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MMM Receives Legal Threats (mrmoneymustache.com)
309 points by danvideo on March 12, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 89 comments

Ken Popehat (http://www.popehat.com/) might be worth contacting. Even if he can't help directly, he might know someone who can. He's about the closest thing the internet has to a folk superhero in law; he has a "Popehat signal" (http://www.popehat.com/tag/popehat-signal/) he uses for a "call for pro bono help for online folks who get threatened with bogus censorious lawsuits" (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1aokls/iama_federal_cr...) and he got involved, at least twice, with a university-area bus company that has tried to silence criticism on Reddit (http://beta.slashdot.org/story/185659).

Luckily, it looks like Mr. Money Mustache is already in touch with Ken from Popehat: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/03/11/mmm-receives-legal... .

His name is Ken White. And he tweeted this today: https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/443809025902129152

A propos to this is a specific PopeHat post that may be helpful for MMM: http://www.popehat.com/2013/09/26/so-youve-been-threatened-w...

Every time I see another example of frivolous litigation threats like this, I feel like one of the biggest shortcomings of the U.S. justice system is not enough pain inflicted on frivolous litigators.

This goes for patent trolling, too, obviously.

There should be a healthy fear of filing baseless legal challenges. Disbarment? Large fines? What's the effective remedy here, that doesn't go so far it dissuades legitimate cases?

US should just adopt the European system for lawsuits. You lose, you pay. Yes, it has a downside, as does everything else in the world, but I think the downside is much smaller than the upside (compared to the current US system).

The downside is it tilts the balance even further in favor of the richer party, as the poor party is forced to surrender if there is any risk of losing, since a party with a non-frivolous but risky case can't limit their risk by controlling their own expenditures.

Since I don't think not being tilted enough in favor of wealthy litigants is a real problem with the US system, I'm completely opposed to this method of deforming the system.

This is 100% incorrect. The loser doesn't have to pay an unlimited amount of money to the winner. If I do a lawsuit against Google and they spend $10 billion on it then I don't need to pay then $10 billion. The judge awards a reasonable amount.

Also, empirically, there are a whole lot more frivolous lawsuits in the US. In many cases, like with patents, this is basically extortion enabled by the legal system. We sue you which means that you will have to spend at least $10000 on your defense even if you win, or we can settle for $1000.

There is a reason why virtually all modern democracies except the US use loser pays.

> Also, empirically, there are a whole lot more frivolous lawsuits in the US.

"Frivolous" is not an objective descriptor and, therefore, this is not a statement which can be made empirically. At any rate, a higher rate of meritless lawsuits is an intentionally-accepted cost of minimizing the disincentive to pursue potentially meritorious lawsuits.

This is a value difference between the USA and countries that use loser pays.

> If I do a lawsuit against Google and they spend $10 billion on it then I don't need to pay then $10 billion.

Unless the lawyers Google spends billions on can convince the judge that those expenses were reasonably necessary to effectively prosecute the case -- and, incidentally, lawyers that are more proficient at convincing judges that their fees are reasonable will, have higher fees.

> There is a reason why virtually all modern democracies except the US use loser pays.

Yes, becaue most modern democracies value avoidance of private legal action more and effective venue of redress of legitimate disputes less than the US. Loser pays is a method of disincentivizing filing suits in general (it increases the expected costs for the plaintiff, particularly) as well as tilting the balance toward deeper-pockets litigants generally.

Reading your comment here makes it clear that you won't be convinced by any form of logic, but hopefully it helps some other readers:

> Unless the lawyers Google spends billions on can convince the judge that those expenses were reasonably necessary to effectively prosecute the case -- and, incidentally, lawyers that are more proficient at convincing judges that their fees are reasonable will, have higher fees.

This has never ever happened and will never ever happen for blatantly obvious reasons. If you think judges can be convinced of such ridiculous ideas by a sufficiently high paid lawyers we better just throw the whole legal system out of the window.

