Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

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Archive for the ‘PI Topics’ Category

#MondayBlogs Answering Writer’s Question: When Does a PI’s Activity Become Intimidation?

Posted by Writing PIs on January 26, 2015

bad guy

Today we respond to a writer’s question about PIs and intimidation.

Writer’s Question: When does surveillance, or any legitimate investigative activity, become intimidation?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: Many investigative activities (such as surveillance, knocking on doors and attempting interviews, service of subpoenas) can be done in such a manner to intimidate the target of an investigation. The legitimate activity can be so pronounced and intense that the subject not only knows they’re being investigated, they fear the person who’s hired the investigator (or they fear the investigator him/herself). This is intimidation. An example of an intimidation is to leave a dead fish on the windshield of someone’s car with a rose in its mouth (which L.A. investigator Anthony Pellicano did to intimidate a newspaper reporter ). This reporter was a witness before an official proceeding and Pellicano was charged for intimidating a witness with this not-so-subtle gift of seafood.

While the FBI agents in The Sopranos could sit at the foot of Tony’s driveway and even FBI special agentchat with him on occasion (which is not covert surveillance), they could not attempt to run his car off the road or interfere with his business because those acts constitute intimidation (or police harassment).

Private investigators are regularly asked by bill collectors to visit debtors. This is a dicey area because federal credit collection practice laws permit contact but they don’t permit collectors to threaten with bodily injury or improper damage to the debtor’s reputation. Any time that a debtor can prove that a PI is guilty of these acts then the PI is personally liable, his firm his liable, and the collection agency is liable. Your fictional PI might be employed to knock on doors and collect money, discourage witnesses to testify in a court case, or take photographs of an individual and his/her home, car, workplace, etc. When these acts are done to intentionally frighten the witness and/or drive them from either testifying or bringing a claim in court, those actions are legally classified as intimidation.

Writing PIs

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Jury Selection: Tales from a Trial

Posted by Writing PIs on January 6, 2015

gavel and scales

The criminal lawyer side of Writing PIs, Shaun, is starting a trial today. The PI-writer side of Writing PIs, yours truly, is on deadline finishing a book that features a lawyer protagonist, and she wishes she were at trial, too. Where better to do research and soak up “local color” for a legal story? But instead, one of us is at a real-life trial, while the other stays at home, writing a fictional one.

James Holmes Trial Postponed

The James Holmes trial was supposed to start this week, too, and Shaun anticipated it being a zoo at the courthouse with hundreds of spectators, media, and so on. Because of the Holmes trial, a large number of potential jurors had been called…then the Holmes trial was postponed a month.

By the way, when the two of us were at that courthouse a year+ ago, we noticed they had paved a huge, extra parking lot in anticipation of a large number of people — spectators, media — attending the Holmes hearings/trial.

Jury Selection: People’s Real-Life Stories

One result of the Holmes trial being originally set for this week was that there was an unusually large pool of potential jurors, 67 people, for Shaun’s trial.

During selection, the judge asked if anyone had reason to not be a juror. A man raised his hand, said that he was illiterate & was afraid other jurors would make fun of him. Shaun said it saddened him hearing the man’s story, made him realize the hurt the man must have endured in his life. Judge excused the man from jury duty.

Another man raised his hand, said English wasn’t his first language, so he should be excused, too. Judge rolled her eyes and sighed loudly, said she wasn’t going to put up with any dilly-dallying, and he was not excused.

#BookExcerpt A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

We wrote about jury selection in our recent non-fiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms. Below is a link to that book excerpt:

The Steps of a Trial: Jury Selection

 Have a great week, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

Posted in A Lawyer's Primer for Writers, Book Excerpt: Steps in a Trial, PI Topics | Tagged: , , | Comments Off

Don’t Make Hiring a Private Detective One of Your New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Writing PIs on January 2, 2015

 

hat and magnifying glass on computer

We once got a call from a woman who wanted to know how her abusive ex-boyfriend had learned her new home address. We ran a quick search of her address on Google, and guess what? She’d listed it on an online resume, which meant anybody could find that home address by simply searching for her name.

Let’s go over a few resolutions you can make to protect your confidential information so you don’t need to add “Hire a Private Investigator” to that list.

house illustration

If a retail business asks for your home address, provide your business address or a virtual address instead

Tip #1: Stop sharing your home address

It’s your home, your private residence, the center of your family life — you don’t need to share this address with anybody other than friends, family and trusted business contacts. One way to protect your home address is to provide your business address instead.

