Don't Promise $1 Million For Your Lost Laptop Via YouTube & Twitter If You're Not Prepared To Pay

from the just-saying dept

The Hollywood Reporter has the somewhat amusing cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t use various social media tools to make promises you can’t back up. Hip hop/R&B artist Ryan Leslie apparently lost his laptop recently while on tour in Germany. He then went on YouTube and posted a video offering $20,000 if anyone returned the laptop. He noted that the laptop contained music and videos that he wanted back. Another video was posted later with a message that reads: “In the interest of retrieving invaluable intellectual property contained on his laptop and hard drive, Mr. Leslie has increased the reward offer from $20,000 USD to $1,000,000 USD. He also tweeted the same info directly, saying: “I raised the reward for my intellectual property to $1mm.”

Then the problem. A guy named Armin Augstein found the laptop. And claimed the $1 million. Leslie refused to pay and everyone went to court. Leslie, perhaps quite reasonably, noted that the returned laptop was broken such that the hard drive didn’t work, and the content he had hoped to retrieve was not available. According to the judge’s account from back in October:

After Augstein returned the laptop and hard drive, Leslie refused to pay the reward because, Leslie alleges, the intellectual property for which he valued the laptop was not present on the hard drive when it was returned. Leslie claims that he and several staff members tried to access the data on the hard drive but were unable to do so. Leslie sent the hard drive to the manufacturer, Avastor, which ultimately deleted the information prior to sending Leslie a replacement. The circumstances of the return of the hard drive and the meaning of Leslie’s communications with Avastor are disputed. Augstein claims that Leslie, after he received correspondence from Augstein regarding the collection of the reward, caused the hard drive to be erased.

I can definitely see a reasonable argument that having the laptop returned without being able to retrieve the content shouldn’t qualify for the reward (especially since in the initial offer, Leslie specifically called out the value of the “intellectual property” on the laptop as his reason for offering a reward), though the disputed info makes it a bit fuzzy. Leslie also argued that “a reasonable person would not have understood the mention of the reward to be an offer of a unilateral contract, but instead would have understood it to be an advertisement—in essence, an invitation to negotiate.” That seems like a much more difficult argument to make, and the judge, Harold Baer, didn’t buy it at all:

A reasonable person viewing the video would understand that Leslie was seeking the return of his property and that by returning it, the bargain would be concluded. The increase of the reward from $20,000 to $1,000,000, the value of the property lost (in particular the unreleased album) and the news reports regarding the reward offer would lead a reasonable person to believe that Leslie was making an offer. As such, the video constitutes a valid offer and summary judgment is granted as to that issue. “[I]f a person chooses to make extravagant promises . . . he probably does so because it pays him to make them, and, if he has made them, the extravagance of the promises is no reason in law why he should not be bound by them.”

I can definitely understand why the offer was considered valid, but given how often he specifically called out the content on the hard drive as being what’s valuable, why did the judge consider the “offer” to have been met by Augstein? Because of what Leslie did after getting the laptop back. The issue here, it seems, is that “Leslie was on notice that the information on the hard drive may be relevant to future litigation and, as a result, had an obligation to preserve that information.” And the judge is not at all happy with how he handled the situation:

Whether a party must prove that the destroyed evidence is relevant to a claim or defense depends on the level of culpability. “When evidence is destroyed in bad faith (i.e., intentionally or willfully), that fact alone is sufficient to demonstrate relevance. By contrast, when the destruction is negligent, relevance must be proven by the party seeking the sanctions.” … The contents of the hard drive are undoubtedly relevant, regardless of the culpability. The satisfactory performance of the offer of the reward depends on the return of Leslie’s intellectual property.

The judge goes on to point out that, while some of the facts are disputed, there isn’t much evidence that Leslie or people who worked with him had Avastor try to recover the data (though other testimony suggests they asked data recovery shops and were told that the data could not be recovered). Either way…

Based on the foregoing, and the inescapable fact that the hard drive was destroyed when litigation was all but certain, I find that Leslie and his team were at least negligent in their handling of the hard drive.

That’s a no-no.

The jury then took all of this in and came back telling Leslie to pay up the $1 million. Apparently even they were conflicted about the amount, but were left with little choice:

The verdict came about 45 minutes after jurors sent out a note saying they were divided because “we feel the $1 million is too high,” and asking if they could compromise on a lower amount.

