Suing Consumer Friendly Startups – Are Users Next?

When I recently read the New York Times article about companies suing innovative startups for creating consumer friendly innovations,, I recollected a similar modality to fighting file-sharing technology by the music (Recording Industry Association of America or RIAA) and film (Motion Picture Association of America or MPAA) industries.  This prompted my tweet (@onStartupRadio) that directed attention to the NYT article.

Initially, the entertainment industry filed suit against the companies that created innovative means of using the Internet to share music and films.  Of course, a great portion of this “file-sharing” did infringe copyrights in music and film recordings.  However, after suing the manufacturers of the technology failed to secure the desired result, the RIAA and MPAA began to sue thousands of consumers who engaged in the use of the technologies.  Since that time, my law firm has represented hundreds of individual consumers sued for sharing files and, more recently, downloading one or more particular files (as a side note, what began as a misguided effort to deter online copyright infringement has developed into a business model for some firms and their clients).

Consequently, as I read the New York Times article, I wondered whether airlines and rental car companies will, after becoming frustrated in their inability to eradicate new and innovative apps, turn their litigation efforts to the consumers using the apps.  Of course, I believe it far-fetched for an airline to sue a customer for using an app that allows the customer to view all of her airlines rewards in one location.  However, if the Terms of Use for the particular airline frequent flyer program prohibits such conduct, it certainly provides the possibility….or the possibility of other sanctions in the form of lost points.

It becomes a misguided approach for companies to use litigation or other adversarial means to eradicate newer technologies and startups that create convenient means for customers to use the services of such companies.  While the RIAA and MPAA pursued their customers in litigation seeking thousands of dollars in settlements, Apple created and solidified iTunes as an innovative and revolutionary means to legally obtain music and film through the Internet.

Suing customers does not work.  Similarly, suing startups that seek to make matters a bit more convenient for customers should not work.  Indeed, companies must embrace new ideas and technologies.  To that end, these elder companies should cease litigating against innovative startups.  These elder companies should cease manufacturing unnecessary roadblocks to the success of startups.

In fact, rather than litigation, they should encourage the convenience startups provide to their customers.  Or, if they remain adverse to someone else helping their customers, they should acquire and incorporate the technologies into their existing services – perhaps even charging a small premium for them (airlines seem to be good at doing this for nearly every other item).

Startups remain a significant aspect of our economy’s future.  I for one am disappointed in the companies about which I read….and shall make my patronage modifications accordingly.

In a later update, I may provide links to some of the cases alluded to herein and further updates.


Charles Lee Mudd Jr. is an attorney who began his law firm, Mudd Law Offices, nearly eleven years ago representing startups and small businesses on a pro bono basis.  Over the last several years, as his firm has grown, Charles and his firm have continued to provide old and new startup, founder, entrepreneur, and business clients with a wide-range of legal services to facilitate and support the growth of their endeavors.  As an outgrowth of working with his clients, Charles founded Startup Radio to provide a vehicle for startups, businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals to from others in the startup space.

 Charles is also an internationally recognized leading attorney on Internet, Defamation, and Privacy law.

About Charles Mudd

Charles Lee Mudd Jr. is the principal of Mudd Law Offices, an internationally recognized diversified practice providing representation to a clientele comprised of local, national, and international individuals and business organizations. Charles represents startup companies in a variety of legal and commercial matters. He is also the founder and co-host of Startup Radio, an Internet blog radio program.