Goldman's Observations 2014-02-27T20:32:13Z Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Tikkun Olam In Action]]> 2014-02-27T20:32:13Z 2014-02-27T18:34:58Z In response to my post about Lisa’s lung cancer, we have received hundreds of supportive emails, phone calls, office visits, Facebook comments, retweets and other expressions of support. I’m sorry we haven’t been able to respond to them all. I spent most of Tuesday crying in my office with the door closed from the many ways people took concrete steps to share our story and help us out. It is overwhelming in the most positive sense, a tidal wave of love and the best qualities of the human condition that lifts my spirit and makes me think about how I can be a better person. Among the many amazing responses we got, this email stood out. Someone who I barely know wrote me:

“…your post made me think for the first time about my history as a former smoker and how it may have impacted others like your wife, who were smart enough never to start, but who may well have been impacted. I’ve wondered ever I quit 22 years ago, whether my 1.5 ppd history would ultimately bite in the ass but I’ve never even considered its possible impact on innocent third parties. I’m not an inconsiderate or thoughtless person by nature but it wasn’t until I saw your post that I really viewed my own past smoking habit from that perspective. I wish I could apologize on behalf of all smokers who have potentially caused such unintended harm but I find that many current smokers are so heavily addicted that they are in denial of the health effects on those around them – even their unborn children – because to do otherwise would create (in my opinion) an undeniable moral obligation to quit. So I apologize for myself at least…”


Here’s how I responded:

“I don’t really know what to say in response to this email except thank you for writing such an insightful and heartfelt email. It means more to us than I can really say. Lisa wanted to get the word out about the risks of lung cancer, and an email like this makes me think she’s succeeded in ways I could have never anticipated. It’s nice of you to apologize, but totally unnecessary. Instead, to the extent you are thinking about the ways you can make choices that make the world a little better, that puts a huge smile on my face, and I owe you a huge thank you.”


I have loved all of the posts where you’ve shared our story with your friends and family. Not only have many of you said kind things about Lisa and me, but it means so much when you’ve highlighted some fact you’ve learned and helped explain it to your audience in your words. That raises awareness of the risks of lung cancer better than we ever could. As one example of the responses that have simply overwhelmed me with their kindness and thoughtfulness, see this blog post from long-time friend and colleague Bennet Kelly.

I haven’t been able to thank everyone individually, but I do promise to repay each and every one of these acts of kindness by paying it forward, as much as I can now, and more when my schedule gets more manageable.

*** Note: Tikkun Olam means “repair the world.” In Jewish tradition, we are born into a world with flaws. It is our responsibility to personally undertake to fix some of those flaws.

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[My Wife Has Lung Cancer. Read Her Story]]> 2014-02-27T18:13:33Z 2014-02-25T19:54:23Z Alamar, Havana, Cuba, March 2013Nothing in life prepared me for the moment when the doctor told me my wife Lisa had lung cancer. We knew something was wrong with her; she had a persistent cough for weeks that the doctors couldn’t fix. But lung cancer? Lisa is only 41 years old, in otherwise excellent health, a vegetarian with a healthy diet, and a fitness instructor who taught demanding indoor cycling and pilates courses. And perhaps most importantly, Lisa never smoked or lived with smokers. How could she have lung cancer?

We’ve since learned that tens of thousands of Americans who never smoked, including a troubling number of young and healthy women, get lung cancer every year. Lung cancer kills more Americans than breast, prostate and colon cancers COMBINED, and the death toll for never-smoked lung cancer victims–about 30,000 Americans each year–is a major chunk of overall cancer deaths. However, you probably don’t hear much about these victims. Lung cancer is a ruthless and efficient killer. It’s hard to detect, so it’s typically diagnosed at a late stage, and it easily metastasizes, especially to the brain. As a result, lung cancer victims, including those who never smoked, often die before they can share their stories to the world.

