James Fuqua's Law Jokes

Why Lawyers Have a Bad Name: A Net Legend

From: p-pomes@mirage.cso.uiuc.edu (Paul Pomes)
Newsgroups: uiuc.campusnet
Subject: An interview with Canter & Siegel, the Green Card Lawyers
Date: 18 Oct 1994 14:36:45 GMT

Subject: Chatting with Martha Siegel
Date: Sat, 1 Oct 1994 00:08:58 -0400


Chatting With Martha Siegel of the Internet's Infamous Canter & Siegel

by K.K.Campbell

Laurence A Canter and Martha S Siegel have the distinction of being the most detested husband-and-wife team in the history of the Internet. And we are talking global hatred, my friends, true internationalism.

These Arizona lawyers not only subjected Usenet news (the Internet's discussion forums) to repeat and destructive posting blasts (called "spams"), they then gloated about it and convinced HarperCollins to publish a book called "How To Make A Fortune On The Information Superhighway" (due out soon).

The concept of Canter & Siegel instructing businesses how to generate goodwill on the net usually elicits gales of laughter from netters.

But I had to stop and wonder. Maybe HarperCollins knew something I didn't. Maybe C&S were just misunderstood. Maybe they just needed a friendly ear, a fair hearing. Maybe they loved their net.kin and were just having "technical difficulties" communicating the fact.

I had to find out.

So I grabbed the phone and dialed their Arizona law office. A secretary passed me over to Martha Siegel.

Martha, My Dear

In our lengthy chat, I'm informed Siegel hates the Electronic Frontier Foundation; she hates the MIT Media Labs; she hates the Internet Society; a Washington Post reporter who did a story on C&S is an immature kid; a NY Times reporter who did a series of stories on C&S "turned against" them after being "frightened into submission" by the net.conspiracy; a North Carolina student who claims to be making non-profit T-shirts satarizing C&S is lying and raking in the cash...

There's a Conspiracy of Great Immensity against her and hubby -- who are merely decent citizens trying to scrape out an honest living the American Way.

Almost immediately, she demands to know what I'm "going to write about? Are you a computer writer?"

Odd question, am I a computer writer... But it dawns on me: she wants to know my degree of familiarity with the Internet, if I'm _one of them_. I know she'll hold me higher in esteem if I plead net.illiteracy, but I cannot lie to her.

Just as well. For I later learn that even business writers are ultimately corrupted by the net.conspiracy. Reporters are _frightened_. Those who file stories supportive of C&S experience anonymous phone call threats and email-bombing until they repent their sins. She points to Peter Lewis, a NY Times freelancer who's written a series of articles about C&S.

"Peter Lewis was telling me his mailbox was over-flowing with flames because he didn't write bad things about us his first couple of articles," she says. But Lewis finally caved-in. "About the third article he wrote. He had been very objective, a good journalist, with principles, and then, I guess, basically he saw he was losing his constituency."

Siegel doesn't attribute large negative responses like this to any legitimate reaction from a community that sees itself as being misrepresented. She believes it's really only a few conspiratorial troublemakers always out to wound C&S.

"Maybe she's right," says Mike Godwin (mnemonic@eff.org), chief legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF is an American cyberspace rights group. "Martha's perfectly capable of inspiring a conspiracy."

Siegel's hatred of Godwin is intense. Indeed, I have to call Godwin in Washington DC to get his reaction to her calling him, at various points in our conversation, "a big schmuck," "a jerk," and "a hypocrite."

"Ok," Godwin nods. "Ok, I deny all those," he notes for the record. "I actually hope you quote her. I would love to be quoted as being hated by Martha Siegel. That would make my day."

Godwin has just wrote a Sept. article for _Internet World_ about C&S. "I think one of things that bugs her about it -- well, there are _a lot_ of things that bug _her_ -- was that I made certain to include the text of a cancellation message aimed at them, so it'll be relatively easy for people to figure out how to cancel Canter & Siegel posts." He's referring to Norwegian Arnt Gulbrandsen, who issues cancel messages that erase C&S spam attacks.

