Attorney files brief defending Apple as a five-page comic

Watchmen it ain't, but the brief condenses complex arguments admirably.

The anti-trust case against Apple, Macmillan and Penguin, all accused of conspiring to fix ebook prices, thunders on, but one part of it is shortly to come to a close. Three of the originally accused publishers – HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster – agreed to settle with the Department of Justice in April this year, and that settlement is finally coming through.

The DoJ's proposed settlement would require the co-operating publishers to end their existing agreements with Apple, and would also block them from using agency pricing for two years. Agency pricing is the retail model, at the heart of the case, by which publishers set the price of their books and the retailer (in this case, Apple) takes a percentage of that. The DoJ alleges that this model, which stands in opposition to Amazon's method of paying a flat price per book and setting the price themselves, is the result of an anticompetitive cartel aimed at raising prices of ebooks.

Although three of the five publishers have agreed to settle, there are calls from a number of parties to block that settlement. Apple has argued that it's unfair if it goes through before the actual trial begins, in June 2013, and over 800 public comments were filed requesting that the Justice Department modify the settlement.

As a result, the District Court allowed two of the opposing parties to file amici curiae (friends of the court) briefs. The Authors Guild and Bob Kohn, a well known attorney who specialises in intellectual property, were deemed to be interested third parties, as were Barnes & Noble and the American Booksellers Association, who had previously been given permission.

The Authors Guild filed their five page brief on 15 August, but Bob Kohn's original attempt was rejected by Judge Denise Cote for being too long, and she gave him until yesterday to file a five page version.

How can one get a complex legal argument across in just five pages? The New York Times' Julie Bosman reveals Kohn's plan:

“I thought of the idea of using pictures which, as we know, paint a thousand words,” Mr. Kohn said in an e-mail.

He called his daughter, Katie, who is studying for her Ph.D in film studies at Harvard, who connected him with a fellow student, Julia Alekseyeva. After conferring with Ms. Alekseyeva, Mr. Kohn wrote the script and she drew the illustrations. (Judge Cote and Mr. Kohn play a role in the fictional narrative.)

The full strip – plus a page of footnotes, which all the best comics have – is embedded below, via paidContent.

Six panels from Kohn's comic.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.