Legal Fund, Tip Jar, or Whatever

The legal threats discussed in my last post have led to a number of people suggesting I start a legal fund for my defense. I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea as I don’t foresee any legal costs arising from this. As it turns out, that might not be an issue.

It appears I wouldn’t be able to create a true legal fund anyway. Legal funds are nonprofit organizations, and those come with a number of restrictions. I’m reasonably confident setting one up to benefit yourself is not allowed. Even if it were allowed, I wouldn’t feel comfortable starting a charitable organization to benefit myself.

That said, there is nothing wrong with starting a “legal fund” which doesn’t operate in the formal sense. That is, you can create an account people can donate money to with the expectation you’d use it for legal costs. That’s fine as long as you don’t misrepresent the account as belonging to a charity (and thus making donations tax deductible). People are free to give money to each other if they want to.

Of course, if you’re not creating an actual legal fund, there is little difference between your “legal fund” and a “Tip Jar” you might normally see on a person’s site. The only difference I can see is people might not expect any leftover money in a “legal fund” to go to the individual. A number of people have suggested I could create a legal fund and simply donate any money I collect but don’t use.

I don’t know. Part of me is selfish. I am spending quite a bit of time on this. If people want to give me money, why shouldn’t I take it? I like to think my blogging in general has been a positive contribution. What’s wrong with receiving some compensation for it? The truth is I could probably use the money.

But I don’t want it. I’m prideful. I don’t like the idea of charity.

But I like money. There are a number of things I’d like to buy but can’t afford.

So I’m going back and forth on this. I’m typing this up as a stream of thought.* I don’t know what to think or do on this topic. I don’t think I could come up with a “right” answer given I’m irreconcilably biased. I don’t like that. As such, I’m going to short-circuit it. I’m not going to think about it any further.

I’ve created a donate button linked to my Paypal account. I ask you not use it. Should you choose to disregard my request, you’re welcome to inform me, privately or publicly, what you would like me to do with your contribution should it turn out I don’t need it for legal costs. I’ll follow any instructions I’m given.

*While this was all typed stream of thought, I did go back and fix some grammatical mistakes. It’d drive me crazy if I didn’t.


  1. By the way, I often mean what I say quite literally. Don’t dismiss my statement saying I’ll follow any instructions lightly. I am quite serious about that. I will use any unspent money sent to me in whatever way the contributor instructs me. I don’t care if you say send the money back, give it to Michael Mann or spend it on Bazooka bubble gum.

    The only way I can stand to take anyone’s money is if they can decide how to spend it.

  2. I just made a donation, and it comes with no strings. Call it payment for performance that has already exceeded my wildest expectations!

    (you inconvenience the people who most need to be inconvenienced)

  3. You don’t need the legal fund,

    Firstly you own the letter, this letter was given to you, you own the physical letter if not the copyright to what’s on it? So, you are also entitled to transfer the letter – copyright only prevents you reproducing it – it does not prevent transferring it. So for example you could transfer your copy to say Anthony watts or Jo Nova, who could act on its contents, and who could then transfer the letter back to you. Since you did not reproduce the letter there is no copyright violation. Showing someone the actual letter is NOT a violation of copyright. For example it is a copyright violation for an art gallery to display a painting to you – obviously not. If someone else decides to publish it, that’s not your concern.

    Secondly in Australia you are permitted to excerpt 10% of a copyright work, so publish the letter as 10 excerpts in 10 posts 😉

    The legalese is a scare tactic, it’s common, and commonly ignored…. If you want someone to do something in Oz many try sending threatening letters in legalese. An example a “book club” sent me a book, then they sent a legal letter threatening to sue me if I didn’t pay 19.95 for the book. This is all well and good until you note that you are not able to enforce payment for a product sent unsolicited to a recipient (CAC Act) , all you need to do is respond to the letter saying that the sender can pick up the book at their convenience in the next 7 days…. If they don’t (and they wont) the book’s yours to keep.

