illegal to post such a photo of any person without their specific written permission.  And on and on. 

4.  Posting a link that tricks other people to clicking on it and seeing an obscene or indecent image.  This is a federal crime.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen idiots on Twitter posting such links to the Goatse picture. If you don't know what the Goatse picture is, do not google it.   

5. Posting the home address, phone number, social security number, or personal email of any person to harm them.  If you post such info of most people, it is stalking or harassment, a state offense.  If you post such info of a federal employee or official, it is a serious federal crime.  If you post such info about a law enforcement officer, it is a state offense in many states.  If your purpose is to harass, stalk, intimidate, "expose," shame, humiliate, or endanger someone or open someone up to being attacked financially or physically, then what you are doing is illegal under some law.

6. Posting personal information about a person, such as medical records, financial information, passwords to emails or other accounts, social security numbers, etc.  Revealing such personal information can violate any of various state or federal laws.

7. Sending messages to other users, adults or children, telling them you are a talent agent, (unless you are an actual licensed talent agent), and trying to lure them into contact with you either for illegal social or sexual purposes, or as part of a financial scam.  This happens most often on Youtube, where any private message from a “talent agent” or manager or talent company or casting agent or model agent should be viewed with great skepticism.           

8. Sending indecent photos, even privately, to anyone under age 18, or asking them to send such a photo to you. This applies even if you yourself are under age 18.

9. Trying to lure or entice anyone under age 18 to meet up with you or travel to meet you or to go someplace with you.   This is often treated as a very serious crime, especially if there is any age difference.   

10. Repeatedly posting things at or about a person, if they have asked you to stop or if they are not responding, or if they have you blocked or locked out or if they have complained about you to the Social Media company.  This is harassment or stalking, and it is illegal under many different state laws and under federal law. Which law it falls under depends on the facts.  In some places, the victim may be able to get a restraining order to keep you from doing this. In other places, the victim will be able to sign a complaint for your arrest.

11. Repeatedly posting negative, derisive, racist, sexist, demeaning, belittling, mocking, posting misinformation about, or any other sort of mean or disturbing post at or about a person. This can be illegal under many different state or federal laws, including stalking, cyberstalking, harassment, cyberbullying, as well as under civil laws such as defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress.  You do not have a right to pester or stalk anyone else on the internet, just as you have no such rights IRL.

12. Gathering a group to harass a person or commit a crime online or off line.  It can be illegal to gather a group to do something illegal online or offline.   Using social media to incite mob action may be specifically illegal.  "Mob action" is where two or more people gather for the purpose of doing something violent, harassing, or illegal to the same victim or in the same place.

13. Extortion: Threatening to do something bad to someone if they do not do something you want.  Such online extortion may include threats to post nude or embarrassing photos, threats to post personal information about the person, threats to steal from the person, threats to hack a person's accounts, and other such threats. If you are the victim of extortion, never give in to the threats. Contact police.  Even if you have given in to the threats, contact police.

14. Threatening to hack a person’s site or account, or to DOS their site, or threatening any other type of illegal cybercrime against a person.  Threatening to commit specific crimes against people is illegal as intimidation, harassment, stalking, extortion, etc., depending on the exact situation.

15. Posting links to other things that are illegal, such as obscenity, child porn, passwords, personal information of another person, etc. 

16. Impersonating someone else.  This is illegal under various state laws.

*Note: Every time I post such a list, there are some who mock it, mock me, say it is not true, etc.  I am a lawyer who has specifically and extensively studied Social Media law. I also pay a lot of  attention to news of arrests for behavior on Social Media.  I write about the law for everyday people, to help you make informed decisions. Anyone who has been arrested for a posting on Social Media is certainly expected to have lawyers make First Amendment arguments, but this blog is not about what arguments might be made in court.  This blog is to help people avoid getting in trouble in the first place.