That does indeed bug Siegel. But she thinks Gulbrandsen is a dupe of the conspiracy. "There were many indications on the Internet that they chose this individual as a front man for all of them."

All of who, I have to ask?

"They say that no one is in control on the Internet, but that's a myth," she explains. "There are a lot of very arrogant people who control things. If an active provider carries a client [like C&S] they don't particularly like, then they threaten that provider.

"These people are self-serving and they should be exposed for what they are," Siegel says. "People are having a lot of fun pointing the finger at us. And it's very amusing to gang up on someone. To go 'Ha Ha.' Real schoolyard stuff." Unknown individuals have jammed the law firm's phones, faxes computer, sometimes for days. Some "Phantom Phone Beeper" created an auto-dialer that called C&S 40 times a night, filling the voice-mail system with electronic garbage. (Pretty fancy schoolyard, you ask me...)

She's willing to finger suspects leading the international conspiracy. She particularly loathes MIT Media Laboratory's Ron Newman (rnewman@media.mit.edu), who she tells me is "in need of psychiatric help." Siegel concedes Newman has never mailbombed C&S, but has "lobbied against us. He gets others to do the dirty work."

I later call Newman at MIT and find he's also charmed at topping Siegel's Hate List. "Now I know how the members of Richard Nixon's enemies list must have felt," he told me. "It's quite an honor to be hated by Martha Siegel."

Siegel says she's "outraged" these people, "who are vicious and doing illegal acts, are treated very, very gently by the press. Where's the morality in what they are doing? We never set out to hurt anyone. We put up messages for a commercial venture. We didn't set out to hurt anyone."

Here, the majority of netters vehemently disagree and claim Siegel is disingenuous. C&S know exactly what they are doing, netters say, and C&S don't give a damn if they sink the net in the process.

They spam without conscience.


Canter and Siegel live near Tucson AZ. They're registered to vote in Pima County. Siegel was born in 1948, Canter in 1953, and both are law graduates of St. Mary's University of San Antonio.

It's not the first time a community has contested their honesty. In Sept 1987, when they were practising law in Florida, that state's supreme court suspended them for 90 days for a "deliberate scheme to misrepresent facts." On Oct 13, 1988, the Florida Supreme Court allowed Canter to resign permanently the state bar rather than fight new charges of "neglect, misrepresentation, misappropriation of client funds and perjury." Siegel would later tell the NY Times the charges were unfounded and were lodged by a "very rabid bar" out to discredit them for "unknown motives."

C&S shifted practice to immigration law and trekked to Arizona. They are not part of the Arizona bar.

It was April 12 this of year that Canter unleashed the first mega-spam against Usenet. (He'd done local, mini-spams before; he was now going international.)

"Spamming" involves sending the same message to huge numbers of newsgroups, usually without regard to group content. It is _not_ the same as "crossposting to hell and back." Both permit the message to be read in scores of newsgroups, but with crosspostings, newsreader software lets you read it once, then never again; spamming posts it individually every time. It can take hours to fully delete.

It's called spamming in honor of a tinned pig product called Spam -- an acronym of Spiced Pork And Ham. In the 1970s, British comedy troupe Monty Python did a sketch involving Spam. The diner menu, as recited by a waitress (Terry Jones in drag), consisted of "egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and Spam; egg bacon and Spam; egg bacon sausage and Spam; Spam bacon sausage and Spam; Spam egg Spam Spam bacon and Spam; Spam sausage Spam Spam bacon Spam tomato and Spam; Spam Spam Spam egg and Spam; Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam baked beans Spam Spam Spam; etc." All the while, Spam-loving Vikings in the background sing its praises.

Hence: repetition = spam. Spamming is intended to force readers to see something over and over and over. Since this works in TV-land, why not the net? the logic runs.

