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The Obnoxious Legal Odyssey of Figure 7-8

Q: Why are there so many lawyer jokes?

Oh, I don't know. As a writer, I'm proud to be on the other end of the scale from your typical lawyer. Unlike their ilk, I actually spread knowledge and entertainment around the world. To wit: There are few, if any, writer jokes (outside the publishing industry).

Writers and lawyers don't mix. Writers are creative. Writers use humor. Writers understand the human beast and appreciate our fallibility. Writers are not out to make the world "safer." No, our mission is pretty clear and aside from a few writers, our goal is not to offend. Unless, of course, you happen to be a writer who works for a publishing house that has too many lawyers on staff.

Now the purpose of lawyers at a publishing house seems kind of silly at first. Here in the United States we have a thing called the First Amendment. For those of you educated in public schools, that's a law that tells the government that the people are free to publish whatever they want to. You don't need a "publishing license" in this country. Thanks to pornographer Larry Flynt, the First Amendment also makes it safe to satire public officials. A good thing this First Amendment! But apparently the lawyers that work for my publishing house haven't read it. Either that, or the humorless bunch just has too much time on their hands.

First, we do need lawyers at a publishing house?

Despite the First Amendment, publishers do get sued. One case was a book that contained a particular reader quote. The reader wrote to the author, the author liked what the reader said, so the author sent it into the publisher. The publisher put the quote on the book's back cover (I believe).

Anyway, the reader sees this and decides to sue. I don't know what happened, but it gave the publisher's lawyers a reason for being. It also doubled their aggression. Now instead of waiting to be sued (which is how I would prefer them to operate) the lawyers go on the defensive and look for any potential reason in any book for anyone else to sue the publisher.

For example, an image in one book was of a child in a stroller in the middle of Walt Disney World. The lawyers (not the editor or the publisher) made the author crop out every bit of the image except for the child's face. The reason? Disney might sue.

Can you believe that? Free publicity for Disney in a computer book! A photograph millions of people take every year. Disney loves it! Yet, the moronic lawyers at the publisher think that Disney is going to sue them for having a picture of a happy kid sitting in the middle of a Disney park.

A: That's why there are so many lawyer jokes. They earn it.

Second, we come to image 7-8 in my Troubleshooting book

The text referring to this image talks about changing your desktop wallpaper away from something "offensive." The original idea I had for the image was Martha Stewart. (This was before the stock scandal.) I just figured Martha was funny enough of a target, plus she's a public figure so I can use her image in the book. But then I couldn't really find a good image and figured a lot of people wouldn't recognize her anyway. So I went with this:

I figured, what-the-heck. This best describes the situation in the book: Say you accidentally make some bikini picture your desktop wallpaper and you want to change it? No problem. Hooters implied that image, and it was okay with my editor -- providing that I got permission from Hooters.

(And again we come to the lawyers asking permission. Would Hooters sue me? Or would they enjoy the free publicity they get from being in a computer book? Do people who go to Hooters even buy my books?)

So I find the number for Hooter Corporate, which is sunny Florida, the same state that brought you the 2000 Presidential Election Fiasco.

ME: Hello. I need to speak with your legal department.


ME: I am an author.


ME: I am a writer. (Pause.) I am writing a book and would like to use your Hooters logo in my book. I need written permission to do that.


ME: Can I have your legal department or maybe the promotions department.


ME: Or perhaps Customer Relations?

HBAP: Oh. You want to talk to Paula. (Click.)

(Obnoxious rock music on hold.)

PAULA: This is Paula in human resources. (Giggle.) I'm sorry that I'm away from my desk or could be on another line. Please leave your name and number and I'll get back to you shortly.

ME: I don't know if I have the right person, but I am writer trying to get permission to use your corporate logo in my book. Could you please return my call at [number]? (Click.)

Naturally, "Paula" did not phone back. No, she was too busy getting her breasts re-inflated or something. So, without permissions, the publisher's lawyers (not the editor) told me that the Hooters logo had to go.

Second Image Attempt

Computer authors have a mantra: when all else fails, use Bill Gates.

Mr. Gates has never, never sued anyone for using his image or using his name in any satirical material. There are countless web pages that poke fun at Mr. Gates, satires, spoofs, you name it. Yet old Bill Gates is a champion and doesn't sue. And good for him! That's being a sport (which actually makes the satires less funny; compare Gate's reaction to that of Jerry Falwell who sued Larry Flint in Supreme Court case made famous by the movie The People Verses Larry Flynt).

So here's the next image:

I downloaded that image from the Microsoft PR site. So it's an image available for anyone to use.