What Hack3rs D0

What Hack3rs D0
by Sue Basko

Warning: Hackers are not allowed to read this. This is written for non-hackers only.

Hackers think they are smarter than other people.  If they are really hackers, they are probably right.  Some hackers write words using numbers. This is based on creating passwords using a combination of letters and numbers.  Can you read these? 5n00py,  M4i 7ai, 54154, smi13, 5133v3.  (Answers below.)

Hackers talk about getting v&, or vanned, which means arrested.  Some hackers with delusions of grandeur think getting arrested will make them famous.  Reality in the U.S. is that computer crime charges are so excessive that young people face long prison sentences for doing things that most people cannot even conceive of as illegal.  Therefore, when hackers are arrested, the big question is whether they will flip, or act as a confidential informant, or CI, as part of a plea deal.  One New York hacker who famously flipped upon arrest is nicknamed Sabu.  After he flipped, he got back online with an FBI handler and tricked other hackers into hacking certain targets, and all the while, they were being set up for arrest.  Sabu also got onto IRCs (internet relay chats), where he recruited hackers and also elicited incriminating statements from them.

Hackers break into websites or servers or into computers.  Hacking into a website or server is a whole lot easier to do than you might think.  Think of a website as a house.  How do you get into a house? Through a door or window.  What's the door to a  website? Having the password.  A hacker might get a password by trickery, which is known as Social Engineering.  They might also get a password by phishing, which is when they trick a person into filling out a form sent by email.  Or they might be given a password, buy a password, or crack a password.  Password cracking is usually done in phases, and when a list has been cracked, it will often be posted on the internet for anyone to use.  (Gasp!  But this is true.)

Another door into a website is called a backdoor.  Many websites, especially government websites, have a backdoor.  Since the government uses so many contractor companies, there may be hundreds or thousands of people with ready access to a backdoor.  Backdoors are also notably easy to hack.  Once a hacker is in a backdoor, they often have access to an entire row of websites, all of which are lined up on one backdoor.  This is like walking down a street and strolling into any house you wish.

What are the windows through which one may enter a website?  Those are any locations where one might enter code.  That's usually going to be a log-in or question form or other such thing.   When you log in to a website, you are  contacting the server, which compares the user name and password with a list.  You are querying the server. You may query the server in other ways using that same fill-in form.  Two of the main methods are called SQL injection and HTML injection.  SQL is "server query language." You type in code that asks the server a question and hope it responds.  It is like you are saying "Open Sesame," and it replies and opens and lets you in.  Many SQL injections rely on the fact that many users are silly and give themselves user names such as "Admin."

HTML injection or Code injection is where you are adding to the code already on the page, in any place that accepts HTML.  I think of this like throwing a rock through a window to try to get a person inside to come to the window yelling. Once they are at the window yelling, you might get them to dance, tell stories, or show you a video.  If you don't know what code to use, there are plenty of little scripts floating around the internet.  People that use pre-made coding are called "script kiddies."

Once a hacker is inside a website, what do they do?  They might deface it.  That is when something on the face of the website is changed or something is added.  It is easy to go into the HTML coding and change what the words say, change the colors, or add photos or videos.  For example, any video can be embedded off a serving site, such as youtube, just as you would add a video to any blog or site with the embed code.

Defacing a site doesn't really cause much damage, and the code can probably easily be cleaned up in a matter of minutes, especially since most people keep a copy of their site design code.  However, hacking and defacing a website will often be charged as if it is a big, serious crime, and the site owners will claim it cost thousands of dollars to fix it.  So, beware if defacing is your plan.

Another thing a hacker might do inside a website is gain access to the server to get lists of credit card numbers and passwords, or to get lists of other information.   Possessing or using stolen passwords or credit card numbers is very illegal.
More advanced hacking involves hacking into mechanical systems, such as the controls on cars or buildings, manufacturing plants, power plants, etc.   Computer hacking experts say it is possible to hack  computer-controlled cars and take control of the accelerator and brakes away from the drivers.  Scary!