Another way to protect your home address is to purchase a private mailbox from a US post office, or from a private mailbox service such as The UPS Store, then use this address on forms, registrations, mailings, and so on. Private mailbox companies often provide you with a “street” address (where your mailbox is the suite number) so those forms that say “You must enter a street address, not a post office box” will be satisfied that you’re entering a street address (although it’s not).

Tip #2: Don’t announce your location

Turn off location services on your smartphones

Turn off location services on your smartphone

It’s all the rage for people to automatically announce their location through social media sites (such as Twitter) and other online sites. If someone has decided to break into your residence, or confront you, or confront somebody who’s still at your residence (while you’re at your location), or conduct some other not-in-your-best-interest activity, don’t help them by letting them know your location. So when you see those prompts (“Click here so people can know your location!”) don’t click.

Also, it’s a good idea to turn off location services on your smartphone so you are not giving away your real-time location. Also, photos you take with your smartphone can record your location via embedded geotagging. This 2014 article in Forbes, Don’t Let Stalkers, Abusers, and Creeps Track Your Phones Location, contains instructions for turning off location services.

Tip #3: Don’t give out your phone number

It's possible to track a person's address via their  phone number

Did you know that it’s possible to track a person’s address via their phone number?

It’s relatively easy to find home addresses from phone numbers. It’s just as easy for you to protect that number, and your personal information associated with it, by using a virtual phone number. What’s that? A virtual number is a regular number (area code + number, such as 123-456-7789) that you can set up to ring through to your real number. Then, you give out the virtual number when a stranger, or someone other than family and trusted friends, asks for your phone number. When somebody calls that virtual number, you answer, and nobody knows it’s not your real number.

If someone attempts a trace on that phone number (to find the name/address it’s registered to), they won’t find it (that is, as long as you haven’t posted your name as being associated with that number somewhere on the Internet). Basic virtual number services typically cost anywhere from $6.95 to $10.95 a month (extra features, such as fax services, cost more). You can sign up for a virtual number at sites like Vumber and FlyNumber.

That’s it.  Three tips to protect your confidential information in the new year.

Like this article? It and other investigative articles by this author are in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

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Readers’ Favorite Articles in 2014

Posted by Writing PIs on December 25, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

As 2014 draws to an end, we’d like to share our readers’ favorite Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s posts from this year. Some of you have been along for the ride since we kicked off this blog in 2009, and we thank you for your support!

Readers’ Top 10 Articles

Starting with number 10…detective with flashlight

#10: “Private Investigators and Murder Cases” Colleen wrote this article for former lawyer/mystery-book-reviewer/editor Elizabeth A. White’s blog in 2012.

Sherlocks

#9: “Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago” In this techno-digital age, people often think private investigators just sit at their computers all day, digging up dirt on the Internet and databases. Not so. Even in the 21st century, some cases can only be solved the old-fashioned way: On foot.

Sherlocks

#8: “Interview with Steven Kerry Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating” We’re happy to say that Steven Brown is doing well since his bone marrow transplant…in fact, so well that a month ago he contacted Colleen about posting information about his new private-eye book here at Guns, Gams and Gumshoes.  Steven–a former FBI special agent and president of Millennial Investigative Agency–knows his stuff about investigations and then some. We’re looking forward to previewing his upcoming novel, so stay tuned.

Sherlocks

#7: “Private Detective Couples in Fiction and Real Life”

This image is protected by copyright - do not copy or distribute.

This image is protected by copyright – do not copy or distribute.

Sherlocks

#6: “What’s the Importance of a Crime Scene?”

Sherlocks

#5: “Tips for Hiding Your Home Address from Online Searches”

Sherlocks

#4: “Marketing the Private Investigations Business” We wrote this in 2009, and the tips remain valid. Yes, even print items such as letterhead and business cards. We had a well-respected criminal lawyer who set aside our letter and business card for two years, then one day he picked them up and thought, “Hey, I should call these guys.” Our letter/card stood out over all the online pitches he regularly received. Six years later, he’s still one of our best clients, although now he also sends litigation cases to Shaun, who has returned to practicing criminal law.

Sherlocks

#3: “How to Conduct a Trash Hit: A Private Investigator’s Dumpster trash hit man in dumpsterSecrets” This remains another popular article, year after year, since we wrote it in 2011.

Sherlocks

#2: “Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?” Remains one of our top 5 favorite articles since 2009.

