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My daughter was first sued in the womb (ftrain.com)
477 points by henning on May 16, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

Request: change the title by appending "fiction" so that folks like me don't start reading to try and figure out how the hell a person can be sued while in the womb.

That's why I liked it. Made you think and put it all together. IMHO

Agreed. I think a key aspect of this sort of fiction is that you are not quite sure at first if it's real or not. It is interesting to see just how crazy a message can be communicated before you realize that it's not real.

I don't know. The conversation at the start doesn't have enough context to mean anything by itself, and then the first full paragraph is enough to show that it's fiction. The illusion doesn't last long enough to be useful; all I got out of it was wasteful confusion on the first 30 seconds..

Perhaps you haven't been involved with as much legal action as I have, but I was about half way through before I realised that it wasn't real. Of course I feel like I have to go to court at least once a week for something or other (sued ~= suing). In fact I have to go start legal action against someone today.


I'd prefer instead that it just be switched to the original title "Nanolaw with Daughter", either with or without the subtitle "Why privacy mattered".

While the current title isn't bad, I think it's better to discourage the editorialization of titles, whether by adding tags such as "fiction" or by using catchy excerpts.

How about "Short story about privacy has daughter sued in the womb (ftrain.com)." I've been reading HN for around 6 months and lots of people have been suggesting that content quality is falling recently and there've been a lot of meta discussions about it. I think that the comments haven't degraded as much as people are claiming. The posted articles and the post titles have however been taking a turn for the worse. I agree with the parent: we don't need tags to indicate the category of the post. That's just lazy. What we need is just more honesty and less sensationalism in the wording of the titles. Maybe pg could add a system wherein anyone can edit a title and others vote on it? or perhaps foster a community where misleading titles are down voted?

I think the existing title is significantly better than the rather unenlightening "Nanolaw with Daughter," and I don't think it's better to discourage the "editorialization" of titles (when by editorialization you just mean changing them.) Many titles as linked to are poorly chosen for a linkblog format and would be better off changed for the front page. Few enough people change them as is.

The title is from Paul Ford (the author) himself, on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ftrain/status/69952439767404544

I am sure I am in the minority here, but I rather like the editorialization of titles. I read articles that I generally would not have due to bland titling. On occasion it is material that helps to change my viewpoint on matters.

I agree. The HN rules say not to change the title at all; to leave it as on the article being linked to. So this articles title should be "Nanolaw with Daughter".

I really have no idea what you are talking about. The rules[1] explicitly give some examples of when titles should be changed, and remark that title changes in general are fine if they aren't overly editorialized.

[1] http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Ok, I was mistaken that it is against the rules. You are right, it is fine to change the title if it doesn't put too much of an editorial spin on it. My apologies.

Having said that, the title in this case was changed to emphasize something which only made up a small part of the story: that the fictitious daughter was first sued in the womb. This is only briefly mentioned in the story itself, so the title editing looks a little bit like link-baiting to me, which is why I would have preferred if it were left unedited.

Of course, another HN poster pointed out that the author posted the title on twitter. Since I do not know or follow the author, I did not know that when I wrote my first comment, at which point it looked like the title was changed purely for the purpose of catching peoples attention. Had I known this 9 hours ago, I probably wouldn't have commented.

There's precedent to change titles for old articles, such as adding "(2005)" to the end of a piece from 2005. There's also precedent to add "[pdf]" when linking directly to a pdf. I think adding "(fiction)" is in line with that.

I agree, I go to hacker news for news and tech related true stories. I don't mind fiction, but I don't like to be "tricked" into reading it.

Agreed if only to stay firmly on our side of the clickbait line.

There was a giant picture and no summary, so I skipped straight here to find out whether I wanted to read it. Obviously I don't.

"What happened is, a long time ago, the country Belgium took over this country Congo and killed a lot of people and made everyone slaves."