But it is not like TV. On TV, advertisers pay for time. C&S only paid $30/month and passed the costs of their spam on to the readers and providers of the planet. In economics, it's called a "free rider." Leech is a more colloquial term. C&S' spams are not "speech," something issued without cost. They are rather more like unsolicited fax ads. Faxes cost the _recipient_ -- in paper, ink, electricty and wear on the fax machine, etc. But those costs are very visible, which is why fax advertising is banned in so many places.

C&S didn't care. Canter spammed almost 6,000 groups in less than 90 minutes through an Internet Direct account (an Arizona Internet provider). The post was a C&S ad for the U.S. "Green Card lottery" -- a chance for non-Americans to enter a very low-odds US-work-permit raffle. C&S offered to fill in forms for a mere $95 per person, or $145 a couple (not mentioning it's free to enter).

Jeff Wheelhouse, sysadmin for Internet Direct, was soon bombed into oblivion by world-wide complaints. He told the NY Times this caused Internet Direct computers to crash at least 15 times -- "that's when we stopped counting." Internet Direct terminated the lawyers' account, making it clear it doesn't oppose advertising, just spamming. Canter, Siegel, and two other lawyers appeared at Internet Direct offices, threatening to sue for $250,000 unless their account was reinstated. Internet Direct refused. Nothing came of the C&S threats.

Canter soon appeared on CNN's Sonya Live (sonyalive@aol.com). Slow-witted Sonya hailed Canter as a Business Pioneer instead of Wanton Vandal. Canter boasted he'd spam again.

On Fri, May 20, John Whalen, president of NETCOM On-Line Communication Services, notified the net.community that NETCOM cancelled the Business Pioneer's account there because of this boast. Netcom didn't want to be the vehicle.

"Our position is that NETCOM can be compared to a public restaurant where a customer may be refused service if the customer is not wearing shoes. For the health of the other customers and the good of the restaurant, that customer may be turned away. NETCOM believes that being a responsible provider entails refusing service to customers who would endanger the health of the community."

Free Speech

Siegel condemns the EFF for instructing netters how to issue cancel messages, erasing C&S posts. And Godwin acknowledges the dangers of cancel wars. But what are the current options? Let C&S continue spamming, thereby attracting other free riders, until Usenet is so clogged with spams it becomes unreadable?

"We believe in freedom of speech," Godwin says in a phone interview. "But in order for this forum to function _as_ a freedom of speech forum, it can't be destroyed. What you have here is the problem of the Tragedy of the Commons -- a single user so abusing the commons that it will ultimately be rendered valueless to everyone.

"If she posted to a single newsgroup, or crossposted to a reasonable number of newsgroups, even a message that was clearly offensive, I would be in the front lines defending her right to do that," Godwin says. His opposition is _not_ to content but posting strategy --spamming. "But Martha is not a subtle person so I doubt this argument that will fly with her."

Indeed, it doesn't.

"We're a free speech issue. If the EFF really has the courage of its convictions, it would be for us, not against us. It might not like what we say, but it would defend our right to say it to the death. _If_ it were a legitimate free speech advocate."

It should be noted business does exist, and will exist, on the net. For instance, in May, Electronic Press (info@elpress.com) ran an ad in the Washington Post about using the Internet "the right way!" -- a direct reference to the hated C&S. And last month, Mark Carmel (usalawyer@aol.com), an immigration lawyer, began a mailing list for people actually interested in things like Green Cards.

Despite all the complaints, most of the net.community doesn't call for government regulation. It's looking for internal solutions, even things like cancel messages, to prevent the sociopathic activities C&S promote.

Considering her openly misanthropic attitude toward the net.community, I have to ask Siegel, in closing, why she doesn't just abandon it?

"No way," she says. "Why would I want to? We made over $100,000 from those postings!"

No one I talked to takes C&S' claim to making $100,000 from their Green Card spam seriously. But, as one put it, "the IRS might."