Sherlocks

#1: “Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?” Amazingly enough, this article has remained readers’ #1 favorite, every single year, since we started the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes blog in 2009.

A tip of the fedora to 2014, Writing PIs

fedora black and white

 

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

Posted in Best Articles 2014, PI Topics, Private Eyes and Crime Scenes, Private Eyes Handling Crime Scenes, Steven Kerry Brown | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off

Five Tips for Staying Safe This Holiday Season

Posted by Writing PIs on December 6, 2014

christmasscene

One of the Writing PIs, Shaun, is now a lawyer specializing in criminal defense, and the other Writing PI, Colleen, conducts legal investigations for his firm. As the holidays approach, our work load invariably picks up as more criminal cases come into our office. Sometimes on a festive evening, such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve, we’ll look at each other and say, “Wonder what’s happening tonight that brings in work over the next few weeks or months?” Notice we don’t say “Wonder if something will happen…”

Five Safety Tips

Here’s a few safety tips to keep you and yours from hiring attorneys or private investigators over the next few weeks:

Tip #1: When you go shopping, lock your car. It sounds so simple, yet you’d be surprised at the number of people who forget to do this. People get preoccupied with shopping, holiday parties, who’s picking up Great-Aunt Sarah on Christmas Eve…and they forget to lock their car doors. That makes easy pickings for thieves looking through car windows —  if they see a package, it can be theirs within seconds. Several years ago, Sergeant Foley of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department claimed that nearly 50 percent of the car break-ins in his area were due to cars being left unlocked.

Tip #2: Park in well-lighted areas. Don’t tempt a thief by parking where there’s little or no lighting.

An unlocked door is an invitation to a criminal

Badly lighted areas and unlocked doors are open invitations to criminals

Tip #3: Avoid parking on side streets. Vehicles parked on secluded side streets are easy prey for thieves. Also, with increased holiday traffic, and drivers preoccupied with cell phone conversations, passengers, or even eating while driving, your vehicle might be the victim of a hit-and-run.

Tip #4: Drink responsibly.

You Don't Want to Wear One of these Bracelets This Holiday

You Don’t Want to Wear One of These Bracelets This Holiday

Yeah, this sounds like one of those ads, but it is smart advice. Many of our criminal investigation cases involve people drinking too much and doing something stupid that they regret for years to come. Watch the other guy, too — is someone getting blitzed and out of control at a party? Be proactive and make sure he/she has a sober driver to take them home. Or call a taxi and pay the driver upfront for the person’s ride home, which might be the best holiday gift they get. Also if a party is getting out of control, it’s a good time to leave.

Tip #5: Be aware. Perhaps the best advice is to be aware and use common sense.  Don’t carry so many packages to your vehicle that you can’t quickly reach your cell phone or car keys. Shop in groups rather than alone. If you have a choice to shop during the day or at night, pick daylight hours. Don’t leave items visible in your car that might tempt a thief. Have fun at parties, but drink responsibly and avoid those who aren’t.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!

Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye
On Sale for 99 cents Dec 9-22!

To go to book's Amazon page, click on banner

To go to book’s Amazon page, click on banner

“As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s”
~ Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

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How Being Keynote Speakers at a Coroners’ Conference Led to Writing a Book

Posted by Writing PIs on December 2, 2014

Copyright trolls make their money by suing Internet users

We were invited to speak to coroners about giving testimony

Twice we were invited to speak at our state coroners’ conference. The first time we spoke on a relatively serious topic – how to provide testimony at a trial. It seemed that during the previous year some coroners had contradicted their own reports while on the witness stand, as well as testified to using unaccepted procedures during autopsies. Because one of us (Shaun) had spent several decades as a trial attorney, and we co-owned a legal investigations agency, we were invited to give tips for how to testify during legal proceedings.

The Power Went Out During Our Talk

We were minutes into our presentation when the entire room went dark. No lights, no projection equipment, not even the microphones worked.

Fortunately, Shaun is a natural ham. He met the challenge with humor, telling the crowd that this was exactly what it’s like being grilled on the witness stand–anything can happen, and you better be able to roll with it.

Someone opened the blinds on some far windows, so there was enough light for Shaun detective with flashlightto find his way off the stage and into the crowd. He walked among the seated coroners, grilling them as if they were on the stand at a trial. Someone handed him a flashlight, and he would shine it on people as he pummeled them with questions. Afterward, the coroners gave him a standing ovation.

And we were honored to be invited back to be their keynote speakers the following year.