But then the lawyers call! Not my editor. Not my publisher. But word filters down, "The lawyers say that we cannot use an image of Bill Gates in the book. He might sue."

Bull! I cry. But apparently, in this publishing world, the lawyers have more pull than the First Amendment. What would have been a cute image, and mildly funny, was trashed.

Not only did they yank this, but they yanked it after the book's deadline. I had 60 minutes to come up with a replacement. Not only that, but the lawyers told me that I had to come up with a replacement that was utterly non-copyrightable material and, because they demand permissions for any humans in the shot, it had to be a picture of nothing: of landscape, of my front door, of the cat, or some random graphic that I had to create myself.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid Lawyers!

Are we publishing computer information to help people, or satisfying the whim of bored, overpaid, useless freaking corporate lawyers?

Image 3

So I came up with this image:

Cute. Funny. And remarkably appropriate.

But then . . .

Remember that I'm under tremendous time pressure. I had only an hour to redo the image of Gates (which was perfectly legal and funny) and so I came up with the above "Humorous Image Removed by Cowardly Lawyers." My editor liked it, so she passed it on.

And then, 90 minutes later, I got a call where my editor timidly said, "The lawyers tell me that the new Image 7-8 is 'inappropriate' for the book."

I Flew Off The Handle!

Keeping in mind that my editor was merely the messenger, I ranted and raved for a long, long time.

Then, after about 20 minutes, I just told the editor. "Okay. That's enough. I'm going right over everyone's head to the publisher. I know Richard. Richard will agree with me. I don't think he wants lawyers editing these books, so I'm going straight to him."

So me editor responds with an e-mail, "Dan is upset about this latest decision and is going to speak with the publisher about it. Hold off until then."

Apparently that instilled enough fear into the hearts of everyone else that they relented, and so the final image you see above — "Humorous Image Removed by Cowardly Lawyers" — made it into the book. I never had to call Richard; just the threat was enough. (And he might have not agreed with me.)

Not only all this, but later I learned that the person who said "the image is inappropriate for the book" was some 23-year-old girl who had only been with the company for one week. Hell, I wrote DOS for Dummies before she hit puberty and now she is telling me what to put in my book. Hello!

But then there's the Web

Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, I now get the final word, and can share this bit of insight with you. Stuff like this goes on all the time with this publisher. If you see any image in any book, know that the author had to beg and plead to get it in there. Permissions were signed, blood was given. And the original image that the author most likely deemed more appropriate, was likely censored by cowardly lawyers who, I remind you, contribute nothing but grief to the society you live in.

Update October 2002

Just got this image in from the Dutch translator. Apparently the Dutch don't have the same lawyer problem that we do here in the US. Here is what the translator (Feico) had to say about Figure 7-8 in the Dutch version of the book:

I wanted a picture that's naughty, without making the book unacceptable. Fortunately, Europeans are not as prudish as Americans . . . The painting was considered extremely scandalous in 1863, nowadays we laugh about it.

And the image:

Lawyer Jokes Just for the Hell of It

Did you hear about the terrorists who took a whole courtroom full of lawyers hostage? They threatened to release one every hour until their demands were met.
Did you hear that the Post Office just recalled their latest stamps? They had pictures of lawyers on them and people couldn't figure out which side to spit on.
How can a pregnant woman tell that she's carrying a future lawyer? She has an uncontrollable craving for baloney.
How does an attorney sleep? First he lies on one side, and then he lies on the other.
How many lawyer jokes are there? Only three. The rest are true stories.
How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? How many can you afford?
How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three. One to climb the ladder. One to shake it. And one to sue the ladder company.
If a lawyer and an IRS agent were both drowning, and you could only save one of them, would you go to lunch or read the paper?
What did the lawyer name his daughter? Sue.
What do you call 25 skydiving lawyers? Skeet.
What do you call a lawyer gone bad? Senator.
What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 50? Your Honor.
What do you get when you cross a bad politician with a crooked lawyer? Chelsea Clinton.
What do you throw to a drowning lawyer? His partners.
What does a lawyer use for birth control? His personality.
What's the difference between a lawyer and a vulture? The lawyer gets frequent flyer miles.
What's another difference between a lawyer and a vulture? Removable wingtips.
Why can lawyers swim with sharks and not get bit? Professional courtesy
What do a lawyer and a sperm have in common? Both have a one-in-one-billion chance of becoming a human being
What's worse than having a bus load of lawyers fall over a cliff? Having one empty seat on the bus.
What do you call 700 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start.
Why does California have the most lawyers in the country and New Jersey has the most toxic waste sites? New Jersey got first choice.

Scary real fact: There are more students in law school today than there are practicing lawyers in the U.S.