> Loser pays is a method of disincentivizing filing suits in general (it increases the expected costs for the plaintiff, particularly) as well as tilting the balance toward deeper-pockets litigants generally.

This is incorrect. Loser pays disincentivizes meritless lawsuits. If the plaintiff thinks he will lose, then the expected amount he has to pay is higher in a loser pays system. If the plaintiff thinks he will win the expected amount he will pay is lower in a loser pays system. Therefore loser pays incentivizes reasonable lawsuits compared to the US system.

Um... isn't the exact opposite true, namely that under the current system a poor person can't even afford to win a lawsuit and thus have to avoid them at all cost, no matter how certain they are of winning?

> Um... isn't the exact opposite true, namely that under the current system a poor person can't even afford to win a lawsuit and thus have to avoid them at all cost, no matter how certain they are of winning?

Not as plaintiff, where there own legal costs are less than the amount at issue.

As a defendant, maybe, or a plaintiff in a case where the costs of prosecution outweigh the potential recovery, yes. (The former is clearly undesirable, the latter less clearly so.)

OTOH, with this change, it makes the position of the (largely mythical) certain-to-win party (plaintiff or defendant) somewhat better, while making a significantly less wealthy party worse off in pretty much every other case.

The outline of the current system, where awards of costs have a higher standard than just "whoever wins also gets costs". That's not to say that there aren't tweaks to the details of when costs and/or additional sanctions for abuses are awarded that would make the current system better, but switching to loser pays as a rule isn't one of them.

Wouldn't a shared payment system work better for asymmetric opponents, where any legal fees either side wants to pay are contributed to a shared pool and divided equally, with some minimum/maximum amount based on income and/or net worth?

Who decides if they are baseless? From the post MMM can't even decide: "From what I could tell, there wasn’t much merit to their complaint."

No, the parent is right. My own attorney even describes the current system as extortionate.

Even if this claim is not found to be technically frivolous (a legal term that carries a standard), the current system offers little or no penalty to those who use the courts as a bullying tactic.

If you say or do something that someone doesn't like, then they just sue you and force you to spend exorbitant amounts of money and time to defend yourself, or otherwise just capitulate to their demands. Even the effort required to show that something is frivolous can be expensive, as the standard is high.

The current design absolutely favors those with money. The defendant can win handily but stand very little chance of even recovering their attorney's fees.

MMM is not a lawyer. As an analogy, consider CFAA and other "hacking" related prosecutions where the layman might not be able to tell if a charge is without merit, but a domain expert acting in good faith can.

Looks like this has already made it to the Wikipedia page for Kiss Trust:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiss_Trust seems intent on changing the wording to be more favourable to kiss trust.

That IP resolves to a Comcast Business connection in Warrenton, VA. Guess where kisstrust.com's WHOIS record shows they are located?

That's where the Kiss Trust's attorney is located, according to the posted letter.

It looks like someone from Kiss Trust (are scammers) has been helping "maintain" the wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/50.204.1...

... and Wikipedia is fine with it:

"This article appears to be written like an advertisement. Please help improve it ..."


Likely the article (likely prior to the edit to link to the threat against MMM) was not NPOV enough:


Aside from this current issue, which has no doubt raised awareness of MMM's website, one of the positive outcomes here is that HN readers may be exposed to some of the most awesomely good advice you will ever receive. Reading his posts has led me to understand that I am not alone by any means in my quest for financial independence, which is true independence. Check out his site -- you can begin with the "Start Here" link on the navbar.

I was not aware of the site before today. I looked through a few of the articles and came to the conclusion that it is a borderline religious frugal porn site. You can take a look at the site owners 2013 budget as a prime example. Assuming that your house and car is paid off and that nobody got seriously ill and no other unexpected expenses came up the guy claims to have spent 23k for one year of supporting a family of 3+ (presumably). It is hard to reconcile the claimed budget knowing the reality of supporting onself, even if you disregard things such as rent, car, and medical.

