I'm a big fan of The Sopranos. So much so, I'm tempted to write a script for the show based upon what Noel Lee and the not-very-nice crew at Monster Cable have been up to. The plot would go something like this:
Tony Soprano, looking to find a way to earn money that won't draw attention from the Feds, consults with an Intellectual Property lawyer. Together, they hatch a perfectly legal scheme: Tony will trademark the commonly used word "Monster." Then, he'll sue any business that's ever used the word Monster to promote its products. The business owners will have a choice - "license" the use of the word Monster and give Tony a cut of their profits, or be forced out of business due to the cost of lawsuits.
I'm not much of a fiction writer, but I think that the right screenwriter could turn my idea into a great Sopranos episode. All the writer would need to do is contact Noel Lee over at Monster Cable and ask him for the details on how the scam works. After all, he and his goons - er, lawyers - run this scam every day on small business owners.
The whole story is here, at Snowmonsters.com. They're a small business that uses cartoon monsters to teach ski safety to children. Noel and his attorney are trying to strongarm Snowmonsters into giving Monster Cable the rights to their cartoon characters, and then forcing Snowmonsters to pay to license them back. If Snowmonsters refuses, Noel will sue, forcing Snowmonsters out of business because of legal costs.
The choice between giving away your business identity and licensing it back or going out of business due to court costs reminds me of the "either your signature or your brains go on this contract," scene in The Godfather. Right now, Noel has similar actions pending against over 100 entities. They'll either pay him or pay their lawyers to fight him off - either way, they'll pay through the nose.
Of course, the tort reform that's supposed to "protect small businesses," won't protect Snowmonsters. Why? Because if Noel sues Snowmonsters, his suit will be for financial injury, not personal injury. And as I've stated before, tort reformers don't want to restrict the ability to sue for financial injury, because they're often the plaintiffs in those suits. So I ask, if it's a tragedy for a small business to go under because of a personal injury lawsuit, why isn't it also a tragedy for a small business to go under because of a financial injury lawsuit?
What Monster Cable is doing is dispicable - I encourage you to boycott their products, as I have. But more importantly, the next time you hear someone say we need to protect small businesses from frivolous lawsuits, I want you to ask them if they support restricting financial injury lawsuits. If their answer is "no," that means that they want to use tort reform to protect the big guys from the little guys. And perhaps it also means that they value money more than human life.