Another main target of hackers is emails.  Hackers hack into emails and sometimes lurk for months, gathering emails or photos. They might leave without announcing themselves, but the point is usually to publicly freak people out by revealing "secret" emails.  Hackers almost always get into email accounts by getting a password.  One common way to do this is by guessing the answer to the security question. Another method is that many computers "remember" a log-in, including a password.  The account may then be easily accessed from that computer by anyone, until the password is changed.  If the email is also a door to other sites, or if the emails reveal other account log-ins or other information, all of that can be easily known by the email viewer.  That's why it is a good idea to use double validation on email accounts. Double validation is available on gmail.  Double validation means that in addition to logging in, the user must also post a code that is sent via cell phone.  This safety method is also called Two Factor Authentication, or 2FA.  2FA is now available on many log-ins and it is a good idea to opt to use it.

Hackers might also break into Facebook or Twitter accounts.  These hacks usually involve someone who was previously trusted with the password.  Or they may be caused by using a computer that "remembers" the log-in and password.  Or they may be caused by having the accounts linked to an email which is hacked.  Twitter may also respond to code injection.

Another thing some hackers do, which is not really considered hacking, is DOSing.  DOS stands for Denial of Service. This is also known as "Tango Down."  This is an attack against a web server, or against a website (URL), IP, or router.  There are many methods of creating a DOS attack.  All the methods flood the target with packets of information that keep the target from operating normally.

Think of a website as a house on a street. Usually the car traffic moves down the street in a steady, orderly stream, so anyone can get to the house easily. Now, suppose we send a hundred cars and trucks all at the same time, or from different directions, or even at different speeds. Then, there will be a terrible traffic jam, and no one will be able to get to the house.  Those are metaphors for the ways some different types of DOS attacks work.

There are already-created DOS tools on the internet.  There are even DOS-for-hire sites.  A notorious DOSer called the Jester (@th3j35t3r on twitter) claims to use his phone for DOS attacks using a software switching method he coded.  Most DOS attacks knock a site offline for a few minutes, though a massive attack might last as long as 20 minutes.

Another form of DOS is called DDOS (distributed denial or service).  A DDOS is when the attack comes from multiple sources.  Many computers will be recruited, either with their owners consent, or often unknowingly, and have the attack malware placed onto the computers.  Such networks may require the participation of the various computer owners, or may work automatically. This is called a bot or a zombie bot.  According to reports, hundreds of thousands of Wordpress  blogs were infected with malware that turned them into a giant zombie bot.

In another incident, people protesting against Paypal for denying financial services to Wikileaks joined a DDOS attack by downloading malware.  Fourteen of those participants were charged with crimes, and are called the Paypal 14. In reality, it is estimated that tens of thousands of computers were participating in the attack.  Paypal claims it lost millions of dollars in revenue in the 20 minutes or so that the DDOS kept the site nonfunctional.  I think many participants were not fully informed and were more or less tricked into clicking and downloading the malware. Others may not have realized DDOSing is illegal.  Some participants, I think, were actually told that DDOSing is legal.

Some people think DDOS attacks should be legal as a form of First Amendment protest. The same might be said of website defacements.  As of now, these things are illegal and punished disproportionately for the relatively small and fluid amount of damage they may cause.

Another thing that wannabe hackers do is dox, or d0x.  Dox is short for documents.   Doxing may reveal the name of a person who uses a pseudonym.  This may be justified, especially if the person is using their cloak of anonymity to attack or harass others.   Other types of doxing include posting a person's address, phone number, and personal information, such as social security numbers and other information. This is almost always illegal as internet stalking or harassment.  If this is done to a law enforcement officer or certain federal employees, it can be a very serious crime.  If the intent or the result of posting a person's personal information is to harass or endanger the person, you can be sure it is illegal under some law or other.  Much of the information posted in  doxing is incorrect and as such, may be defamation and present a private cause of action (lawsuit) as well as possible criminal charges.