Leslie’s lawyers then sought some time to try to strike a settlement, but Augstein’s team said “that ship has sailed” and insisted that the jury be told to continue deliberating toward an all-or-nothing decision.

It seems likely that he’ll appeal, but I imagine this story is going to make a fun case study for various lawyers who teach contract law… and for the rest of you, it should be a reminder to be careful what you promise.

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Comments on “Don't Promise $1 Million For Your Lost Laptop Via YouTube & Twitter If You're Not Prepared To Pay”

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G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:


first rule of contracts. Do NOT promise what you cannot or wont deliver, otherwise the ‘reward’ offer could turn into fraud!

The only way Leslie could of gotten out of this was to somehow prove that Augstein never knew about the reward in the first place. In that scenario, contract case law states that no reward need be given since there was no initial acceptance until after the fact. Strange but true

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

This is one reason why IP laws need to disappear. Megaupload, by and large, was legal and complied with takedown notices. Sure, no system is perfect, but IP laws have intentionally made it prohibitively expensive for customers to have cheap/free online backup services to turn to for no good reason other than to stifle competition, raise prices, and help monopolists. It’s not about stopping ‘piracy’ as much as it is about stopping competition, which, outside of the Internet (thanks to government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies that we should demand the demise of and thanks to laws that make it more expensive for restaurants and other venues to host independent performers and even for bakeries to allow children to draw custom pictures on their birthday cakes in fear of infringement, and thanks to a one sided penalty structure that favors the leech IP holders that contribute nothing) has already been accomplished. and now they are starting to turn the Internet into the same exact plutocracy they have turned everything outside of the Internet into. So many useful services have been shut down, stifled, or reduced in the name of ‘stopping piracy’. It’s not acceptable, IP laws should never be allowed to cause so much damage just to protect the useless IP holders. These laws harm creators, they harm creativity and innovation, they harm consumers, and they only help the useless middlemen and their bought politicians.

These middlemen need to go out of business. They are no better than someone who breaks windows to create jobs for themselves. They are vandals and they are almost terrorists. IP laws must go, government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies must go, and the middlemen must be forced to get real jobs instead of leching off of bad laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Intellectual property”??

Sorry, but copyright is PURELY an economic issue. Whatever Hume said 300 years MUST control our use of the word property today. Don’t ask me why though. I’m too much of a loud-mouthed, insecure asshole to ever discuss anything in a meaningful way. I just shovel the shit. Fuck you if you don’t eat every last bite and enjoy it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Looks like another dumb troll script running.”

I use as many sock puppets as I want. As many as it takes to discredit anyone who dares to challenge me. I will not answer your questions as I have already answered all questions perfectly and destroyed you in debates that have never happened nor will ever happened. I cannot be challenged, and I will do everything in my power to never address even the most simplest questions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“did that relate to the article? just curious…”

How dare you question me! I’ve answered that question. Sorry if you don’t like the answer. Don’t ask me to repeat the answer. I don’t do that. Don’t ask me for a link to the answer. I don’t give such proof. I just demand that I have answered the question. Fuck you for even going there. I said I answered the question, so that should be good enough for everyone. I demand that you accept the answer that I have given. No one challenges me. No one makes me explain anything.

And what does this court think it’s doing by discussing intellectual property anyway? Property is purely an economic issue. PURELY. It has nothing to do with the law whatsoever. Hume proved this three hundred years ago. No, I won’t provide any text or proof so you can examine what Hume actually said. Fuck you for not accepting Hume. Hume. I said Hume so Hume is the only answer. I decide what the word “property” means. If over the past 300 years it has taken on a different meaning that every other person on this planet accepts, well fuck them. Hume. I win. Hume. Someone should tell this judge that the law has no place in deciding such economic issues. I am the smartest person on the planet. I tear you apart. You don’t question me!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“So you’re not going to do it then? Or at least cite when you answered that question, since I apparently missed it.

Or do you wish to have zero credibility, AJ?”

I answered your question in full. I’ve debated tons of people smarter than you, and I completely demolish my opponents on every point. I am the smartest person in the world. I’m sorry you don’t remember my answer, but I have answered that question in full and it was the most perfect answer that anyone has ever given. No part of that answer can be challenged by anyone. No, I will not link to that answer. But I did answer it and it was perfect. No, I will not repeat that answer now. But that answer is the one true answer and I am perfect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

“So you’ve got nothing and you’re making things up (again) whole cloth. Got it. Consider your childish ass ignored….”

