Tag Archive for 'online'

Guilty or Insane: A Closer Look at the Slender Man Killing

Two twelve-year-old girls lead their friend into a forest in Wisconsin. They start playing hide and go seek. Then, the two girls attack their friend. Stabbing her 19 times with a knife, they hit her liver, pancreas, and stomach. They only miss hitting an artery near her heart by a millimeter.

The victim crawls out of the woods to a road after her attackers have fled; almost bleeding to death, she’s found by a bicyclist. Miraculously, she survives.

Slender Man KillingAlthough this sounds like a horror movie, it’s a true story that occurred in Wisconsin on May 30, 2014. Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier were the perpetrators who almost stabbed their friend, Payton Leutner, to death.

What influenced this murderous act? What could have had such an effect on these two young girls, to make them want to kill their friend? It all started from a completely fictional online character: Slender Man.

Slender Man was created by Eric Knudsen, who submitted a Photoshopped picture to the online forum Something Awful. The character was created for the websites contest for fake supernatural photographs.

Morgan Geyser, top left, Anissa Weier, bottom left, Slender Man on the right.

The two girls discovered the character on Creepypasta Wiki, and immediately decided to become “proxies” of him. In order to please Slender Man and prove their dedication to him, they believed they had to kill someone. Which is what led them to attempt murder on Leutner.

This case exemplifies just how powerful social media can be. According to Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack, “The Internet has changed the way we live. It is full of information and wonderful sites that teach and entertain. The Internet can also be full of dark and wicked things.” Although necessary in this digital age, the internet can produce a blurry line between real life, and online personas.

Both girls have been tried as adults, and can face up to 65 years in prison. The next court date is December 18, 2014. Geyser, deemed incompetent to stand trial, will attend treatment with a possibility of becoming competent enough to attend court.

So, are the girls guilty or insane? If Geyser’s attorney was to defend her based on an insanity defense, she would have to take the Model Penal Code test. This test is used in Wisconsin insanity defense cases. The test determines if the defendant suffers from a mental defect. This determines if the defendant “either failed to understand the criminality of his acts, or was unable to act within the confines of the law”.

We won’t know the answer to this question until the trial is over, and for a case like this, it could be a while. This horrific case shows just how powerful social media can be. It’s vital to make the lines crystal clear between real life and social media personas you may have. Getting caught up online can get you into a lot of trouble; in a professional, social, or even legal manner.

How to Avoid Internet Scams during Holiday Shopping Season

With October now behind us, the calendar switches to everyone’s favorite time of year—Holiday Shopping Season. Holiday shopping officially kicks off on November 28, which is Black Friday. In recent years, retailers have extended their door busting deals to the online marketplace, with the Monday after Thanksgiving serving as the launch date. However, with the increased attention on “Cyber Monday,” Internet scam artists have begun targeting unsuspecting shoppers in attempts to gain their personal information.

cyber monday internet shopping scamsBelow are some common tactics cyber criminals use and some tips to avoid falling victim to their schemes.

Fake Advertisements and Hyperlinks in Emails

The most common tactic employed by Internet scam artists is the fake advertisement or hyperlink. These ads and links will usually appear in your email inbox, or as sidebar ads on other websites. Often, these advertisements will contain the branding of major retailers and claim to offer early Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals. However, once a shopper clicks on the link, he or she will be directed to a 3rd party website which is not affiliated with the major retailer in any way.

Once the shopper arrives at the fake website, their computer may become infected with phishing or malware viruses. These viruses are used to gain access to the shopper’s sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers. Given the rising popularity of Cyber Monday and online holiday shopping, these scams tend to increase their frequency beginning in late November.

How to Shop Safely This Holiday Season

In light of the all the online shopping scams used by cyber criminals, many retailers have sophisticated software and security to ensure that your information and purchases are safe. However, there are still a few tips that you should practice while shopping online.

  • Avoid suspicious websites. Be careful to avoid websites that seem poorly designed or full of pop-up ads—these are the first clues that a website is more focused on gaining your personal information than providing you with goods.
  • Use trusted websites. If you are shopping for a specific brand of item, buy that item directly through the brand’s website or another reputable online retailer (like Amazon). There are also a number of wholesale online retailers that are safe to use. As mentioned above, just be sure the website is made with care and free of obnoxious or frequent advertisements.
  • Do not click hyperlinks in emails from businesses or people you don’t recognize. Simply put, if you receive an email from a person that you do not personally know, or a company that you do not recognize, don’t follow any links in that email no matter how enticing the deal might seem. Also, be wary of an email that appears to be from a large retailer—oftentimes, the suspicious email will contain the branding of nationally known companies in order to seem more legitimate. If you have received emails from this retailer before, double check to confirm that the layout and fine print matches with the suspicious email.
  • Never reveal your social security number. This should be obvious, but it is alarming how many people give up this information willingly. While there are rare instances when you might provide your social security number online, holiday shopping is not one of them!
  • Use strong passwords. It is important to use strong passwords containing numbers, symbols, and both lower case and capital letters. You should also vary your passwords across your different online store accounts, especially making sure they are distinct from any password you use for online banking. If you use the same password across all websites and for all banking matters, it only takes one mistake and your accounts will be vulnerable to attack.