Many states have laws that make it a crime to reveal the home address or personal information of any law enforcement officer.  Federal law makes it a crime to reveal any of 6 pieces of information of a federal employee.  These 6 pieces of information are called "restricted personal information, " and include home address, home phone, cell phone, personal email, social security number, or home fax number.  Even if such information can be found online with a Google search, it is illegal to make it public or post it.   
Conspiracy to jump off a cliff.
Barrett Brown was charged with Conspiracy to make public such information about an FBI agent.  The Conspiracy charge claims that Mr. Brown asked someone to look up the restricted information of the FBI agent with the intent to post it online.  Please note that the indictment does not say Mr. Brown did make the information public, or even that the person who supposedly agreed to look up the information was ever able to locate it.  The indictment charges a "conspiracy," by saying there was a plan to find the information and post it, and a step was taken in furtherance of doing so.  When a person is convicted of such a "conspiracy," the punishment is the same level as if they had completed the act.

 Please note that Barrett Brown has pleaded not guilty to this charge of Conspiracy to make restricted personal information public.  It does sound like Mr. Brown was simply trying to find a phone number to call the FBI agent to try to get his computer returned so he could do his work as a writer.  The problem was that Mr. Brown lived his life online, and so his requests for assistance in finding the phone number were in themselves quite public.

A federal employee -- or anyone else, really -- should be contacted at their places of business and not at home, unless you are their personal friend.  People should not be harassed or harmed for doing their jobs.  If you disagree with this and want to do otherwise, realize the risk you are taking.     

Another form of hacking is called exploits.  This is when a hacker finds a vulnerability in a program and devises an exploit, or coding package, that takes advantage of the weakness.  Many of these are called Zero Day Exploits, meaning the exploit has already been devised and put in use when the software program is being released, before it can be patched.  
Some hackers create bundles of exploits for sale or just give them away.  This enables others to hack into programs or sites.  There are many exploit packs available for free download on the internet.   Some exploits are very specific and others are more general.

Answers: 5n00py (snoopy), M4i 7ai (mai tai), smi13 (smile), 54154 (salsa), 5133v3 (sleeve).

Why I Use Blogger

Why I Use Blogger
by Sue Basko, esq.

see also: Copyright Bare Basics

A stalker on the internet was mocking that I use Blogger, implying that as a lawyer, I should pay for website hosting.  Mostly, I think this person was complaining that he was neither able to hack my blogs, nor DDOS them.  Those are two of the reasons I use Blogger.  

Blogger is not perfect.  There is no option for a Contact Form. (UPDATE 2015: There is now a Contact Form widget available!)  I would also like to see a music player with the option of adding my own mp3s onto it.  And the User Interface is probably very complex for people who have not used it since Blogger began, as changes have been built upon it to make it more and more complex, with many things hidden from the beginning user.  On the other hand, there are many instant style options for users who don’t want to spend time on their design. 

 I love using Blogger, and here’s why:

1) Blogger has highly flexible design options.  One can get on and use an instant format, or go to more design-it-yourself options.  There are magazine styles for those who use a lot of photos.  I use more text.  I love doing website design and the more advanced options let me do that.  I can import my own textures, banners, etc.  There are lots of font choices.     

2) Blogger lets me use HTML, for flexible design.  I feel so constrained on sites where HTML is not an option. 

3) Google puts mega-millions of dollars into the Blogger design, security, and serving.  Whatever I could afford would not begin to be as good.  And Google keeps making improvements. 

4) You want to attack my site’s server?  That’s Google’s super secure server you’re going after. 

5) Blogger is crawling with spiders and has great SEO.  Google search brings lots of readers to my blogs.  My blogs have great SEO.  All the tools to get great SEO are built into the format.  Google is the major search engine; surely Blogger is designed to get great SEO on Google search.  