If I remember the first few articles (I started at the beginning when I found the site, several years ago) Mr. Money Moustache and his wife were able to save radically while working fairly decent jobs. The result being they we able to "retire" very early (20's?) and are offering tips and sharing methodology.

So without the background, yes the numbers can seem very low. But with the background, you may find all of the research that went into the home they have (paid for), the retirement accounts they comfortably live on while they continue to grow, and the side jobs he takes for fun (and profit), like buying and rehabbing rental properties alone and with others. Not to mention the healthy lifestyles (why drive when you can bike? Even in Colorado winters?).

Similar to any perceived extreme point of view/lifestyle, it has its fans and detractors. There are many who are very thankful for the guidance...

But I think it comes down to some basics that the American media (if not others) do not seem to promote very often: Earn well, save a large percentage, keep expenses low, invest well, continue to learn. Question perceived "necessities."


I have no doubt that a highly disciplined individual could accomplish such a feat. But then add a wife or husband. Then add a child. It seems increasingly less likely for an average or even above average saver to accomplish what is being espoused. At least without major push back from the other people you are attempting to subject to this lifestyle.

I am honestly wondering what they do when people they know are doing something that costs money. Do they just skip it? Birthday dinner @ a restaurant - skip it. Going to a sporting event - skip it. Kid is getting made fun of at school for wearing dollar store shoes - skip it. Kid wants to play school sports but costs $300/sport - skip it. Kid wants to go to dinner/movies with classmates - skip it. Holidays roll around, time to exchange gifts - skip it.

I guess what I am trying to say is that while extreme saving is a laudable goal, I highly doubt that their family budget is so neat and tidy. Exceptions come up all the time and you would have to put forth heroic efforts to say 'no' to most or all of them. You would also be making huge sacrifices and asking your SO and children to do the same.

Some of them are really entertaining reads, if you have the time you might want to check it out:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/04/08/mr-money-mustaches... http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/04/10/post-4-what-am-i-s... http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/04/11/getting-started-2-...

Just the first few, it goes on.

To specifically answer your questions, you will find the answers in various posts on that site, but you will have to put in the time to read them.

And I agree with the sentiment expressed in one of these above links that the boilerplate of the advice will be found in many personal finance/retire early books. To me, this is a confirmation of what I would consider basic elements or basic truths. And much of it can be common sense, like paying off a high interest rate loan before lower interest rate loans. Or making due with the car/house I currently have, rather than saddling myself with a newer/bigger car/house. I have heard someone refer to this as the process of "striving," rather than the process of "arriving:" It can seem like we never have enough.

I am very fortunate to be male and in the United States, as I have read repeatedly that the world is not fair and I have it far better than many other humans. For this, I am thankful. But I also put in the work.

My wife and I are using the methods we learned from Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad/Poor Dad series (which also has it's fans and detractors) and doing quite well. A four-plex we bought two years ago allowed us to pocket US$8000.00 last year, and yet legally claim a loss of $800 due to IRS rules for deferred taxes.

But the same core lessons can be found (for free) at http://www.financialintegrity.org. And as I said, when I see the same basic guidelines being repeated by so many different people, I conclude that there is likely to be some basic truths buried therein.

Good reading to you!

MMM is handling this like pros! Hopefully this will serve as a blueprint for future people in similar situations.

Maybe MMM site is a good place for it, maybe not - but the idea sounds great - to have a place where people can submit info about when this happens to them as well to publicize and share advice.

I agree. These stories are very entertaining. There should a site for this type of stuff.

MMM says there isn't "much" merit to the claim. So there is some merit apparently. This isn't a blueprint for handling anything. He hasn't determined with any certainty if the post is libelous but is charging ahead full force to defend it? It doesn't make sense.