Writing The Ungrateful Dead

We’ve since recommended to PIs that they consider attending a coroners’ conference to learn everything from how to aid clients who might be seeking private autopsy options for a loved one, to networking with medical examiners’ and coroners’ offices.

One of the Writing PIs, Colleen, has also used our experiences at the coroners

The Ungrateful Dead is free Dec 2+3 - click on cover to go to Amazon page

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

conferences to write a mystery series featuring a 21st-century Nick and Nora private eye couple whose first case occurs at a coroners’ conference…where they also happen to be guest speakers. Life inspired this fiction story, which became The Ungrateful Dead.

December 2-3: The Ungrateful Dead is Free

The Ungrateful Dead is free December 2-3, and its sequel, The Zen Man, is on sale for 99 cents during this same time. Colleen’s working on the third book, as yet untitled.

Amazon Buy Links

The Ungrateful Dead (FREE Dec 2+3)http://www.amazon.com/The-Ungrateful-Dead-Humorous-Colorado-ebook/dp/B00ITWW9GO/

The Zen Man (99 cents Dec 2+3)http://www.amazon.com/The-Humorous-Colorado-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B006NPP9XY

Click on banner to go to Amazon page

Click on banner to go to Amazon page

 

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Nov 18 Book Launch! WINK OF AN EYE, Winner Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel

Posted by Writing PIs on November 18, 2014

Today’s the book launch day for WINK OF AN EYE, by Lynn Chandler Willis, which wonWink of an Eye book cover the 2013 Private Eye Writers of America-St. Martin’s Best First P.I. Novel. Chandler was the first woman to win this award in over ten years. Here’s her story about learning her book won this coveted award:

As summer 2013 was winding down, I watched the days click off the calendar with disappointment. In my mind, each day closer to Bouchercon 2013 meant my chances of winning or even making the long list in the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America’s Best 1st Private Eye Novel competition were growing slimmer. Stupid me.

I’d never entered a contest, especially a big one, so I didn’t know how these things played out. For some silly reason I thought finalists would be notified a few weeks after the submission deadline, not a few weeks before the conference. So I’d given up hope on my favorite P.I., Gypsy Moran, coming to life through this particular contest.

Lynn Chandler Willis

Lynn Chandler Willis

Then one day in late August, I was talking with my sister on the phone and, um, multi-tasking, by checking email. We’re all guilty of it so don’t judge. She was talking about something when an email from St. Martin’s popped up. I don’t even remember what she was saying as everything faded out of focus except that email.

“…I am pleased to inform you…”

I started screaming. And crying. And hyperventilating. And my poor sister on the other end of the phone had no idea what was going on. She was screaming too, except she was screaming at me to hang up—she was calling 911. I finally calmed down enough to tell her there was no need for any kind of emergency services and to tell her the reason for the excitement. Then she started crying.

It wasn’t until much later when Wink of an Eye was added to Macmillan’s website that I discovered I was the first woman in ten years to win the award. In the male dominated genre and world of Private Eyes, this was a pretty remarkable feat. Not only did I chip away at that testosterone-driven barrier, I did it as a woman writing from a man’s point of view—and according to reviews and male beta readers—did it convincingly. 

Book Blurb

Twelve-year old Tatum McCallen hires reluctant PI Gypsy Moran to prove his father didn’t kill himself. Gypsy, on the run from his own set of problems, soon finds himself in the middle of a case involving eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and undocumented workers. And it all comes back to Claire Kinely—the only woman he truly ever loved.

Praise for Wink of an Eye

“Gypsy and Tatum’s relationship is a well-drawn emotional hook, and the solid investigation, combined with well-timed humor, should create a following for this PWA First Private Eye Novel Competition winner.”—Booklist

“Readers won’t be able to put this novel down. P.I. Gypsy Moran is the perfect bend of streetwise smartass and big-hearted nice guy. That Chandler Willis manages to pack so much into one story, with well-rounded characters, is amazing in itself.”—RT Book Reviews

“This engrossing debut is told with a great eye for the gritty details of life in west Texas. The setting is extremely well done, and the twisty, compelling plot will keep readers hooked.”—Library Journal

Amazon Buy Link: Wink of an Eye

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Yes, Virginia, There Really Were Female Private Eyes In Hard-Boiled Stories

Posted by Writing PIs on November 17, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes, Colleen, just finished writing an article about female private eyes in literature, so it was surprising to read the November 14, 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction.