This situation is changing. Blogging technology enables lung cancer victims to tell their stories first-hand, and recent improvements in treatment are helping lung cancer victims live a little longer–perhaps long enough to tell their stories.

As part of this broader phenomenon, Lisa has launched a blog, “Every Breath I Take.” Please check it out. Not only will the blog keep you informed about Lisa’s situation, but we hope it will give a voice to the many thousands of Americans dying each year from this silent killer. Emails were a big part of how Lisa and I communicated at the beginning of our relationship, and I fell in love with her in part because of her witty and conversational writing style. I’m glad that many of you will get to see that special side of her.

I understand that a blog post like this will likely engender many sympathetic emails and offers of help. We are grateful for the overwhelming support we’ve received. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but this outpouring has changed my worldview. It’s easy to be cynical about the human condition, but I’ve now experienced the other side: many people–close family members and virtual strangers–have gone out of their way to show us extraordinary kindness and thoughtfulness. It’s taught me a lot about the value of “paying it forward,” a lesson I hope to use extensively for the rest of my life.

If you are motivated to help out, here are my two requests of ways you can be most helpful:

1) I’d be grateful for your understanding if my email responses are short or curt and for my sporadic blogging. Lisa was the principal childcare provider, and I’ve taken over that responsibility for now. We are still working on longer-term childcare arrangements. Until we resolve that, my time is stretched very thin.

2) Please spread the word about Lisa’s blog and the reality that lung cancer isn’t just a “smoker’s disease.” Until we get past the “blame the victim” narrative, we won’t fully understand the disease and the victims who have it, nor will we make optimal investments in preventing and treating it.

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Why I No Longer Respond to Unsolicited Inquiries About Legal Matters]]> 2014-02-21T19:20:54Z 2014-02-21T19:20:54Z Several times a week, I get emails (and occasionally phone calls) from people inquiring about legal topics and asking me a question. If you’re reading this post, chances are you’ve made such an inquiry to me. Often, due to my expertise and research, I could easily help out the inquirer with links to a helpful URL or two, or a referral to an attorney who can help, or maybe even some general information about the law.

Back in the good old days, I used to freely reply to such inquiries. I felt like I could–and should–share my expertise in a way that cost me little and potentially provided a lot of help. It was about treating people as I would want to be treated.

The good old days are unfortunately over. Despite helping hundreds of people over the years with minor legal inquiries, I’ve changed my policy. Now, I won’t be able to respond to your inquiry or any follow-up inquiries.

Why the change? As the expression goes, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel. I’ve had two recent situations where people who contacted me–essentially asking for a favor–have turned around and overclaimed that we formed an attorney-client relationship. In one situation, I simply made some referrals to attorneys who might help; in another, I was sent publicly available documents that the sender later (and, IMO, falsely) claimed were part of asking for my legal help with the case. In both, the overclaim of an attorney-client relationship interfered with my activities as a researcher and a blogger, i.e., my ability to do my job. As a bonus, usually the attorney-client overclaim is coupled with threats to notify the state bar or my dean or other folks, or otherwise to ruin my life.

As a result of the rare rotten apples, I have to assume all such inquirers are potential plaintiffs who will thank me by threatening to take my house and destroy my life–even though 99%+ are just well-meaning folks making fair requests of someone who probably could easily help. I’m so sorry to presume the worst when so few inquiries deserve it; it is unfair, and I wish I lived in a different world where trying to be a mensch wasn’t punished.

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Winter 2014 Conference Schedule]]> 2014-01-06T22:02:12Z 2014-01-05T17:25:07Z Here’s my upcoming roster of conferences and speaking engagements. As always, please let me know if you’d like to connect when I’m in your area:

* January 30: Whittier Law School (Orange County), “Why State Legislatures Shouldn’t Regulate Internet Privacy.”

* February 6-7: WIPIP, SCU.

* February 14: Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal Annual Symposium, Mountain View.

* February 27: University of Texas Austin, a talk on revenge porn. I’ll remain in Austin through March 1 for a trademark roundtable.