He doesn't know if there's merit to the claim that the offending comment was libelous. The offending comment said kisstrust was a "scam" when they apparently meant that the kisstrust offer simply added no value to a tool that is already available to consumers for less cost. It appears he does know/believe, however, that there is no merit to the claim that MMM is responsible for the content of a comment in his forums.

I highly suggest going the "Something Awful" route, and simply just making fun of the lawyer(s) in question until they stop.

People like this should be treated the way they act. Like children.

Wasn't the "The Oatmeal" that made fun of a lawyer? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oatmeal_and_FunnyJunk_legal...

He got a lawyer involved first to make sure it wasn't crossing any boundaries with his actions.

Unfortunately, treating them dismissively -- while appropriate -- does not help discredit or dissuade them.

If done skillfully, it makes some of them go full tilt to the extent that they get themselves disbarred for insanely stupid things. Then you have to deal with being hated by a crazy unemployed ex-lawyer, so think twice about doing this if they live nearby.

Well I don't know about dissuade, but it has surely already done much to discredit them.

“We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram.”

Did anybody else notice it said DCMA on the original lawyers letter?

  these posts infringe on our trademarks and copyrights in violation of the DCMA

google cache of relevant MMM forum thread (removed):


Organization who allegedly asked the lawyer to take action: http://www.kisstrust.com/

* Maybe this was just an incompetent attorney, but regardless, taking legal action against a website for a comment posted really demonstrates that the company isn't capable of using its good reputation to handle the situation, and therefore lacks said reputation. Can't compete on the merits - GTFO. /rant

They seem to have a history of playing fast and loose with the law. See this thread on Bogleheads where forum posters discovered they took a forum member's post, put it on their site as a "review" with no link to the original thread, and had the gall to claim the text was "public domain": http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=107952

The site appears to be down.

Well that was a good read. Seems that someone needs to learn how the internet works. Just put it on reddit and watch the Streisand effect in action :).

It got here, so I think the effect is already well under way :)

Right, but HN crowd is a bit more "classy". Now reddit on thee other hand.. you know how they work :)

FWIW, the kisstrust.com website appears to be down (giving a 404). Furthermore, I'd like to express my opinion that these lawyers are a bunch of douchebags.

Dear Mr. Graham,

It has come to our attention that the commenter "viggity" on your "Hacker News" internet discussion forum has suggested that the practising partners at the Law Office of Mark B Williams, PLC are, and I quote, "a bunch of douchebags".

My clients at the Intimate Hygiene Manufacturers Association maintain that this is an unfounded slur on their products, and insist that the forum posting and any derived or related content be removed forthwith.

Yours etc.

This reminds me of a case I was involved in several years ago, http://techcrunch.com/2008/07/17/channel-intelligence-sues-j... - It ended up blowing up in their faces. I remember getting the phone number to the CEO of Channel Intelligence and calling him up directly. His response was, "Can you all just stop calling me! We'll fix this, just stop calling me!" I believe they were trying to collect license fees to establish their patent, but in the end they had to give it away for free to everybody involved. Those who wouldn't accept it got no further legal action. 5 years later Google bought Channel Intelligence. Go figure.

Sounds like they would be pretty foolish to proceed with a lawsuit, doubly so if MMM happens to be in a state with a strong Anti-SLAPP law.

MMM is in Colorado, which does have statutory protections against SLAPP [1]


RICO? That may be the most definitively empty legal threat I have ever seen on the internet.


As a lawyer who dabbles in IP/cyber law (not admitted in VA, so I can't help out), I really love seeing personal injury/criminal defense attorneys send cease and desist letters to publishers who are clearly protected under federal law.

Second letter:

> This will serve as formal notice to preserve all ISP [sic] addresses...

To paraphrase Churchill: "I may be drunk, but in the morning I will be sober, whereas you will still be an idiot."

There is no doubt you'll get flooded with offers to help. Someone reasonable, knowledgeable and efficient is going to have a good time.

