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Tweeting Barrister Struck-Off by BSB

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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…

6 Comments

Charon QC

A surreal matter… to be sure…

Enjoyed your last sentence 🙂

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D_T_T

I think tweeting some edgy stuff is one thing; a lot of tweeting lawyers can be seen complaining about their jobs or the system they work in or querying certain aspects of the law etc. Directing insults at opposing counsel is quite another thing, and I don’t think it really works if you are a barrister appearing in court to tweet behind a pseudonym and say it was the persona that was offensive to lawyers on the other side.

It seems the BSB were more concerned by the other charge though rather than the tweeting. I’ll wait for the publication of the official findings to see exactly what the disbarring was for, but doesn’t seem to have been the tweets.

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David Harris

Alex,
Although briefly, for 3 months, a Director of Newzbin Ltd I was always an interim director during an intended restructuring. I resigned after putting the firm into liquidation.
Secondly, I do not ‘run’, as you put it, the site. The Newzbin site was closed though a copycat site has since emerged). Nor did I at any point, it was always run by the previous operators as directors & then employees. My role in the site was always a legal one not an operational one: my remit was turning Newzbin into a legal site. I shut it down it when Newzbin got no cooperation from the MPA in this restructuring period and when I was director.

Secondly, the site was never criminal, even when it was run before my time. There was never any police interest in the site.

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[…] A tweeting intellectual property barrister has been struck off by the Bar Standards Board, according to the Telegraph. David Harris, who tweeted anonymously as @geeklawyer, was criticised by the BSB for his tweets, but more significantly for not disclosing his role in the website – Newzbin – he was defending. The Charon QC blog discussed the episode here. Harris appears to have responded to a post on the Legal Cheek blog here. […]

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[…] Moment Posted on February 3, 2012 by Alex Aldridge The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) striking off of legal blogging pioneer David Harris last week caused quite a […]

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David S

A shame, I used to like reading Geeklawyer.

But note that he was not disbarred for the tweets – he was fined £2500 for them (charge 6 herre http://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/disciplinary-tribunals-and-findings/disciplinary-findings/?DisciplineID=75521).

He was disbarred for charges 1-5, which relate to acting for a company he owned/was interested in without disclosing this, and which include (at charge 5) lying to the Court about his ownership of/interest in the company.

I was all ready to defend him about the tweets, but really it’s not surprising he got disbarred for what he did.

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