* March 8: Internet Law Work-in-Progress conference, New York Law School, Tribeca.

* March 9: SXSW, “The Fragile Law That Protects Online Speech” (about Section 230), Austin, Texas.

* [UPDATED] March 14: McCarthy Institute Trademark Conference, London/Oxford, England.

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Zazzle Interviews My Daughter About Her DinaDesigns Store]]> 2013-12-24T06:00:40Z 2013-12-22T17:43:40Z Sorry, proud dad alert! I previously announced Dina’s Flickr page and Zazzle store where she sells various items featuring her art. Zazzle noticed the store and asked to interview her (initially by phone until I pointed out that Dina is only 8). Read her interview. Reader comments have been heart-warming, such as:

* “Your designs are wonderful – so colorful and fresh!”

* “What a talented girl! I love her paintings. The skill at her age is impressive. And her imagination is lovely. It’s inspiring that her goal was to give to the SPCA. A great interview that cheered my morning.”

* “Adorable Alien: Read your Zazzle interview and am so impressed with your skill. I liked this painting and shared it on my facebook timeline.”

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Announcing Dina’s Flickr Gallery and Zazzle Store]]> 2013-12-23T05:18:29Z 2013-11-30T17:33:49Z For the last few years, my daughter Dina has been taking classes at a local art school, Drawn2Art. I know I’m being a proud dad, but my view is that she has unique artistic gifts, and her new items routinely elicit appreciation when we post photos of them to Facebook.

We’ve now collected Dina’s art into a Flickr gallery. Remember that some of these works she created when she was only 5 years old! You can see how much she has advanced by comparing her more recent pieces, like her giraffe.

(All of these drawings, and more, are also posted to Lisa’s Facebook photo album, but the Facebook album isn’t freely accessible like Flickr is. I’m working with Lisa to pick up some straggler items that are posted to Facebook but haven’t made it to Flickr yet).

We’ve also created a Zazzle store where you can buy tchotchkes featuring her art. If you are so inclined, please NEVER pay full retail at Zazzle. Zazzle’s pricing model uses a high list price coupled with new discount codes almost daily. You can find current Zazzle discount codes here. If you like a particular art piece at Flickr but don’t see it offered on the item you want at Zazzle, just contact me and we can easily create the new item/drawing combo at Zazzle.

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Some Reflections on Singapore (Twitter Style)]]> 2013-12-23T05:18:29Z 2013-10-29T14:22:34Z In August, I visited Singapore. It was my first trip to Asia. Some thoughts about my experiences, Twitter style:

* The joke is that the two national pastimes of Singapore are shopping and eating.

* Orchard Road was ridiculous. Numerous high-end luxury brands had multiple stores within blocks of each other–in some cases, on every block, both sides of the street. Who is buying all of this?

* I loved the hawker markets!

* Singapore restaurants are BYON = Bring Your Own Napkins. Many places don’t offer napkins and provide them only grudgingly on request.

* Despite the efforts to teach English, it’s still quite helpful if you can speak Chinese, especially if you’re navigating vegetarian options at non-vegetarian restaurants.

* When residents asked me what I wanted to see, I told them I wanted to see the “authentic” Singapore. That confused them.

* One of my favorite places was Little India. It’s like India with the colors and character, but Singapore-style–clean and tidy.

* Singapore lacks a must-see destination. The infinity pool on the Marina Bay Sands rooftop is close, but the thrill wears off quickly.

* The Night Zoo was also a good destination. Lots of cute critters.

* Gardens by the Bay is the first botanical gardens I’ve seen that has its own skyline.

See my photo gallery.

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Check Out the New Blog Design!]]> 2013-12-23T05:18:29Z 2013-10-20T16:45:25Z By Eric Goldman

New Blog UIOver the weekend, we converted the blog from Movable Type to WordPress.  If you haven’t had a chance to check out the new page layout, I encourage you to do so.  You can see the difference by comparing, which retains the old layout for now.  We’ll be updating that soon.  The UI remains a work-in-progress, so we’ll be continuing to tinker and refine it over the next few weeks.

