Tweeting Barrister Struck-Off by BSB

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By Alex Aldridge on

Along with Mike Semple Piggot (@CharonQC), intellectual property barrister David Harris (@Geeklawyer) is one of the first British lawyers to have built up a profile through blogging and tweeting.

But Harris’ (pictured) original Geeklawyer blog vanished a couple of years ago, and he has been quiet for a good while on Twitter on account of his involvement in “a very large & complex case”. Yesterday that case culminated in him being struck off by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

Here’s this morning’s summary by The Telegraph of what Harris did:

David Harris, an intellectual property lawyer, used an anonymous account [@Geeklawyer] to post a series of insulting messages while defending a website which allowed users to download films illegally. It later transpired that Mr Harris, 52, owned the website.

Amazingly, it turns out the website in question is Newzbin, a well-known and highly controversial site that allowed users to download illegally copied films. Newzbin – now shut down – has been sued by a host of major film companies. The Motion Picture Association has described it as a “criminal organisation whose business model is based on wholesale copyright infringement”.

I’ve referenced Harris in several articles I’ve written about bloggers, and met him once, back in 2007, at London’s first ever legal blogging conference. He came across as a typically geeky earlier adopter of technology – a trait he self-depracatingly recognised in his Twitter name – and although well known in the blogosphere for his rants, was fairly quiet in person.

Over the years, Harris, who most legal bloggers knew to be behind the Geeklawyer pseudonym, established a close online connection with his fellow blogging pioneer Semple Piggot. Last night, Semple Piggot issued a sympathetic post giving some qualified support to his old compadre. In it, he described Geeklawyer as “an amusing figment of his own imagination who… tweets nonsense late at night.”

While tweeting lawyers might have been able to get away with such pleas of innocence in the early days of Twitter, Harris’ downfall shows that levels of accountability have changed. Then again, most tweeting lawyers don’t run massively controversial illegal downloading sites…