I have a baby, so I know what it looks like when someone’s having a temper tantrum. Temper tantrums don’t suit you. I’m sorry you don’t like the perfect answer that I gave. I totally gave that answer. Just don’t ask for a link. I answered that question. Don’t ask for me to repeat the answer. I gave the answer. No, I can’t tell you what that answer was. No I won’t like to it. No I won’t discuss it. I don’t back up what I say. I don’t talk to people who challenge me. I debate people smarter than you all time. What you don’t believe me. Stop stop stomping your feet. Baby. I am perfect. I am smarter than everyone else. I don’t answer questions. I answered your question.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

“Pretty sure you got trolled; even AJ is not this arrogant. :-)”

I have already answered that question. If you don’t understand my answer, it’s because you don’t understand that I pick and choose the meanings of words as I see fit. I am not beholden to any common meaning. If I can find one source that defines a word differently, I demand that everyone use that alternative meaning. And no, I will not provide any citation to this alternative meaning. I demand that you use my definition and I demand that you not see its source. I will not be questioned. I destroy people like you it debates all of the time. I would hurt you if I addressed even one thing you’ve said. I won’t answer your questions so I won’t embarrass you. Moreover, I have already answered all of your questions. I cannot point you to these answers, but know that they are there and I am perfect.

Troll says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little bitch? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals, and I’ve been involved in numerous secret raids on Al-Quaeda, and I have over 300 confirmed kills. I am trained in gorilla warfare and I’m the top sniper in the entire US armed forces. You are nothing to me but just another target. I will wipe you the fuck out with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth, mark my fucking words. You think you can get away with saying that shit to me over the Internet? Think again, fucker. As we speak I am contacting my secret network of spies across the USA and your IP is being traced right now so you better prepare for the storm, maggot. The storm that wipes out the pathetic little thing you call your life. You’re fucking dead, kid. I can be anywhere, anytime, and I can kill you in over seven hundred ways, and that’s just with my bare hands. Not only am I extensively trained in unarmed combat, but I have access to the entire arsenal of the United States Marine Corps and I will use it to its full extent to wipe your miserable ass off the face of the continent, you little shit. If only you could have known what unholy retribution your little “clever” comment was about to bring down upon you, maybe you would have held your fucking tongue. But you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now you’re paying the price, you goddamn idiot. I will shit fury all over you and you will drown in it. You’re fucking dead, kiddo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You know, even this new threading scheme still doesn’t do a very good job helping me keep track of threads multiple posts below a root thread. Like I’ve said before, some sort of numbering system is necessary, where there is a number within each post indicating how many threads down you are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Can someone please ex-hume the AC we know and love and rebury this one?”

I’ve debated way smarter people than you and I mowed them down. I can beat anyone at a debate. I stand behind all of my words, and I destroy anyone who challenges me. Hume. I said it so it must be. Hume.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

AJ stop derailing threads. Also [points at both your comments] this is EXACTLY why Mike sees fit not to respond to you. Childish behavior like this is definitely not going to ever get you a response. And neither will asking the same thing a million times over (like you did the other day in another thread). Just fucking drop it already. Sheesh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“AJ stop derailing threads. Also [points at both your comments] this is EXACTLY why Mike sees fit not to respond to you. Childish behavior like this is definitely not going to ever get you a response. And neither will asking the same thing a million times over (like you did the other day in another thread). Just fucking drop it already. Sheesh.”

I haven’t even started yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“This is supposed to make you look valid?

Were you dropped multiple times on the floor as a baby, and have been living in a special mental ward since then?”

I already answered your question. No, I won’t link to it. No, I won’t repeat it. I said I answered your question so that means that I answered it and that answer is the best most perfect answer. I am the smartest. I debate people all the time and destroy them. No I won’t debate you. I would destroy you. I’m not scared of you, I just don’t have time. I have all the time in the world to talk about talking about stuff. But I can’t just talk about stuff. I don’t have time. I only have time to talk about talking about the answer to questions that I already answered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“So the answer is no then? this pile of angry gibberish is not only incomprehensible, but it apparently has no basis in reason.

got it. shoo troll”

How dare you challenge me. I debate people all the time, and I totally kick their asses. I could totally kick your ass. I already answered your question. Stop stomping your feet like a little child. No, I won’t repeat the answer. No, I won’t like to it. But I already answered your question. I’m saying I already answered it so that alone proves that I already answered it. No, nobody else actually knows what my answer is. But I answered it, dammit!