We’re experimenting with some features, such as comments and WordPress’ automated related-posts tool.  Let me know what you think of them. And PLEASE email me your feedback and any suggestions, especially if you see anything broken (other than links to external websites, which I don’t try to maintain).  If you have any favorite WordPress plug-ins you recommend we install, let me know.

The RSS feeds should be working properly.  If you subscribed via RSS and didn’t get this post in your RSS feed, please email me what RSS feed URL you’re using and I will work on it ASAP.

Thanks for your patience during this conversion, and thanks again for your continued readership

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Some Exciting Changes to the Blog–PLEASE READ]]> 2013-12-23T05:18:29Z 2013-10-18T09:14:15Z [Cross-posted from the Technology & Marketing Law Blog]

I don’t often make purely administrative posts, so let me start by thanking you for reading the blog. Whether you’re a long-time reader or a relative newcomer, it means a lot to me that you’re willing to share a portion of your busy day with us.

This blog dates back to Fall 2004, when two of my Internet Law students, Matt Goeden and Rex Holmes, told me that they would read my blog if I started blogging. (Rex and Matt, are you still reading?!) When I expressed willingness to consider it, Rex built the blog and my website back in Fall 2004.

Rex implemented the blog using Movable Type 3.2. At the time, Movable Type was state-of-the-art, and it’s served us well over the past 9 years. Still, I found it just complicated enough that I feared making any changes to my Movable Type installation (because if it breaks, I may not be able to fix it), so the blog basically still looks like it did 9 years ago. Of course, we could update to the latest Movable Type version, but that doesn’t solve the complexity problem. As a result, I’ve decided instead to make the inevitable move to WordPress now. Not only do I use WordPress for my Tertium Quid blog, but it’s simple to maintain and it’s easy to implement new plug-ins.

Thus, I’m pleased to announce that we’ll convert the blog from Movable Type to WordPress today, October 18 at 3 pm Pacific. The blog will be off-line at that time for what I hope is a short period.

Any conversion runs the risk of breaking things, and I’m especially worried that the conversion will break the existing RSS feeds. We have taken numerous steps to avoid breaking the RSS feeds. When the conversion is complete, I’ll post an all-clear message. If you get that all-clear message in your RSS feed, then it looks like the transition worked for you. If you don’t get an all-clear message by Monday, please contact me and we’ll sort it out.

Moving to WordPress has numerous benefits for you. Let me just mention three:

* Cleaner user interface. Although I like the current interface, it’s dated. The blog looks like a 2000s-era blog. We’ll be rolling out a modern and simple interface that should make the blog easier to read and easier to find what you’re looking for.

* Email subscriptions. The #1 most requested feature from readers is a way to subscribe to new posts via email. We’ll be offering that feature!

* Comments. I shut down reader comments in 2006 after a virulent comment spam attack. With the move to WordPress, we’ll be offering a new commenting feature for the first time in 7 years. I must confess that I have mixed emotions about turning comments on. On the one hand, a lot of sophisticated readers, with a lot of expertise, read the blog, and it would be incredible if we can get readers to share their expertise with each other. I often get brilliantly insightful emails from readers in response to posts, and I hope that some of those emails will turn into public comments that benefit everyone. On the other hand, just being honest, I rarely see blogs where user comments are a net benefit to the conversation. At my Tertium Quid blog, I’d guess that less than 10% of the user comments are actually useful to other readers, and I can think of numerous blogs where I cringe when reading the user comments. So I will be tightly monitoring the comments to see if they work, and it’s entirely possible we’ll decide that the commenting function isn’t an improvement and turn it back off. However, I’m cautiously optimistic that the sophistication of the readers will help this blog defeat the odds.