There Were Lady Dicks, Too

The hardboiled private dicks in pulp fiction’s hard-hitting, heart-pumping stories included numerous female characters as the main protagonists, although you’d never know it from Semley’s text:

“The hard-boiled gumshoes were men…”

“If the private dick has all but disappeared, something of his DNA is woven into the biology of the authority-bucking hackers…”

“This is the real essence of the P.I….despite his venality…”

Miss Marple: An Amateur Sleuth

Semley does, however, give a passing nod to Miss Marple (“the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before”) except that Miss Marple was an amateur sleuth, not a professional private investigator (definition from Private Eye Writers of America: A private investigator is a private citizen [not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police force] who is paid to investigate crimes).

Tip of the Fedora to Hard-Boiled Female PIs

Secret Agent

Let’s look at a few female private eye characters who made their appearances during the hard-boiled era:

Grace “Redsie” Culver, an operative for the Noonan Detective Agency, starred in 20 stories in The Shadow Magazine from 1934-1937.

Carrie Cashin, owner of the Cash and Carry Detective Agency in Manhattan, first hit the fiction scene in 1937 and went on to star in 38 stories.

Dol Bonner started walking the mean streets in The Hand in the Glove (1937) by Rex Stout, who later included Bonner as a supporting character in several novels featuring Nero Wolfe.

The Death of the Private Eye Genre?

This is the real point of Semley’s article, and it’s a valid one. Yes, technological tools, available to just about anyone, have cast a cold shadow on many of the private investigator’s tricks of the trade. My husband and I have an entire room filled with cameras and other equipment that are hopelessly outdated. A lot of the smartphone apps I use for investigations any kid can buy.

Walking the Mean Streets: Still in Vogue

But not all investigations are about being technically hip. When a law firm hired us to find the names of people who had worked on a building nearly 50 years ago, there were no databases, even proprietary ones, that contained a shred of evidence to these people’s identities, so we sleuthed the old-fashioned way: On foot. Talked to people, reviewed old reverse phone directories, ended up digging through dusty boxes in a storage facility (where we finally found the people’s names).

We know a homicide detective who resorts to some old-fashioned tricks when he wants to get people to answer the door: He finds their electrical box and turns off the power. Within seconds, they’ve opened their door and he’s there with a few questions he’d like them to answer.

A Witness Wrote Us a Letter

When a lawyer hired us to find a gang member who had tried to kill his client, we headed to the gang member’s neighborhood and knocked on doors. Nobody wanted to talk to us because they were either frightened or protective of the gang. Later we returned to the neighborhood with signs that we posted on trees, bus benches, a fence at a park. A few days later, we received a letter written by someone who didn’t want to give their name, and who was writing with paper and pen because they didn’t want their identity traced electronically. They wrote that they would meet us at the park at a certain date and time and talk with us, for fifteen minutes only.

Was this witness for real? We didn’t know, but we showed up at the park at the designated time…and found a woman in her fifties who quietly told us the gang member’s name and address. She refused to give us her name, and to be on the safe side she hadn’t even driven to the park in her car (she’d walked). Her information cracked the case.

Semley claims that “All P.I. stories are now period pieces.” Hmm…maybe that’s even more of a cliche than thinking only tough, wisecracking guys were gumshoes.

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. 

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#Excerpt How Do Private Eyes Do That? – How PIs Are Used in Cases Where DNA Evidence Is Employed

Posted by Writing PIs on November 8, 2014

How Do Private Eyes Do That? is a compendium of articles about private investigations, currently available on Kindle.

“A must have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.”
– Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“A spectacular bargain. It will help sweep out misconceptions, empty the waste bin of trite, worn out cliches and give you plenty of room for fresh ideas. Man, it’ll save your life.”
– C. M. Briggs

“I have been “snooping” for over 30 years. I worked Security and Law Enforcement, in the military, back in the 80’s. I WAS TRULY IMPRESSED with the information in this book!”
~I. Reed Alott

Excerpt: How Does DNA Get to a Crime Scene?

There is known DNA evidence (produced by the victim) and there is evidence produced by a suspect (foreign depositor.) This evidence must be collected by a definite protocol because deviation from this collection method might spark a courtroom challenge to the reliability of that evidence.

How is a private investigator used in a case where DNA evidence is employed?

A private investigator might be retained and used to challenge the manner in which DNA evidence was gathered and handled by their opponent. The private investigator might look for evidence to substantiate a challenge to laboratory staff’s credentials or he might look for evidence that their test results have been successfully challenged in other cases.

