Anti-Piracy Informant Who Thought He Was A Paid Informant Sues Adobe For Not Paying Him
from the WE-RAT-ECONO dept
An interesting case has been brought to our attention by Eric Goldman. What happens when someone takes it upon themselves to play IP Policeman for a large corporation? The plaintiff in this case, David Heller, uncovered piracy of Adobe products in Florida (referred to in the opinion as the baseball-esque “Florida Pirates”). He brought this information to Adobe’s attention. Adobe was pleased. So was Heller… at least for a little while.
The problem seems to be that Heller felt he should have been paid for his investigative efforts while Adobe felt he should have been satisfied with being a Good Citizen.
Shortly after publishing his discovery on his personal blog, Heller was contacted by Adobe’s outside counsel, David Pham. A meeting between Heller and Adobe reps was set up.
The meeting included Pham, Heller, and other individuals from Adobe and Pham’s firm. Heller requested that Adobe provide him with physical protection and compensation for the additional information he was prepared to provide Adobe. An Adobe employee, Michael Draper, agreed. Heller provided the information to Adobe.
Adobe took the information Heller gave them and sued the Florida Pirates. A settlement was obtained (the opinion provides no further details on this). Everyone got paid but Heller.
So, Heller sued Adobe, claiming at least $75,000 was owed him. Heller offers no supporting documentation for this dollar amount, which is apparently based on nothing more than being the minimum needed to file a suit in federal court, rather than a state court. The court takes note of this.
Here, Heller has alleged that the amount in controversy is met, but Heller does not allege the value of the underlying promise or the value of the work that Heller did for Adobe. Therefore, the Court cannot determine if federal jurisdiction is proper.
That settles the point of where the case actually belongs: PROBABLY NOT HERE. Going from there, the court finds it extremely difficult to pinpoint anything about this case that might allow it to go forward — at least in an unaltered state.
As alleged, the complaint sets out that sometime in late 2013, Heller met with Pham and Draper who promised to pay him in exchange for information about the Florida Pirates. The amount of payment was not specified at that time. The complaint does not set forth when Heller was supposed to release this information, to whom, and when Adobe should have paid him, or how much. The parties apparently did not agree on a compensation range or mechanism to determine compensation in the future. In total, Heller alleges a vague promise, and without more specificity, the Court cannot determine the scope of the duty or an assessment of the damages.
The court grants Heller leave to amend this part of his complaint, but without a written agreement in hand, it’s doubtful a reconstructed allegation will do much to address the lack of evidence for his claims.
Similarly granted leave to amend is Heller’s equally vague claims about the $75,000 worth of anti-piracy efforts he performed for Adobe.
The complaint states that Heller performed substantial work on investigating the Florida Pirates before Adobe requested the information. Heller states that he only seeks recovery of reasonable value of the time that was spent after Adobe explicitly asked Heller to spend the time to provide further information. Dkt. No. 13 at 4. Heller’s explanation of what services he performed and their reasonable value are conclusory and vague in the complaint.
The same goes for Heller’s claims of intentional misrepresentation. Again, without an agreement in hand specifying what work was to be done and what amount of compensation would be due, there’s nothing for Heller to work with. It’s very difficult to claim a defendant misrepresented something that was never put down on paper or existed in any tangible form.
It very well could be that Adobe and its counsel maneuvered Heller into performing free anti-piracy work for it. It wouldn’t be the first time a large company exploited an individual. Or it could be that Adobe felt any further investigative work would add little value and didn’t allow itself to be put in the position of cutting large checks for information of limited usefulness. Either way, Heller doesn’t appear to have much in his corner other than his firm belief that he was screwed.
One of the more interesting questions this lawsuit raises (but will never answer) is how often this sort of thing happens? Who reports piracy and what do they expect to get out of it? Do larger companies rely on a network of paid informants or are they more likely to accept tips without handing out anything in return?
These questions will likely remain unanswered as it appears that Heller doesn’t have enough damning information to sustain a lawsuit against Adobe. An amended complaint can’t fix deficiencies related to a complete lack of verifiable claims. Since this one won’t be moving to the discovery stage, we’ll all have to wait until the next screwed informant files suit against a major IP player.