The conversion from Movable Type-to-WordPress has been a long time in coming–over a year since we started working on it. I’m eternally grateful to my RAs Jake McGowan (3L) and Addam Kaufman (1L) for working on this project. I’m often asked by prospective employers for recommendations of students I can personally endorse. Please contact me if you have job opportunities for a 3L or 1L where a Goldman-trained and -vetted student would be interesting to you.

While the blog’s skin may be changing, I don’t expect any change to the substance. Venkat and I (and our guests) remain committed to telling you what we’re seeing and why it matters. Thanks so much for all of your support and encouragement over the years. As always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Eric Goldman <![CDATA[Self-Publishing A Legal Casebook: An Ebook Success Story (Forbes Cross-Post)]]> 2013-12-23T05:18:29Z 2013-09-25T10:42:24Z I co-authored a casebook on Advertising and Marketing Law with Prof. Rebecca Tushnet of Georgetown Law. Last July, we self-published the casebook as an ebook via Scribd and Gumroad. Drawing on the past 14 months of data, this post explains why I consider the self-publishing experiment a success.

About the Book

The casebook supports Advertising & Marketing Law courses in U.S. law schools. In 2011, about a dozen of these courses were offered around the country. Before our book, no published casebooks was designed for those courses; instead, each professor individually compiled his/her own materials. (Note: some published textbooks supported advertising law courses in business schools, communications departments, journalism schools and related disciplines, but none of those textbooks were well-suited for the law school market).

Recognizing this opportunity, Rebecca and I wrote a casebook over several years. It is a hefty piece of work by any standards: 870 pages, almost 400,000 words, nearly 40 megabytes. See more details, including the table of contents. Rebecca’s law school has an on-staff book manuscript editor who cleaned up the book’s formatting and typos and helped convert the book into the ePub format. Without her help, we might have paid a freelancer a few hundred bucks to provide those services.

We decided to self-publish the book as a DRM-free PDF. We deliberately chose a low price of $10. For comparison, the typical traditionally-published casebook run $150-$200 and some other legal casebook ebooks are trying to establish a $30 price point.

Initially, we published via Scribd, which I had previously used with mild success to self-publish my Internet Law reader. Scribd charges 20% plus 25 cents per sale, so we earn a net royalty of $7.75 per sale. Subsequently, I learned about Gumroad, which charges only 5% plus 25 cents per sale, for a net royalty of $9.25 per sale. Gumroad’s self-publishing platform and buying experience is elegantly minimalist, its reports are more detailed than Scribd’s, and it makes automatic monthly deposits at PayPal (where it picks up the transfer fee). Between those benefits and my permanent break with Scribd after they made another ridiculous snafu, Gumroad is the likely home of future book releases.

In the near future, we hope to create a substantially improved version reflecting thousands of changes we’ve accumulated. With the next version, we expect to use BookSurge to obtain an ISBN and offer mobile device (ePub) and print-on-demand versions.

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Some advantages of self-publishing the casebook:

* Ebooks are more useful to readers. Unlike physical books, ebook readers can conduct keyword searches in the PDF, can cut-and-paste material, can see graphics and photos in color without paying a premium for color printing, can increase the size of photos if they want, and can install the PDF on multiple devices. The traditional law school publishers are now offering DRMed ebooks for “rent” that expire after a period of time; without DRM, our buyers can enjoy the PDF forever.

* We set our own deadlines. Nothing sucks the joy out of writing more thoroughly than writing on someone else’s deadlines. Without a publisher, we don’t have someone anxious to goose their revenues haranguing us for the next edition. We do have to satisfy the expectations of our casebook adopters; that provides ample motivation.

* We retain the copyright. We own the copyright, so we control every aspect of the work. For example, we can give the PDFs free to our students instead of making them spend $150+ to buy our casebook from our publisher.