6) There’s lots of independent developers making gadgets for Blogger.  There’s always something new to add on, if you’re into that.

7) It’s easy to monetize Blogger. I don’t, because I don’t like ads.

8) I like to have a lot of blogs and sites.  With Blogger, that is easy and free.  When I get an idea for a new blog, I just start creating it, no problem.

9) Blogger interacts with Google search, gmail, google+, and youtube very easily.

10) Blogger has good analytics for free.

11) My blogs have withstood some highly stressed times when I have had many viewers at once, such as when Julian Assange was speaking on the balcony at the embassy and my blog was one of the only places with a working live video feed.

12) There are options for posts and pages. I use both.

How to Work with a Creative Lawyer

 How to Work with a Creative Lawyer
by Sue Basko, esq.

Most people think of a lawyer as someone they go to when there is trouble: a DUI, injury, or lawsuit.  A lawyer for creative people is just the opposite: you come to us when things are going well, when you are doing creative and good things in your life.

I’m a lawyer for creative  people.  That means I work with people who make music, make films and videos, people who write stories and screenplays, independent journalists,  people who run websites, people designing apps or games.  I work with designers, artists, songwriters, record labels, show hosts, live show and festival producers.    

Many people only go to a lawyer when there’s trouble: a DUI, a lawsuit, an injury, they need a will.  For a DUI or other crime, you’d see a criminal defense lawyer.  If you are injured, you’d go to a personal injury (PI) lawyer.  If you need to make a will or trust, you go to a Trusts and Estates lawyer.

 There are many other areas of law in which lawyers tend to concentrate their practices, such as Employment law/ ERISA, Corporate law, Tax law, Patent law, Medical malpractice law, Environmental law, Health law, and on.

People come to a lawyer for creative people when things in their lives are gelling, when they are doing what they love.  If a person plans to turn their creative activity into a moneymaking venture, or if they want to protect their creative assets, then it is time to see a creative lawyer.

Creativity + sound legal advice in a timely way =  Productive Creative Career

My areas of law and experience include these and more:

Audio/ Sound design
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)
Computer law
Email law
Film law
Intellectual property
Internet activism
Journalism law
Media law
Music law
Music rights and royalties
Music videos
Phone apps
Pornography/ Indecency/ Obscenity
Radio and TV shows
Record labels
Secret Subpoenas
Show producers  
Social Media law
Software as a Service
Subpoenas/ Warrants on social media/ isps
Terms of Service
Website law
Website ownership

How to Work with a Creative Lawyer:

1) Get Acquainted.  You and the lawyer have to get to know each other a bit to see if you want to work together.  I select clients usually over a course of emailing back and forth.  I only work with people where I think there is a good fit between what they need and what I have to offer.  I am looking for clients who are honest and fair with others, who are very comfortable working on the computer and via internet, and who have a broad world view.  I only work with people who I think have substantial creative talent, who are able to take direction, and work well with others.  People come to me because I have skills,  knowledge, and experience in a wide range of creative fields.

2) Plan to Pay.  When you are planning your project or business, budget for legal help.  In most creative projects, legal work will be 10% to 25% of the budget. I make it very easy for clients to come to me, by not requiring credit checks or retainers.  I simply require payment in advance.  That way, my clients get the best help for the least expense, and I don’t spend my time being a bill collector.  It is extremely expensive and difficult to become a lawyer, and even moreso to develop special legal skills.  Lawyers need to be paid.    

3) If you need Free Help: If you can’t pay or are on a limited budget, you need to state this upfront, and see if the Creative lawyer is able to help you anyway.   I make a judgment call as to what the person really needs.  If a person tells me about a project where they are paying for the other services, but want free legal help, I suggest they rework that budget to be fair to me.  At any given time, I have clients I am helping for free.  These are people where I like what they are doing and where I think my skills are well-suited to what they need.