No, that's actually not what happened. First of all, they did not take over Congo because Congo never existed before Leopold drew it up on a map on a rainy Saturday afternoon together with Stanley. Also, the country of Belgium did not take over Congo, it was a private enterprise by king Leopold II, although the government later took it over from him after reports of atrocities started to trickle through to western Europe. Third, they didn't make people slaves. The slave traders operating in Congo were mostly African-Arabic. The Belgians levied taxes on the population. This was first collected in rubber, and the colonist but also the Congolese army committed atrocities such as the cutting off of hands, murder of village elders, and so on to maximize production. Many more lives were claimed by the sleeping disease. Later on they switched to taxing in money which meant that many young men had to work in the mines to earn money for their village, often under really bad conditions. The wars, dictatorships, and genocides started after the independence.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not making excuses here or anything, but it irks me when people reduce the complex history of a beautiful country to an overly simplified and plainly false representation of the facts.

Great points, this misrepresentation of fact reminds me of a history class in which we discussed the British tactics against the Zulus and a girl actually claimed that "Africa had no war before white people came". I laughed really hard and eventually she was corrected that Africans knew how to and did conduct wars long before white people arrived.

Here's the thing: it's fiction, and short of Ayn Rand's speechifying characters, fictional characters aren't necessarily mouthpieces for the author, let alone reliable narrators.

Are you irked by the fictional father's mis-read of history, or by the fictional lawyers who distorted the truth to put together a micro-lawsuit for reparations? Or is your assumption that Paul Ford doesn't know what he's talking about?

(FWIW, I'm inclined to believe that the Congo reference is an unintentional sleight and a throw-away example used to make a few points about the reach of these micro-lawsuits rather than a troll, but I don't find that it detracts from the illusion because it sounds pretty representative of the understanding of the issue some upper middle class dad might actually have.)

I don't really care whether Ayn Rand's an ignorant boob or his fictional character is. I'm an irritable man and I irk easily.

For example, I am irked every time I hear someone use the phrase '5 times more', because then I'm always left wondering if they whether they really mean '5 times as much', or '6 times as much'.

Yes, but I think you'd agree that replacing the sentence in the story - a bit of dialog spoken to a 10 year old - with your paragraph would not be an improvement.

I was never arguing that. But if you wish, the sentence in the story is not just oversimplified, it's just ignorant and wrong. I would never tell my child such things.

Unless you were ignorant and wrong, and it's what you believed.

Very interesting story. I am reminded that tax software made it feasible for governments to make much more complicated tax codes. Legal software combined with the increasing acceptance of arbitration for civil suits could create this future.

Reminded me a lot of 'the right to read' http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html

Though the topic is broadly similar, this is a better work of fiction than The Right to Read.

For example, the characters in The Right to Read are props in the author's morality play. Whereas these characters are characters, and while you can still see the author moving around behind the scenes he's done his best to let the characters speak for themselves. I'm not sure they fully agree with him.

Nice work.

That's a really great essay.

It's amazing how closer the real world is to this fiction with DRM ebooks.

I'm not a good judge of these things, but it reminds me of Bradbury -- I wonder if he could be sued for that?

/seriously, it does remind me of Bradbury

Seemed almost like a concept out of a Charles Stross novel to me.

Accellerando had some similarly interesting riffs on the future of torts and patent law (IIRC the main character had patentend the practice of patenting a group of patents into a larger patent portfolio).

It was smarter than that, he'd patented the practice of using genetic algorithms to automatically patent all solutions within a given problem set. Interesting book!

Bradbury's approach was always a social message, even social commentary veiled through token "sci-fi", which was really never that far-fetched, and very central to the characters themselves. Great observation.

I had the same thought

This is future! The proof is that "biggest bit torrent case" targeting 23000 defendants.


This is a single case out of many. A single data point does not create a trend - whether or not this case wins is mainly what will decide if these types of cases are feasible. Even this article mentions that the last time someone did this, the judge threw out the case (Brian William Dott vs Does).

Great story.

Interestingly, I don't think the "privacy" issue is the big change in the future described, but rather the fact that lawsuits are so much more automated. That's the real change that makes the story "possible".

On the one hand, I should technically complain that the title given here is not the title of the story.