Overall, the online marketplace is a convenient and safe place to shop. As with any real world purchase, it makes sense to practice smart shopping tactics to ensure you are receiving a fair deal while also protecting your personal information.

Here at LegalMatch, we hope you have a safe and successful holiday shopping season!

Artists vs. Online Retailers: The reality of online copyright infringement

The term “sharing” has become a normal part of our 21st century lives, allowing us to engage with people around the world. By sharing, small time artists can promote their works on deviantART, Instagram, and Tumblr. Artists can even earn a living by selling their works on e-commerce sites like RedBubble, Etsy, Teefury, or Society6.

800px-UrbanOutfittersUnfortunately, being able to share your content with the world is a double-edged sword. As an artist you get to create, exhibit, and profit from your labor of love, but this also means your work can easily be stolen, reproduced, and sold without your knowledge.

Copyright protection laws give a copyright holder the right of reproduction and to create derivative works. A reproduction right means the copyright owner is the only one that can make copies of the original work. Derivative works are adaptations based on the original copyrighted work (e.g. a movie can be a derivative work of a book).

Independent online artists will often create an image, design, or comic and they usually reproduce their images on products like shirts, postcards, bags, phone cases, or other products. Derivative works, in this context, are usually merchandise created for other copyrightable works like web comic series.

The right of reproduction is the most infringed upon right for artists. Usually, an artist will upload an image and another person will take it and reprint that image on posters or tee shirts. This problem is common, even on sites like Etsy.

Although most online retail websites, including Etsy, have copyright infringement policies, enforcement and getting results can be difficult for artists. Common problems are:

  • The infringing party is in another country.
  • The websites themselves fail to take down the infringing products or images.

Besides having another person steal your work, some artists even fall victim to large retail stores like Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters has been accused, on multiple occasions, for copyright infringement and some artists accept this as part of the norm.

So what is an artist to do when engaging with online retail stores? Refuse to use these sites? Ignore the problem altogether?

Artists and designers take copyright infringement seriously and end up policing their own communities. Often, they will notify each other about the infringing party or will take an active role and reverse search their own images.

Reverse searching an image allows artists to see where their copyrighted works are being used on the web. Popular search engines are:

This may not be the ideal for independent online artists, but it’s the most proactive approach when dealing with infringers. The best thing to do is to know the copyright policies on whatever website you use to promote your work, and actively reverse search your images to stop copyright infringers from profiting off your work.

Internet Taxes – New Highway for Expansion of Federal Power

When Amazon.com opened in 1995, it offered numerous advantages to consumers. These advantages included the ability to purchase products without leaving home, and an exemption from state sales tax. Of course, the exemption existed due to the way most state tax laws were worded: only businesses with a physical presence in the state were taxed. Although many states have attempted to close their loopholes, businesses from outside the states selling products into the states remain immune. Congress now wants to pass a bill which would address this tax issue.

The Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) would allow states to collect sales taxes from online retailers which are located outside the state. The MFA would exempt businesses which make less than $1 million annually in online sales from its provisions. The MFA exemption is a concession to small businesses which would be hindered by such artificial price increases. Given that the Republican Party opposes most taxes, the MFA is credit card buying onlinereceiving a surprising amount of bi-partisan support. MFA proponents claim that new taxes are not being created, but that old taxes are being enforced. The central idea behind the MFA is that physical retail stores are being hammered by online retail stores and that taxing online businesses would restore fairness by increasing prices on products from online businesses.

The MFA is a textbook example of politicians manipulating the American tax code. The purpose of the MFA is to preserve physical retail stores. Obviously Congress cannot simply mandate Americans to shop in physical stores rather than go online, but Congress can levy taxes which would affect prices. These price changes would either make physical store prices more attractive or at least make online and store prices the same. The tax code has hundreds of similar provisions, each designed to encourage Americans to act in a certain way. Whether it is marriage, purchasing a house, or buying hybrid cars, Congress subtly pushes citizens into making certain decisions. The use of the tax code as a social engineering device, however, has also made the tax code perplexingly complex.