Well this one should be slam dunk to dismiss unless they file lawsuit in Texas eastern circuit court.

I think you misspelled "circus."

In original context those words are synonymous, so correction need not apply.

You raise a fantastic point, my friend.

Presumably, this a reference to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, and apparently the reputation of E.D. Tex. relating to its popularity for patent litigation based on the way its patent-specific local rules has become generalized even further.

Slightly offtopic, but oddly enough MMM is also a name of the most famous Russian ponzi scheme from the 90s. Laughed a little bit, but no parallels, of course. All the luck to this blog.

Marc Randazza or Popehat would make quick work of this fool.

Try contacting Eric Goldman http://blog.ericgoldman.org/

I was surprised to see their site is still up. Making the internet mad at you, doesn't typically end well.

...and it's down.

Completely off-topic, but I did not know about this website. Going to check it out as it sounds very useful!

Start reading at the very beginning of the blog and carry the thread forward -- I did this last fall when I first discovered it and found that process to be immensely rewarding. And not just because of all the gut laughing that ensued.

Will the original thread about KISS Trust be restored?

According to the blog post, they have restored the thread, however their database appears to be overloaded at the moment. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/investor-alley/kiss-tru...

Looks like they might also need help scaling a website.


not sure I understand what's going on here, why are they being threatened legally and who is doing it?

KISS Trust is a company that offers revocable trusts for people. Someone on the MMM forum said that this company was a scam and warned others to stay away. That post made the first page of Google for a search for KISS Trust, and the company noticed. They sent a cease and desist to the blog owner demanding that he take the post down. He refused. Now the company is getting more bad press because of the legal fight than from the original post. It might have been better to create an account and respond to the original poster directly to resolve the issue.

Just to be clear...

The first part of this post is correct. Except that after receiving the legal threat, the blog owner DID remove the offending forum thread.

But then the blog owner created a new thread describing the legal threat (can't be libelous to describe a business tactic they've actually employed, can it?), which has led to much additional discussion and bad press.

Oh, and there's apparently also a wikipedia editing war going on between the internet and the company PR person. Any guesses on how that one will end?

-new user, followed link from MMM blog to get here.

What's wrong with contacting a lawyer if someone is writing things that are blatantly untrue? Has anyone here actually read the posts?

They are suing the forum owner/operator for something posted by a forum member. So roughly equivalent to me saying something here, and Paul Graham getting sued for it.

Also, the actual quote was "This scam product has been discussed here before. Stay away. It's a marketing ploy." Which I guess may be legally actionable, but given their behavior seems like it's quite likely true.

They would be sued for not taking down the post. If you post something here that is libel then someone can sue to force Paul Graham to take it down.

If MMM gets a lawyer he's going to end up defending the content of the post, not his right to operate his site independently.

From the article: "Never mind the fact that Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code holds that website owners cannot be held responsible for comments that their users make."

Wouldn't this be somewhat like the DMCA, where the host is only protected if they respond to claims? Or would it take an actual court injunction to order the material to be removed?

The plain language of the provision is starkly unconditional. 47 USC Sec. 230(c)(1) specifies: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

Nothing. However S230 creates a safe harbor for publishers, which is common knowledge for anyone practicing IP/cyber law.


Notice and take down is a process operated by online hosts in response to court orders or allegations that content is illegal. Content is removed by the host following notice. Notice and take down is widely operated in relation to copyright infringement, as well as for libel and other illegal content. In US and European Union law, notice and takedown is mandated as part of limited liability, or safe harbour, provisions for online hosts (see the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 and the Electronic Commerce Directive 2000). As a condition for limited liability online hosts must expeditiously remove or disable access to content they host when they are notified of the alleged illegality.[1]

The sweeping exemption in 47 USC 230 doesn't (unlike the DMCA safe harbor) have any notice and takedown provisions attached to it, so your link and text is, while accurate, irrelevant.

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