Followup on the Ethics of Technical Writing

A few weeks ago, two of my competitors contacted me to tell me that another of our “colleagues” had taken our personal and corporate names and put them in as keywords for Google AdWords. This meant that if you Googled our names or companies, you’d find it in the Sponsored Ads section…but if you clicked on it, you were diverted to his site.

I found this to be so wrong and so I posted about it, including naming my colleagues that had been wronged. I did not name the company, but I put images of the ads they had placed. By his own actions, he condemned himself.

Someone forwarded him the blog post. He responded and in the end he sent me an email threatening to sue me for 640,000 NIS. I have to admit, I was curious.

No, not about the grounds but about the number. So I wrote and asked him why 640,000 NIS and not, say 3,000,000 or 297,000 NIS or whatever. Why this amount?

He wrote back explaining that his wife wants him to settle. He’s a good husband, I guess, and wants to make his wife happy so, only to please her mind you, he’s willing to not sue me for 64o,000 NIS, if I remove the post.

He also found it important to tell me that his lawyer has offices in a very prestigious building.

I asked me friends on Facebook and thought long and hard. This comes down to the issue of smart versus right. I have always hated this debate. So many encourage you to be smart; I have always believed in being right.

One of my idols has always been Don Quixote – there is something noble about fighting windmills. But I also know enough about this system to understand that while a court may throw his claim where it rightfully belongs and even compensate my company towards its legal fees, in the end, there are no winners.

So, for once, with regret, I have decided to be smart and not right. I have removed not the story – because the story is mine to write, but I have removed the images of his unethical ad and replaced it with the following text:

<The image that was here (showing one of the offending advertisements), has been removed under threat of a 640,000 NIS lawsuit. In removing it, I have yielded to the concept of doing what is smart, against the concept of doing what is right.>

The sad part is that a threat from this person was not necessary. All that was necessary was a request to remove it.

My friends advise me to be smart. My lawyers, though confident of a victory, suggest that even a frivalous and baseless lawsuit takes its toll in health and money. So, I yield. With great pain and reluctance, I let smart win over right.

It doesn’t, not by a long shot – make this right.

It doesn’t, not by a long shot – make the actions that were detailed in the original post (The Ethics of Technical Writing) anything close to ethical.

But when someone has money and nothing to do with it, when someone waves around a fancy lawyer with a fancy address and threatens to sue you for 640,000 NIS, you have to ask yourself if it is worth being right, when so much of the world is smart.

I yield. For what I think is likely the first time in my life, I yield to smart and be happy that my lawyer works in a second floor office above a supermarket and I have never attempted to steal or cheat my way into getting more business.

I deleted the images of his ad, but still deplore and condemn the actions that caused my writing the post in the first place. The words are my own and no reference is left to this man, his business ethics (or lack thereof), or his actions which caused the post.

I delete the images so that should the lawsuit come about anyway, when it comes to court – I can say – I deleted all reference to the previous issues and left only my words and the comments of others, for which I have no control.

And now I will fight to try to prevent myself from feeling that the ethics of technical writing lost today and I mourn for them.