The use of the tax code as a means to influence social behavior has led to more expansion of federal power, power which violates individual and state rights. The recent Supreme Court case involving Obamacare highlights the danger of the tax code towards individual rights. One of the reasons Chief Justice Roberts could call Obamacare’s individual mandate a tax is that taxes already act like mandates. Mandates can be taxes because our taxes can be mandates. Saying that a tax forces a person to buy from a physical store rather than online sounds absurd, but changing the prices changes the decision-making of the individual. Assuming rationality, the individual will always make the choice that the tax code wants them to make by purchasing the least expensive item.

Proponents of the MFA will say that the status quo influenced individuals into buying from online retails rather than physical stores. The MFA, in the eyes of its supporters, actually restores the freedom of choice by applying the tax to everyone rather than disadvantaging one method of commerce over another.

The problem is that online retail has advantages that physical stores do not and these advantages will naturally cause consumers to favor shopping from the internet over walking into an actual store. Being able to buy an item anywhere at any time is a tremendous boon to the consumer. Being able to compare prices at multiple stores without wasting time and gas is also a significant advantage that online retail enjoys over physical stores. Tinkering with taxes is a weak attempt to prop up a model of business that is going extinct. Granted, many consumers will often walk into a store, check out the item, than purchase online because the product online is cheaper. However, this typically happens when the business in question operates both a brick and mortar store as well as a website; the price difference in that situation comes not from taxes, but the businesses own decision to promote the same items online at a cheaper price.

Loose Talk Online has Real-Life Consequences

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sometimes, words have legal consequences. You can commit serious legal wrongs (fraud, defamation, solicitation, conspiracy, etc.) using words alone. Furthermore, speaking without thinking can hurt your legal position in other ways, inadvertently defeating an essential element of a claim or defense in a civil case.

I should also note, again, that these legal consequences apply whether you say something in the real world, or on the Internet. And since anything you say on the Internet generally has the potential to reach far more people than something said in the physical world, you should generally be more guarded about what you say online. But, for whatever reason, most people seem to do the opposite – typing out the first thing that pops into their heads, for the world to see.

Today brings yet another case (also seen here) of somebody saying something online, and negatively affecting their legal situation. Though this one is a bit more amusing than most. This case involved a divorcee who was awarded $850 per month in spousal support, partly because she claimed she was unable to work, due to a back injury.

However, the court found out that she was very fond of belly dancing, which, from my limited experience, looks like it would be pretty physically taxing – not exactly something for people who can’t work (even as a legal secretary, which is what our friend did before all this) due to a back injury.

So, how did the court find out that she had recently taken up belly dancing? Why, her blog, of course!

She made posts about how she “swirled around,” “danced herself silly,” and the like. And, of course, either her ex-husband, his lawyer, or the judge found these posts (she must not have made much of an effort to remain anonymous online), and asked her to reconcile this with her claim that she suffered so much back pain that she couldn’t work as a legal secretary.

Rather than fessing up, she claimed that her activities were prescribed by her doctor, as a form of physical therapy. Her doctor was called in, and he testified that he had no idea she was belly dancing on the side. Good work!

In addition to denying her petition for an order of spousal support, the judge ordered her to pay her husband over $5,000 in attorney’s fees. Ouch. This is one of the more boneheaded examples of loose online talk getting people into some sort of legal trouble (or defeating a legal claim that they might have had).

However, it’s gotten to the point that people are so reliable in revealing personal information online, that many older “high-tech” investigative tactics are becoming obsolete.

For example, it’s still pretty common for insurance companies to hire private investigators to keep an eye on plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits against the insurance company’s policyholders. Just a few years ago, the most high-tech investigative technique they had at their disposal was surreptitious videotaping. They’d set up a hidden camera outside the plaintiff’s house, and look at what type of physical activities they’re engaged in. If they see the person working out, moving heavy objects, climbing on a ladder, playing sports in the front yard, etc., they can be pretty sure that his or her injuries are not as severe as they’re claiming.

Nowadays, however, they sometimes don’t even have to bother: the people they’re investigating will voluntarily post incriminating statements, photos, and videos on Facebook.

What is it about the Internet that it creates this massive blind spot in our discretion in sharing our personal information? I really don’t know. Perhaps it’s the illusion of anonymity. Perhaps it’s the fact that everyone else is cavalier with their personal information online.

In any case, we’ve known for years that this type of carelessness can get us into trouble. Yet, it seems that most people have to learn the hard way just how much damage it can do in real life.

One would think that, the more time we spend online, the more we’d start treating it as we treat real life – you know, thinking about what we say, and what information we share. But it seems that just the opposite has happened: we’ve completely lost any expectation of privacy. Or, if we expect to remain private online, we do next to nothing to protect that privacy, and are for some reason surprised when people find out things about us that we might not want them to know.

I have no idea how to change this. And I think it’s a pretty serious concern. With the Internet, our whole attitude towards privacy is changing, and the long-term effects this could have on society are impossible to predict.