G Thompson (profile) says:

This is contract law 101 directly out of the textbooks in regards to rewards.

* A reward is offered, it doesn’t matter whether it was in jest or otherwise.
* Somebody who has foreknowledge (and foreknowledge is the key here) of that reward comes forward and fulfills the reward conditions, in this case, return of the laptop. No mention that it had to be in pristine condition therefore not a condition of the reward contract. And what is “reasonable” has no bearing on the contract at this stage. Multiple precedents with these sorts of similar situations in case law
* the offer and acceptance is fulfilled, the consideration on one side has been met (return of laptop) and therefore the consideration on the other side, the reward money, MUST be done (Paid)

If this is appealed I’d be extremely surprised since there seems to be no error at law anywhere. In fact the original Judge has gone above and beyond in considering the actual ‘data’ in the first place when that was NEVER a part of the conditions of the reward being met and therefore irrelevant in the scheme of things.

This has nothing to do with whether the data they really wanted was on the physical laptop or not, it has everything to do with some person thinking that they can just name any reward not understanding that contracts and a legally binding promise that is NOT one sided nor unilateral nor whatever they want it to be because they are ‘celebrities’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Ah I see.

The reason why I said that was because contracts leave very little room for ambiguity (whereas in this case there’s some fuss about whether the promise was made for the return of the data or just the laptop, even though *any* reasonable person would understand that it’s the data that’s important, regardless of how he worded it).

Oh well, inb4 I get sued because I promised my mother I’d clean up the kitchen but didn’t go through with it ._.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

True enough if the condition was the return of the laptop.

However his condition was the return of the data on it. That data never came back so the condition has arguably not been met.

The interesting thing here is the attitude of the jury, they’ve reached a sane conclusion but more time and money will be spent bickering instead of coming to a compromise.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually the return of the laptop and hard-drive were the original conditions, they just stated that it was because of the data upon the hard drive that they wanted it so badly. This in no way means that the data was part of it..

For example if I offer a reward for a loss of my wallet, then state I am upping that because of the information stored in that wallet (or even money in it) and the wallet is returned without the money, or other things like credit cards, photos, invoice stubs, etc then I still have to give out the reward money because the specific item, the wallet, was returned. If I wanted also the contents in the wallet as part of the reward conditions then they have to be specifically listed out explicitly to be a part of it all.

And yep the jury made correct decision, why it went to jury in first place is the weirdness for myself. I hope Leslie’s solicitors/attorneys have their mal insurance paid up.

out_of_the_blue says:

For everyone, should be lesson to not trust The Rich.

If this whoever has gotten a million bucks from being a performing monkey then he won’t miss it, so must pay up.

Mere engineers designed the Internet: Mike “Streisand Effect” Masnick fulfilled its promise!
When the history of teh internets is written — as it already is on Wikipedia by either Mike “Streisand Effect” Masnick or a virtual sock-puppet — then HIS name will stand out!

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Music mentality

The real problem is that Leslie “valued” his IP at a $1 million USD.

Obviously it’s only value was to the owner, or he wouldn’t have gotten his laptop back.

Since he did get it back and the data wasn’t recovered that means that no one can monetize the content to the tune of $1million USD + and his revenue stream is protected. So pay up and just recreate your content and sell it for the millions it was supposedly worth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Where does your lap go when you stand up?

Easy way out of this. “Oh you thought I meant $1 mil for the return of a stolen Laptop computer? Oh no, I said missing laptop. It went away when I stood up and I couldn’t find it. Shortly after I posted that reward, I sat back down and it came back. I scribbled an idea for a patent on the front of my pants, which is why I said my laptop contained intellectual property”

DanZee (profile) says:


Well, when a deal sounds fishy, it usually winds up in court. In this case, there’s certainly some doubt about whether Ryan Leslie handled the attempted data recovery properly. Why was the hard drive sent back to the manufacturer? You only do that when you want a new hard drive, not to recover data. And then there’s conflicting testimony about whether they went to data recovery companies to retrieve the data. In the end, it just sounds like the rapper tried to get out of paying the $1 million reward. He should have been careful about what he offered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Social networking bites another one in the ass! Didn’t have any backups of something valued at $1,000,000? That must have been a hard life lesson to swallow. I’m glad he had to pay the $1,000,000 because I’m sure even if the could have retrieved his music, he would have still tried to screw the guy out of his money.