On the other hand, I think this title is a better one, so please disregard the previous sentence. ;)

The title here is both a direct quote from the essay as well as the title given to the essay by the author when he shared it on twitter:


Wouldn't the doctor or nurse who operated the ultrasound machine hold the copyright to the ultrasound image, not the manufacturer of the ultrasound machine? And furthermore, why would the daughter be named in the suit?

Sorry to be a hater, but what a brilliant example of how America's lawsuit addiction is a deeply unhealthy cultural trait.

It is fiction. It is not an example of anything, because it did not really happen.

read like something Richard Powers would write

ironic... i just logged in to upvote that


No, it is not too long, and I did read it. Thanks for your kind interest in this matter.

Near-future fiction where copyright trolls run the asylum.

Is this any more of an asylum than what we have today? I'd much rather see a world where $BIGMUSICCOMPANY sues ten million people for $5 each for stealing (oops, I mean violating the copyright on) music rather than a world where an effectively random set of 50 people each get sued for a million dollars.

The big problem with legal processes right now is that they have a high frictional cost. If that cost can be brought down -- on both sides, so that suits can be filed more widely for smaller amounts AND people have a reason to defend against frivolous suits -- then I'd say we would be better off, not worse.

There are some appealing aspects of the future portrayed (an apparently efficient legal system), but taking a step back this does not quite look like where we want to head (the death of privacy and fair-use).

It makes the scenario scarier, in some ways, than a clearly dystopian future, as one could see society falling into just such a suboptimal trap, where the gains in one area allow apathy to to shrug off the concerns in another.

I hope it's not too much to ask for both legal efficiency and fair copyright laws, not to mention privacy.

As for frivolous suits, I think you're right that leveling the playing field will also let the victims retaliate more easily. I'd hope they prove less stubborn than spammers, at any rate; I don't like the idea of spam that carries legal weight.

What makes this scenario extremely scary to me is the proposition that every single person alive would have to spend even 15 minutes dismissing/paying off frivolous lawsuits every single day.

Having the overhead of a parasitic legal system spread thin over the entire population doesn't make it any less of a monstrous sink of lifetime.

That's a story conceit. If you're going to pay off < 5 cent suits, and ignore suites from Nigeria, you just program your lawsuit filter to do it. If that doesn't cut it, you buy access to an legal expert service that is updated as needed for suites, and decides for you using bounds you set.

So there would actually be two mutually parasitic industries, much as there are today for virii/virus filters, and spam/spam filters. Of course they're still both social parasites, not a nice thing, etc.

" The big problem with legal processes right now is that they have a high frictional cost. If that cost can be brought down -- on both sides, so that suits can be filed more widely for smaller amounts AND people have a reason to defend against frivolous suits -- then I'd say we would be better off, not worse".

I think that would be the legal equivalent of expecting average Joes to debug their own kernels when their printer doesn't work.

The fact that people need to hire lawyers is a frictional cost.

Comments here seem to be focusing on the IP aspect of the story, but I think that's missing the forest through the trees. Let me remind you that the first suit described sounds like a slavery reparations issue, nothing to do with IP at all.

As I read it, the theme is simply a legal system run amok, facilitated by data mining and hyper-efficient communication.

I read the entire thing and still don't know the context of which it was written. (fiction?)

It seems to be about a typical morning in a world where the capability to sue has been commoditized and automated to the point where everyone sues everyone else for every little rights violation all day long (nanolaw). This makes everyone a "lawyer." Tablet software makes settling the suits that matter trivial - just a tap a box to settle for a few cents or a few dollars. The father experiences this world as somewhat surreal, while it's normal for the daughter.

Near-future sci-fi, it appears, with a (large) hint of social commentary.

Gotcha. Figured as much, but wasn't sure.

I like to say it isn’t sci-fi it doesn’t have social commentary or at least a warning from a possible future.

Within the next generation or so too, since the first notices were sent by postal mail.


A fictional story that IMHO illustrates a future where micro-sueing is established and done in such a manner that the friction of the lawsuits is very low.

Near-future speculative fiction on the increasing sources of interesting data and data mining. I enjoyed the read.

Was it really necessary to downvote spoon16's request for a synopsis?

Could someone then explain why?

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