Nanolaw: raising kids in an era of bulk-litigation

Paul Ford's short science fiction story, "Nanolaw with Daughter" is a heartful, smart story about the future of bulk litigation and what it will mean for parenting.
My daughter was first sued in the womb. It was all very new then. I'd posted ultrasound scans online for friends and family. I didn't know the scans had steganographic thumbprints. A giant electronics company that made ultrasound machines acquired a speculative law firm for many tens of millions of dollars. The new legal division cut a deal with all five Big Socials to dig out contact information for anyone who'd posted pictures of their babies in-utero. It turns out the ultrasounds had no clear rights story; I didn't actually own mine. It sounds stupid now but we didn't know. The first backsuits named millions of people, and the Big Socials just caved, ripped up their privacy policies in exchange for a cut. So five months after I posted the ultrasounds, one month before my daughter was born, we received a letter (back then a paper letter) naming myself, my wife, and one or more unidentified fetal defendants in a suit. We faced, I learned, unspecified penalties for copyright violation and theft of trade secrets, and risked, it was implied, that my daughter would be born bankrupt.

But for $50.00 and processing fees the ultrasound shots I'd posted (copies attached) were mine forever, as long as I didn't republish without permission.

Nanolaw with Daughter (Thanks, Kevin!)

(Image: Ultrasound Week 21 09-2, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from abbybatchelder's photostream)


  1. Wow. What a load of crap on a lawsuit. I’ve posted my kids’ ultra sound pictures and am glad I cropped off the info. I didn’t want anyone seeing all those words and tracking me and my family down…apparently I was correct in being paranoid.

    1. Oh boy. Very first one to read it doesn’t get it. We’re doomed.

      It’s a work of fiction, you see. It’s extrapolating the trends of today to their extreme conclusion. For an analogy that isn’t fiction: wedding photographers generally own the copyright on the images they take for you, even though you payed for them.

  2. The phrase “speculative law firm” should make every American’s blood run cold…

  3. Wow – what an excellent story to wake to this morning. Mr. Ford’s work should be required reading for… well… everyone.

  4. Speculative law firms are a great idea. They are like the malware writers of real life, making it painful to leave holes in your plans. They could provide additional incentive for citizens and corporations (but I repeat myself) to be active in making sure the laws that regulate them are sane.

  5. I had no problem imagining this system existing in the real world, which, for me, is a hallmark of good spec-fic. Great little tale.

    1. I actually missed that this was a fiction piece the first time because I skipped to the quote first. It didn’t set off any of my implausibility alarms.

    2. But the system is already here.
      Mind you they are staying focused on Uwe Bolle and porn right now, but this is the future.

  6. A future where we are trained from the womb to bend over when the man says to. A fascist dream world.

  7. A more plausible scenario would involve the government busting the parents for creating in utero kiddie pr0n (and dragging the manufacturer into it as an accessory).

    1. > A more plausible scenario would involve the government busting the parents for creating in utero kiddie pr0n (and dragging the manufacturer into it as an accessory).

      Why can’t both go down at once? Public prosecutors sue the parents and manufacturer in criminal court while patent trolls threaten civil action and split the proceeds with the insurance companies. Prosecutor gets a promotion. Parents and fetus(es) get the slammer and parents can never land another legit job so the offspring grow up in poverty and become real criminals. Insurance provider defers some overhead while the trolling IP lawyers feed on the trickle down.

      Maximum profit for minimum effort.

  8. The only part of this story that sounded at all implausible was the part about the fetus being sued, since it had no choice in the matter and, more importantly from the lawyer’s point of view, it would have no money they could collect. But all the rest of it? I can easily imagine it happening.

  9. It’s an interesting story but seems pretty implausible because any system like the one described would have to have a “challenge” button for each such suit, which forces the one doing the suing to take it to court. A critical mass of people who always clicked the “challenge” button would make it financially infeasible to just try and sue the whole world for 2 cents each.

  10. Reminds me of economist Charles Wheelan’s description of Gary Becker’s explanation of the relative success of small well-organized interest groups. The benefits are are “bestowed” on a small group, making it lucrative for them, while the costs are spread out among millions of people who therefore ignore the issue.

  11. Forced consumerism seems about right for this day and age. Design a product for a demographic that is likely to share it online, wait, and then send out settlement letters. I guess that means the next step would be designing a marketing plan that increases the chances of your product being pirated.

  12. Makes you wonder what would happen if copyright lawyers gained access to time machines…

    1. > Makes you wonder what would happen if copyright lawyers gained access to time machines…

      Congratulations, evoVirus, for floating what may be the most disturbing dystopian idea EVER. I am humbled.

Comments are closed.