Leslie also argued that “a reasonable person would not have understood the mention of the reward to be an offer of a unilateral contract, but instead would have understood it to be an advertisement?in essence, an invitation to negotiate.”

^ See, he would have tried to screw the guy over, even if he had gotten his music back. So I feel no sympathy for him. He’s a weasel.

gort-o-matic (profile) says:

Drive Recovery

“Leslie sent the hard drive to the manufacturer, Avastor, which ultimately deleted the information prior to sending Leslie a replacement.”

I wonder how hard Avastor tried to recover the $!M data on the drive. Usually a defective drive is just tossed in the recycle bin and a new drive is shipped. There are many drive recovery outfits that would, for a few thousand, get every readable bit off the drive. No mention of that being attempted.

twilightfog says:

Data recovery options range from simple recovery to full dis-assembly it and inserting the platters in a same model drive. If the drive was not physically broken in two (hard to believe), its possible to recover the data, byte-by-byte, if needed.
Also, he got the drive replaced from the manufacturer, the contents of which he valued at $1 million! The judge correctly noted that its destruction of evidence. Armin was provided no chance to verify feasibility of data recovery, which for someone in his position, would even consider spending a couple of thousand for data recovery to get a $1 million reward.
Looks like Leslie tried to wriggle out of paying and was found liable.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Leslie sent the hard drive to the manufacturer, Avastor, which ultimately deleted the information prior to sending Leslie a replacement”

So, let me get this straight… the guy offered a MILLION DOLLARS to have his laptop returned so he could recover data off it, but wouldn’t spend the $30 to have OnTrack look at it and see if it could be ultimately recovered for probably $3000 AT MOST?

Sounds to me like the idiot wandered into OwnDamnFaultOpolis.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It may not be people reading the article, but looking deeper. Most local data recovery shops, at best will do a software recovery by mounting the drive on a different computer. This is far removed from clean room recovery, which probably would have taken much longer.

In fact, the testimony that the manufacturer wiped data off the drive indicates to some degree that the HD might have had a chance of clean-room recovery, (or the company just claims to wipe drives without actually doing anything).

Either way, the single statement that you quote seems to be more indicative of low level recovery, and not an exhausted search of all possible options.

However, that is only my reading.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Assumining everything is on the up and up with this guy (not bloody likely) I would guess what happened is someone reformattted the thing and installed their own O.S. on it. He took it in to some local repair shop or something, and they told him they couldn’t recover the data for him.. Then he sent in the hard drive to the manufacturer in the hope of some assistance and it got destroyed through some sort of miscommunication or in an attempt at recovery and he was sent a new one..

It’s pretty far fetched imho, but it’s hard for me to imagine another kosher scenario.. If the HD were physically damaged beforehand, why would it get back to the manufacturer (waranty maybe?) and why would they “delete” the data on it?

Anyway, that single statement is far too broad and vague to tell us much of anything helpful.. It could mean anything from a token gesture to them having investing considerable time and money in the effort of data recovery. And only the “suggestion” at that. I’m not sure why [s]he thinks its the answer to everything.

Jackontechdirt (profile) says:

This guy is willing to drop A MILLION DOLLARS on getting his info back but sends his hard drive to the laptop manufacturer instead of professionals like Drive Savers who can rescue data from drives that have gone through fire or floods…

I guess this is the same thinking that had him keeping one-of-a-kind info on a portable laptop with no backups at all. Brilliant!

Cody Jackson (profile) says:


The initial offer was $20k for the return of the laptop. The offer then went up to $1m due to the data on the HD.

Personally, I think the person who returned it should have received only the $20k; he returned the laptop, as requested, but the data wasn’t available. Therefore, the individual shouldn’t be eligible for the money.

Of course, I wonder why the data wasn’t recoverable. I know that data recovery services are able to work magic sometimes. With no indication of extreme wear and tear, e.g. being dropped in an ocean, the data should still be salvagable.

Also, why would the manufacturer erase the HD prior to giving out a new one? It seems like they would simply return it to the owner, or at least ask the owner what he would like to do with it. Sounds kind of fishy to me.

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