In August, as part of their ongoing PR campaign with the net.community, C&S threaten to sue a North Carolina university student over a T-shirt he proposed to make. The shirt logo would state "Green Card Lawyers: Spamming The Globe", the words encircling a hand clutching a Green Card bursting forth from Planet Earth.

Joel Furr (jfurr@acpub.duke.edu) specifically stated he'd avoid mentioning C&S by name, knowing how sue-happy they are. But on Sun, Aug 7, Canter sent Furr private email using his wife's account (cybs@crl.com). In it, Canter quotes a statement from Furr's original post: "To avoid getting sued, the Canter & Siegel shirt will not have the names Canter & Siegel on it. Instead, they'll be referred to as the Green Card Lawyers."

Furr says Canter told him he was "most curious" why Furr thought calling them "Green Card lawyers" was legal protection. Furr says Canter claimed "any form of likeness, or using our name or nickname in any form without our express written permission, which you do not have, is strictly prohibited." In the next email, Canter claimed C&S had been approached by "several large companies" interested in the rights to C&S T-shirts. In a third letter, Furr was warned that if he doesn't drop the T-shirt, "there will likely be consequences."

Furr informed the net community C&S was threatening him. "I think I have lots and lots of legal legs to stand on, but I can't afford to fight a lawsuit," Furr wrote publicly. He had no choice but to remove even the phrase "Green Card Lawyers" from the shirt.

In no time, Furr's emailbox brimmed with help offers. "Several people offered large sacks of money to help defend me, and several others offered to be my pro bono attorney," he told me in a phone interview.

Electronic Frontier Foundation's chief legal counsel, Mike Godwin (mnemonic@eff.org), replied to Furr's request for advice. Godwin assured Furr the C&S threats were toothless bluster because 1) C&S are not members of the Arizona bar; 2) they are under investigation by the Tennessee bar; 3) they can sue only in the state in which Furr does business; and 4) they have no trademark over the term "Green Card Lawyers."

Martha Speaks

Martha Siegel bristles when I mention C&S threats against this student, asking if I "_really_ think that is interesting." Damn right I do. I point out the Washington Post did, too -- it ran an Aug 18 article by Rob Pegararo (rob93@aol.com) about those threats.

"I know, but how old are you?" she asks.

I tell her I'm 34.

"Right. So, you know who wrote that article? A 23-year-old kid," she laughs. I assume this is supposed to make me dismiss the whole thing. "I don't know why the Washington Post would hire a 23-year-old reporter. I thought that probably you had to serve in some far-out place and work your way up to the Washington Post. At least when I was a reporter for a newspaper. T-shirts are a child's game."

Ya, ya, ya. But is it a true story?

"What happened is that Mr Furr was going to put out shirts with Canter & Siegel's name on it. He has no right to capitalize on our name." I point out Furr stated he'd use the phrase "Green Card Lawyers" from Day One.

"No, he did that _after_ my husband wrote him a couple of email letters. And _then_ he said he would change it to Green CardLawyers."

Uh huh.

She then says Furr is using the net to sell his C&S T-shirts and that makes him a hypocrite. I point out he's using appropriate groups, that the T-shirt ridicules C&S for spamming not commercial advertising, and besides, it's non-profit, Furr's just out for a bit of fame and producing a historical net.collector's item.

"He's lying," she says.

He's lying?

"What proof do you need? He's not giving them away free. He can _say_ that he's just breaking even. But he's charging for them. Do you believe he's not making any money? And I'll tell you this much: After he got his little friend at the Washington Post to write a story, I'm sure he sold a whole lot more T-shirts."

Furr dismisses this as more Crazy Martha talk. "I'm going to such lengths to _not_ make a profit on the shirt that, when the price dropped because the volume of orders got larger, I added a _fifth_ color to the front to make the shirts cost more again. The only money I'm making is about $35 that one orderer from Florida threw in, with a note attached - 'Have a pizza.'"

