In a surprise order, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said “the court is concerned” that Oracle (s orcl) and Google (s goog) may have hired authors to comment about their ongoing court case. Now, Judge Alsup wants the parties to submit a list of their paid propagandists.
The unusual request comes months after the “World Series” of intellectual property trials in which Oracle unsuccessfully sued Google for billions.
The trial was remarkable not only for the large damage figures but for Oracle’s decision to hire Florian Mueller, a self-described “patent analyst” who also takes money from Microsoft. In his FOSS Patents blog, Mueller wrote a series of one-sided posts over the course of the trial such as “Oracle Java patent rises like Ph0enix from the ashes.”
Despite a lack of legal training, Mueller holds himself out as a patent expert to the media and typically does not disclose that he is paid by the companies he reports on (he disclosed an Oracle relationship briefly at the outset of the trial but did not do so subsequently or to other media). Mueller has also blocked me and other journalists who have questioned his impartiality from viewing his Twitter feed.
Alsup does not provide detailed reasons for his order, which was first reported in a tweet by Reuters reporter Dan Levine, but does state that the information would be useful on appeal:
to make clear whether any treatise, article, commentary or analysis on the issues posed by this case are possibly influenced by financial relationships to the parties or counsel.
In the larger picture, Alsup may be calling attention to the growing phenomenon of astro-turfing — individuals or groups who receive money to pose as voices of the public interest. The Federal Trade Commission has in the past fined a company for failing to disclose paid endorsements. An FTC official told paidContent earlier this year that endorsers must disclose all material facts, including when they comment about a competitor.
Here is Judge Alsup’s order:
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