4) Don’t Misuse a Lawyer.  Some people try to use a lawyer to get an approval for a questionable or illegal thing they plan to do.  They’re trying to get a lawyer to find them a loophole or a way to do something that is unfair or illegal, and then plan to blame the lawyer when their scheme backfires.  I don’t work with such people.  If you plan to screw someone, I am not the lawyer for you.  Keep away, thanks.

5) Get to Know You: I have many questions for my clients.  I need to know who they are, what they are doing, what their goals are, etc.  Be prepared to tell me a lot of things.  Be prepared to show your records.  Then, be ready to answer more questions.  I need to know about you and what you are doing.  

6) Let Me Help You:  Please come to me with an open mind, willing to communicate.  I think of things you probably haven’t thought of.  That’s what I’m good for.  Sometimes, there may be issues that are more serious than you were thinking, or solutions that are easier than you thought.  

7) Follow Through.  If I tell you to do something, do it.  If you need a lawyer who will hold your hand and do everything for you, expect to pay a lot.  If I tell you to file a report with a certain agency or to remove something off your website, and you fail to do it, then you are making it so I cannot help you.  

8) Let Me Make a Plan for You.  I can lay out what you need now, what should be goals over the next months, and what should be long-term goals.  For example, if you have a website, maybe now you should register a trademark, and over the next month, have me write a Terms of Service.  Then we may need to get music and photo clearances,  and write contracts for you to use on a regular basis.  Then over the coming year, you will need updates on the Terms of Service, registration on some copyrights, employment contracts, and a few additional trademarks.  Legal work is a constant need. but it ebbs and flows.  

9) Don’t Wait!  Don’t wait till you have big trouble and things are falling apart.  If you are forming a company, partnership, band, record label – get legal help asap.  And if you are being asked to sign a contract, get a lawyer involved.

10) Don’t Undo my work or go around my back.  If I’ve written a contract, you don’t get to change it. If you want to change it, you need to talk to me.  If I am working on a deal, you don’t get to sabotage it by going behind my back.  If you do these things, you are what is considered a nightmare client, and you get dropped.  This is like going to a doctor for a surgery and bringing your own scalpel and doing your own little surgery while in the waiting room.  Ridiculous, right?  Lawyers don’t put up with it.  If you are a know it all, do-it-yourself-er, then do it yourself from the get-go and don’t trouble a lawyer.

11) Do lawyers kill the deal?  Some do.  I try not to.  My goal is to treat everyone fairly.  I try to honor everyone involved.  Usually when I write a contract, people are happy to sign it.  I believe in win-win situations.  I believe I am best helping my clients’ creative plans if I write contracts that lead to happy, healthy, long-lasting relationships with other valuable, honorable, talented people.  

12) Contracts I write:  I have a specific style of writing that I use in contracts.  I write contracts that are clear and easy for regular people to understand.  I also write contracts to be fair to all, and to honor all the parties.   I am starting to see contracts that I wrote being used by others, circulating, and  coming back to me, especially in Hollywood.  My "style" of contract is catching on.  I think this is great!

Attempt to Set Up Journalist with Child Porn

Attempt to Set-Up Journalist with Emailed Child Porn
by Sue Basko, esq.

Independent Journalist Luke Rudkowski, of We Are Change, is touring Europe.  Someone tried to set him up by sending him an email (shown in full below)  claiming to have good photos of an event Luke had just covered.  Luke previewed the photos, and saw they were Child Pornography.  Luke did not download the photos.

Luke is very concerned for his safety, since he will be making several international border crossings in the next few days.   Computers are often checked at border crossings.   It appears someone is setting up Luke to be arrested at a border crossing or upon reentry to the U.S.

I spoke on the phone with Luke in his spot in Europe, where he is taking precautions.  Luke will be reporting the email to proper authorities.

Please be aware of such traps.  Never download photos or videos from unknown sources.

Luke reports the email came from: This is the email that was sent: