One thing that really pisses me off is when lawyers abuse their status as lawyers to frighten people without justification. Casey Luskin, whose ignorance and intellectual dishonesty have been repeatedly documented on Panda’s Thumb and elsewhere, did this in a particularly amusing way, as S.A. Smith of the ERV blog points out: suddenly, it appears, an ID spokesman is worried about copyright infringement.
Luskin wrote to defend himself against Les Lane, a retired virology professor who accurately noted that Luskin has dubious credentials—pointing out that he is “an attorney in good standing in the State of California” (oh, how impressive) and sending along a link to his state bar registration. (oh, lookee, I have one too!) Now, of course, if he had been trying only to substantiate his legal education he would have referred to his JD degree. But what he was really trying to do was intimidate a scientist who is critical of him and to get Lane to remove his photo from the page. Pure snippiness. Is there a better sign of immaturity—or of Luskin’s abuse of his position as an attorney? Rattling your little lawyer saber at people who are legitimately criticizing you is bad form, but entirely in character for Casey Luskin, and for creationists in general, who love to call their lawyers when their “theories” wilt.
Worse yet, there’s nothing at all wrong with Lane using Luskin’s photo, copyright or no copyright. Luskin is, of course, a public figure who has voluntarily injected himself into a matter of national public dispute, and people using his photograph are not profiting in any way from doing so—particularly because the blogger linked to Luskin’s home page! For those interested, here is the photograph of Casey Luskin, an attorney at law who not only routinely misleads the public on legal matters, and spouts off on subjects he knows nothing about, but also abuses his position of authority to scare people who are critical of his publicly expressed opinions on matters of public import. Please feel free to pass it along to anyone who would like to see it. If you’d like to sue me for it, Mr. Luskin, your process server can reach me at my office any time next week.
Update: Joe McFaul gets into the nitty gritty a bit more. Let me clarify something regarding Luskin’s copyright claim. It is true that (assuming Luskin really did take that photo) he owns the copyright to it, and it is protected by copyright law. In fact, by reproducing his image below, I have “wilfully” reproduced copyrighted material without permission. However, there are two reasons why Luskin’s saber-rattling scares me not. First, Luskin is not damaged in any way; I’ve not profited in at all and do not seek to profit from reproducing his mug. He hasn’t been harmed. Of course, the copyright statutes would still allow Luskin to sue me for statutory damages regardless of his actual damages—and in fact, the law provides for $150,000 in statutory damages if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant wilfully violated his copyright! (This only applies, however, if Luskin traipses down to the copyright office and registered his copyrighted photo, which I doubt he’s done.) Second, and more importantly, my use of his photo is covered by the “fair use” doctrine as McFaul says. I’ve posted Luskin’s photo in connection with—and to protest—his abuse of his authority as an attorney to bully legitimate critics. I’ve done so not for commercial but for nonprofit educational purposes, and I certainly haven’t affected the “potential market” or the “value of” Luskin’s self-portraits. They’re not exactly selling like hotcakes over at Art.com.
That’s the copyright issue. But I also mentioned that Luskin has voluntarily injected himself into a matter of public dispute because a second issue would be his potential “privacy” rights. Reproducing a photo of a person can sometimes be a violation of privacy aside from copyright matters. But Luskin would be on even weaker ground there, since he is a limited public figure who is a legitimate subject of public debate.
I strongly suspect all of this would be over Luskin’s head, as he has not shown much of a noggin for such legal subtleties, but I thought I should clarify for the benefit of the other bloggers who are reproducing his lovely image.