When Is DNA Evidence Used?

DNA evidence is used in criminal prosecutions (to show a suspect is the perpetrator of a crime) and in an increasing variety of civil cases (to prove that an individual was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime, to show paternity, and to establish lineage in estate matters.)

As an example, “wrongful conviction” cases have created a new type of litigation. Civil lawsuits are routinely brought by those

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

exonerated through DNA evidence against police, prosecutors, and the forensic laboratories who helped bring about the wrongful conviction. For example three young men who played on Duke’s Lacrosse team and were falsely accused of rape and wrongfully prosecuted for that crime over a twelve-month period sued a North Carolina District Attorney and thirteen others. The trio also sued the laboratory used by the prosecutors for withholding evidence that pointed to their innocence. This is the laboratory that initially attested to a match between their DNA and samples taken from their accuser. This laboratory is now under scrutiny for its handling of evidence in this and other cases.

Note to writers: If you’re writing a story with a private investigator character, he/she (who could easily have a scientific or an investigative background) might be involved in gathering evidence about how certain laboratories are crooked, how they employ “bad science,” or even what makes some scientists charlatans.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

Posted in DNA Crime Scene, Nonfiction book: HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Don’t Fall Prey to Copyright Trolls

Posted by Writing PIs on November 2, 2014

Copyright Trolls: Who Are They?finger pressing key on keyboard

Copyright Troll is a pejorative term for a party, such as a company that buys or owns copyrights, that aggressively enforces its owned copyrights through threat of litigation. These companies use frivolous litigation, meaning lawsuits created for the sole purpose of harassing defendants, to make extraordinary profits.

This is different from a company or individual who learns their intellectual property, such as a photo, is being illegally distributed or copied, and they ask their lawyer to contact the copyright violator with a request to stop the undesired activity.

Trolls’ Business Is to Sue Internet Users

Copyright trolls make their money by suing Internet users

Copyright trolls make their money by initiating litigation against Internet users

Unlike an individual who requests his/her intellectual property to not be distributed, copyright trolls always seek financial damages, which is how they make money. For example, Righthaven, LLC, purchased copyrights for old news articles from the publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal and the Denver Post. Righthaven then actively searched for any Internet users who had copied, distributed, posted or otherwise used these articles without Righthaven’s permission. After finding these violators, Righthaven’s lawyers filed lawsuits demanded damages of $75,000 per instance from each copyright infringer. Obviously, not everyone can pay $75,000 for illegally using a copyrighted item. Righthaven knew this. They also knew they would likely lose if the case went to court, so they’d pressure the person into a settlement of several thousand dollars, which unfortunately many people paid.

EFF Has Taken Up the Cause

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorneys, who defended several victims of Righthaven’s tactics, said, “It’s hard to interpret these lawsuits as anything else besides a way to bully Internet users into paying unnecessary settlements.”

Righthaven is no longer in business, and the Nevada State Bar investigated Righthaven’s founder and CEO, attorney Steven A. Gibson, as well as two other attorneys associated with Righthaven.

In 2013, EFF fought back against “a particularly nasty copyright troll tactic” by adult film producer Malibu Media, LLC, whose lawyers filed lawsuits against Internet users for downloading porn films with embarrassing titles, which are listed within the lawsuit. Their bullying tactic works as intimidated defendants have settled out of court rather than be publicly humiliated.

Although courts are becoming more critical of copyright trolls, unfortunately they continue to thrive because, as the EFF states, “copyright law give trolls a big club to wield.”

Tips for Not Falling Victim to Copyright Trolls

Do not reproduce or redistribute such items as:

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

  • Music
  • Images
  • Blogs
  • Stories
  • News articles
  • Movies

Also ask anyone who might use, or have access to, your computer to not reproduce/redistribute items.

How to Identify a Copyright Troll

Simply put, you can identify a copyright troll because the entity requesting extraordinary financial damages for an innocent copyright infringement is not the holder of the original copyright.

Violating Copyrights in General

Copyright trolls aside, violating copyrights can end up in litigation, costing the person who violated the copyright lots of money and time. Romance Novelist Roni Loren wrote about her experience when she thoughtlessly copied a photo on Google and used it on her blog. A photographer contacted her with a takedown notice, with which she immediately complied. But that wasn’t enough for the photographer, who next demanded financial compensation, as in a lot of money. She writes about her story here.

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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