As to Pegararo being Furr's "little friend," Furr says before the Post story he'd "never heard of him in my entire life." I called Pegararo at the Post. He concurs.

As to that Post story being something only of interested to 23-year-old, Pegararo points out his editor, Joel Garreau, is indeed older and was the one who decided to run it.

Even if one grants that the Post was "silly" for reporting on T-shirts (and me too for writing this), what the hell does that make C&S for threatening a student over them?

Furr went ahead with his original design. No law suit resulted.

Til next week's exciting new C&S adventure, kids...


On May 6, C&S formed Cybersell (sell.com), a company to make commercial advertising pervasive on net. Cybersell will teach new companies the tricks of Internet trade.

Such as stealing other people's homepages, perhaps.

On Fri, Aug 26, Thomas Michlmayr (mike@cosy.sbg.ac.at) of the University of Salzburg in Austria, alerted the general public to C&S's WWW-Server on cyber.sell.com:80 .

Wasn't much to see, a few empty html pages. One had an 1152x900 picture (129KB) proclaiming CYBERSELL to be "internet marketing specialists."

"I think they're going after the market of people with 50" monitors, since that's about the only way it can be read without scrolling around," wrote Paul Phillips (paulp@nic.cerf.net) in a newsgroup.

Another page, called home2.html, was clearly an _exact copy_ of the homepage of a business in Chicago called Internet Marketing Inc. (advertiz@mcs.com). It even still had a link called "Editorial Staff" to http://venus.mcs.com/=advertiz/html/IntMarket.html .

Internet Marketing president Peter Bray angrily denied any association with C&S and began asking around for legal help in protecting his creative work. (For the record, check out the real CyberSight at http://venus.mcs.com/=flowers/html/cybernet.html .) -- CCSO's Shrouded Avenger [is] off to decommission yet another miscreant... Remember kids, it's just business. CCSO never gets personal about enforcement.

-Burr Nelson, U of I Biophysics Dept

The Florida Story

From: linden@positive.eng.sun.com (Peter van der Linden)
Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban,news.admin.policy
Subject: Canter & Sig Heil .sigs
Date: 25 Nov 1994 19:06:12 GMT

Somebody posted from an anon acount in Finland and said that the green card lawyers, Larry Canter and Martha Siegel are reading news.admin.policy and saving articles so that they can sue people for libel. So putting them in your .sig won't make much difference, unless you crosspost, as I have done here.

It doesn't sound very likely to me. When C&S last started yammering about suing anyone for net-related issue, the good folks from EFF and misc.legal were lining up to offer free defense services.

The RISKS digest had this news (in chevrons below) in May 1994. This is from 6 years ago, but it is interesting reading nonetheless. People who are wrongdoers often establish a pattern of continued wrongdoing.

> Subject: Green Card Con Artists Exposed!


> For Immediate Release

> October 13,1988

> Contact: Bonnie L Mahon

> The Florida Bar

> Tampa Office

> Telephone: 813/875-9821

> TALLAHASSEE, Oct.13-- The Florida Supreme Court has granted
> attorney Laurence A. Canter's petition to resign permanently,
> effective November 7, 1988.
> Canter, of 240 North Washington Boulevard, Sarasota, was
> charged with numerous violations of the attorney disciplinary rules
> including neglect, misrepresentation, misappropriation of client funds
> and perjury.
> Several of the complaints against Canter involved his failure
> to file the necessary or appropriate documents with the United Stated
> Immigration and Naturalization Services in matters of permanent
> residency and work visas. In addition, Canter refused to refund
> clients' funds and neglected to notify his clients that he has been
> suspended from the practice of law as a result of a previous
> discipline.
> The Florida Bar further alleges that Canter committed perjury
> by filing a false affidavit with the Bar and while testifying under
> oath in a deposition. These charges resulted after an audit of Canter's
> trust account by the Bar showed that trust funds were held in Canter's
> account during the time period when he denied any funds were present.

Found on http://www.urbanlegends.com/

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