Watch What You Don't Say

Watch What You Don’t Say by pendragon David Whelan The SCO Group’s litigious intent to all Linux users took a funny turn last week. Well, it could be funny depending on whether you work for SCO’s lawyers or not. Users of the Web are familiar with metadata – ‘data about data’ – which is normally hidden in the top of a Web page. Word processed documents are retaining metadata now, and lawyers need to exert a higher degree of care than they have in the past.

So when C|Net News reported that SCO’s filing against Autozone and DaimlerChrysler contained metadata related to other potential targets, it was an illuminating moment of technology ignorance.  From a strategic perspective, SCO’s lawyers showed some of their arguments – and perhaps the weakness of them, since they didn’t maintain them in the final version of the document filed.

For professionals who make their living from words and documents, though, this kind of neglect to the rudimentary functions of a word processor is staggering.  Now, you may say that you aren’t familiar with metadata and I wouldn’t expect the average person to know about it.  But the legal press has been talking about metadata and ethics for a few years now and lawyers who don’t know need to be spending more time reading about how technology is changing the practice.  Tools are easy to find – just type a search into Google looking for “erase ‘microsoft word’ metadata” – and so are outlines of the potential issues.  Shoot, you can even eliminate most metadata by cutting and pasting a document from one place into a new, blank one!

Someone had to be the first lawyer to make this mistake, poor sod. 

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.