    Finally, copyright is a civil tort, rather than a criminal one, even if the sender won the case, the damages set would be based on the harm done by you to the sender or a third party named in the letter. This might happen if say the letter you publish was a love letter between the prime minister and a mistress, but since the content in this case is addressed at you, the damage done by you publishing the letter was done by themselves rather than you. In publishing the letter you have merely given light to their own words. If this is so damaging then they should not have sent the letter to you. They could hardly claim libel from a letter they wrote!

    In publishing a blog you might gain protection by virtue of media freedom laws, you can publish something you happen across provided it is in the public interest and true. So for example this is evidence that the UQ are flouting the principles set for it by the State Government. Disclosure of this nature becomes in the public interest.

    If it were me, I’d go ahead and publish the letter, there is very little risk. Frankly, if you’re not Australian, there isn’t a whole lot anyone could do about it except whine to your government about you, you can hardly be extradited to Australia and thrown in the slammer for publishing a letter that was sent to you.

  4. bobl has it just right. Share (publish) the letter and put UQ to the test. They have no standing and if they did, it would constitute a breach of their fiduciary duty to spend money on such a frivolous matter.

  5. I would think you should find people who will publish this data or comment on the situation whether or not they are specifically interested in anthropogenic global warming. I would say that the entire scientific community is suspect these days. A paper on chemical synthesis (apparently a paper on polymerization) which mentions global warming in a passing phrase is clearly attempting some form of promotion or fraud.

    The idea of professional employee is certainly an oxymoron. An employee is subject to the intent of his employer (master) in the performance of the job. A professional has independent standards to maintain. The dependence of most scientists on institutional funding is demonstrating itself to be a hopeless compromise of scientific integrity.

    Since scientists cannot insure the integrity of their work they should be dismissed as used car salesmen whenever the situation becomes controversial or powerful interests intrude. The best solution may be to just discredit the whole scientific enterprise. Like innocent until proven guilty, distrusted until proven otherwise may be the most desirable rule.

  6. RobertInAz, fortunately, there’s nothing to get around, at least not in the United States. I know here, you can send people money. It’s not taxed or anything (unless you start sending crazy high amounts). It’s just a gift.

    wws, I’ll try not to read that as you paying me to be a troll >.<

    bobl, I agree I don't need a fund. Sadly though, this letter was sent digitally, meaning any time I show someone it, I'm making a copy (unless they sit at my computer). Additionally, you can get statuatory damages of over $10,000 for copyright infringements even with no harm done. This is definitely empty posturing, but if it were legally acceptable, it could be quite dangerous to me.

    JW, it would be nice if people outside the normal climate conversations took interest. I'm not sure who would though. The topic is interesting, but if the University of Queensland keeps silent (which it has since I first responded to their letter), it'll pretty much be over. I'll wind up publishing everything, and people will know the university had simply been bluffing.

  7. If you decide to write a paper or to go a conference, let me know and I’ll help you with the costs.

  8. Hi Brandon,

    As a former (white collar) trade union representative, I am quite sure that all this stuff about the UQ letter having some sort of copyright protection over it is bunk. They have threatened you. You are entitled to draw the attention of anyone you choose, or the world at large, to this threat, and the only way you can do this adequately is to publish it.

    UQ is indulging in the legal profession’s meme, of “if you’ve got nothing, make outlandish demands”. This is common practice, and dealing with it is becoming a regular occurrence for me as a town planning consultant. Eg client threatened with $A5400 fine for an alleged development offence, plus $A10 – 15,000 costs if he pleads not guilty. Thing is, he had not committed an offence, but was still tempted to pay up. I was about to give expert testimony on his behalf in court. The opposition threw in the towel less than one hour before I was due to appear. Probably had something to do with the date. It was the 1st April, and they knew that I would be contacting the local newspaper before going into court.

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