Highlights Of 2011: A Year Of Tech And Publishing Lawsuits, By The Numbers

This is the fifth in a series of posts this week that looks at the most significant developments of this year in the sectors that we cover, from publishing to mobile to advertising.

On the legal front, lawyers made out well (once again) on everything from piracy to patents. Here are six numbers that sum up 2011.

20: The number of years the Federal Trade Commission will be auditing Facebook and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) over privacy issues. The companies are the biggest trophies yet for America’s would-be privacy protector which imposed a series of harsher-than-usual measures through consent agreements. The FTC’s new assertiveness shows the government and the public may finally be paying attention to risks posed by the data industry. This is just the beginning of the privacy debate.

54: The single-day record for new patent lawsuits. The 54 suits, naming more than 800 defendants, were filed in September by trolls — shell companies run by lawyers that buy questionable patents and then sue the bejeezus out of companies that actually make things. Meanwhile, patents are also driving a wave of litigation that has engulfed the smartphone industry. This year, however, brought two developments that could mean the patent insanity will abate. The first is the America Invents Act of 2011 which will curb some of the worst excesses of frivolous patent litigation. The second is a federal appeals court’s decision that make it easier to transfer cases out of east Texas, the favorite play-pen of the patent trolls.

$2.50: The value per month of a Twitter follower according to a lawsuit filed against a writer who took his 17,000 Twitter followers with him when he left his job. These social media suits between publishers and journalists were a new part of the legal landscape in 2011. Another prominent ongoing case involves the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) suing the Huffington Post for poaching its ‘Mommylode’ blogger to write a column called ‘Parentlode’

$1 Billion: The amount Viacom (NYSE: VIA) says YouTube must pay it for infringing copyright during the early days of the site. The case was thrown out last year but appealed before a federal appeals court in October and a decision is expected any day. The case is actually less about money than it is an attempt by content owners to coerce internet sites into a more active role in enforcing copyright.

60: The approximate number of amendments brought before a House committee in December by opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act. The proposed law, which critics say will ‘break the internet,’ has caused the copyright debate to reach a pitch not seen since the Grokster days. Look for this to resume with a bang in January.

27: The number of class action suits (at last count) filed nationwide against big publishers and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) over an alleged conspiracy to illegally fix the price of e-books. The cases have just been consolidated before a New York federal judge with arguments set to begin this year. The lawsuit will be a marathon not a sprint. Some may wonder, given the pace of change in the publishing industry, if the lawsuit will still be relevant in 2014.

Read the rest of the posts in our Highlights of 2011 archives.