Some disadvantages:

* No marketing support. Most casebook authors gripe about the publisher’s marketing support, but usually the publisher takes some efforts. In contrast, we have zero marketing support from anyone. Nevertheless, we already personally knew many of the actual or potential professors for the course, so we figured we could do most of the marketing ourselves. As it’s turned out, word of mouth has generated a number of potential professors we didn’t otherwise know.

* No peer credit for a “publication.” I don’t think my colleagues view a self-published ebook with the same respect that they would afford a traditional casebook publication. Rebecca and I are both tenured, so this consideration really doesn’t matter to us.

* Piracy risks. We don’t have any way to prevent piracy of the PDF. Instead, we hope the book price is so low that most people will choose to buy it rather than go look for the free version. We have no reason to believe that piracy has noticeably affected our sales.

Did We Maximize Profits?

Typically, casebook economics are so disadvantageous that few authors write for the money. (One exception might be a successful casebook for 1L courses or major electives, which could sell thousands of units a year). That’s emphatically the case with our book, which we deliberately priced below the probable revenue-maximizing price, i.e., I imagine we could charge $12 or $15 or possibly even $20 with little impact on sales volume. (We’ll probably raise the price a little as the book continues to improve).

Still, compared to the royalties we’d get from a traditional publisher, I think the $10 price leads to a comparable amount of money in our pockets. Here’s the math:

Assume we net an $8 royalty per PDF sale (we’ll get that number over $9 as we completely transition to Gumroad). A traditional casebook like ours would sell in hard copy for at least $150 and wholesale for perhaps $110. Assuming 15% royalties (although I think 10% is a more common casebook royalty rate), each hard-copy sale produces around $16 of royalties. However–and here’s the kicker–due to the first sale doctrine, the used book market cannibalizes most hard-copy sales in the second and third year of a book’s release. Meanwhile, because there is no market for “used” PDFs, we’ll make new sales in years 2 and 3. Will we make up in subsequent years’ sales what we lose from the higher initial per-copy royalty? It’s hard to know for certain, but I think it will be close (if not favorable for us).

Of course, course adoptions are the real determinant of royalties, and traditional publishers offer the potential of increasing adoptions. Because our book doesn’t face any competition, and because we know the community of advertising law instructors, it’s unlikely that the marketing of traditional publishers would swing many new adoptions our way. I might feel differently if we were competing in a crowded field with lots of existing casebook choices, such as casebooks for first year courses like Property or Contracts (though a low price point might help a new entrant stand out from the existing competition). Meanwhile, the low price spurs adoptions; professors won’t feel guilty about making students buy it, even if they use the book only as a supplement or to teach only a chapter or two.

Furthermore, we have gotten purchases from practicing lawyers and others who simply want a reference guide for the topic. These buyers never would have bought a $150 casebook, but $10 is cheap enough that it’s worth a gamble. By tapping into that additional market, we expanded our volume compared to the traditional publication route.

So how have we done financially? I initially projected annual sales of 200 copies and annual net revenues of about $1,600, calculated as 10 course adoptions x 20 students per course x $8 net royalties per sale. Ten course adoptions assumed we’d capture most of the existing dozen courses and help grow the field a little, while some professors would still choose to prepare their own materials. The 20 student estimate reflects that the course is niche-y/boutique-y, so many courses would be offered as a seminar or small elective.

Unfortunately, we don’t know the number of course adoptions–not every professor who adopts the book contacts us, though we would be happy to provide additional resources and support to them. My guess is that we haven’t hit 10 course adoptions per year yet. However, due to strong student demand for the course, the average course probably has more than 20 students.

In the past 14 months, we’ve sold 467 copies at Scribd and 58 at Gumroad, for a total sales volume of 525 copies and net royalties of over $4,100. Assuming a few more adoptions in Spring 2014, we will substantially exceed my expectations for the first two years.

Will we ever get rich via our ebook? No. But in the context of casebook economics, I’m quite pleased with the results. When considering the additional benefits discussed in this post, self-publishing the book has been a great choice for us.