Are You a Lawyer? No? Then Shut Up.


The law can be strange and counterintuitive, and people can hold remarkably – sometimes catastrophically – wrong ideas about it. Here are some:

Myth: Mailing yourself a copy of your work means no one can steal your idea. Sorry. A postmark suggests a tiny bit of proof of genesis, but doesn’t create an exclusionary right of ownership.

Myth: Citation cures infringement. Nope. Citation cures plagiarism. Infringement is infringement whether you credit the victim or not.

Myth: Environmental or endangered species cases are always really about the environment or endangered species. Sometimes the endangered species is a good excuse to control a NIMBY.

Myth: You cannot get pulled over for doing 5 mph over the speed limit. I admit it’s rare. But the law likes bright lines. Cross them at your peril.

Myth: Copying music is always a copyright infringement. Sometimes it’s a fair use.

Myth: Getting a patent helps you own your ideas. Getting a patent helps you own a patent. Ideas can’t be owned.

Myth: If you have a good idea, all you need to do is patent it to make money. If you want to make money from your good idea, start a company to commercialize it.

Myth: You can pay people under the table without too much trouble. Even if you’re never planning to run for office, you should pay all of your employees according to federal and state employment and tax law requirements, even once-per-week domestic help like maids and babysitters.

Myth: Unpaid interns and low level employees don’t need an employment contract. Always a good idea to get a quick contract in place that incorporates the handbook, describes the job and the pay, and solidifies IP ownership.

Myth: You can’t be sued if you haven’t done anything wrong. Ha! I could you sue you this afternoon. In fact, I might.

Myth: If you bought and paid for it, you own it. Not if it’s a copyrightable work authored by an independent contractor, you don’t, not without getting the right contract signed beforehand.

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