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LaunchTN settles Pando’s legal complaint, will stick to agreement it signed months ago


Launch-Tennessee-logo-stackedAbout a month ago, Pando was forced to file its first ever legal action: A complaint against LaunchTN, our former partners in co-producing last year’s Southland conference.

While the actual conference went amazingly well, with tickets significantly oversold, the partnership went so badly that we told Tennessee that we couldn’t work with them on future events without some major changes they refused to make. Instead, both groups are doing their own events in Nashville this year; ours is Pandoland and with nearly 30 confirmed speakers and more coming, it’s going to be better than anything we’ve done before.

If you care about the grubby details of the split with LaunchTN, you’ll find them in our legal complaint which we shared with Pando readers. Some highlights: Launch TN tried to withhold over $ 100,000 in revenue from us, they screwed around with ticket pricing, and they constantly reneged on their agreement to allow Pando full editorial independence over the event in order to get more stage time for local politicians.

We published a TL;DR version of what happened next a few weeks back. In short, we argued, LaunchTN was trying to ride roughshod over our separation agreement, including by working with our former colleagues at TechCrunch to host their new event.

From the legal complaint:

In the event this Agreement is terminated by either party, each party understands and agrees that, as between Pando and LaunchTN or any of their successors or affiliates, LaunchTN retains the right to host a conference within the southeastern, regional target market of Southland held the week prior to the Bonnaroo Music festival so long as LaunchTN does not partner with another national media company for a period of one year from such termination date…

On or about January 6, 2015, LaunchTN announced its conference entitled 36/86, which represents the latitude and longitude of Nashville. 36/86 is scheduled to take place on June 8-10, 2015 – two weeks before Pandoland, one week prior to Bonnaroo and within a year of the termination of the Agreement – and will focus on Southeastern United States culture, technology and entrepreneurship…

The press release LaunchTN issued on January 6 also announced that its media partners for 36/86 included not only a regional entity, Silicon Prairie News, but also TechCrunch, another national online media outlet covering tech news.

On January 6, 2015, Pando’s counsel called to inform Launch Tennessee’s counsel that Pando considered the partnership with TechCrunch to be in clear violation of the Agreement. On January 12, 2015, Launch Tennessee’s counsel said it did not view its arrangement with TechCrunch as a partnership.

However, TechCrunch’s core business includes competing with Pando in hosting such events, its editors will be performing the same roles Lacy performed such as conducting on-stage interviews, and a local journalist has described the relationship as a “partnership.”

As we explained at the time, pretty much the only thing LaunchTN was barred from doing under our agreement was partnering with another national tech outlet for one year after the agreement end. By working with TechCrunch, it seemed clear to us that they were doing precisely that.

Filing suit was the last thing we wanted to do. We’re a startup and we like to save our legal budget for defending lawsuits, not filing them. All we wanted was for LaunchTN to honor the contract we both signed. This, after all, is a government-backed agency that was set up to help startups, not screw them over. For our part, we’d stuck to all of our side of the deal, including not using the Southland name and not hosting our event the same week as last year’s event.

Still, all’s well that ends well. After weeks of negotiation, Launch TN has just agreed to settle the lawsuit, with LaunchTN signing an agreement outlining how they plan to stick to what we previously agreed. As a result we’re dismissing our legal complaint.

I’m pleased that it did not come down to actual litigation. This was never about winning damages or trying to stop Launch TN from putting on a great event. As we explained at the time, it was mainly about standing up to a group of politicians who though they could bully a startup. I’ve had enough of people trying to bully us this year.

In keeping with Pando’s policy of full transparency in any legal fights, the full settlement agreement is below. Let’s hope LaunchTN sticks to it this time.

See you at Pandoland!

Update: LaunchTN has issued a statement explaining that it settled the suit “[t]o avoid prolonging the pointless distraction and spending time and money to demonstrate that Pando’s claim was misguided.”




Justice Department settles with woman whose images were used to create a fake Facebook page



The Justice Department has reached a $ 134,000 settlement with a woman whose personal images were used by the Drug Enforcement Administration to create a Facebook profile made with “hopes of tricking her friends and associates into revealing incriminating drug secrets.”

DEA officials gained access to the woman’s photos, some of which featured her wearing nothing more than her underwear, after she provided them with access to her smartphone in 2010. The government has argued that she gave “implicit permission” for her photos and personal data to be used to aid “ongoing investigations” when she first gave DEA officials access to the device.

But it’s unlikely that she knew DEA officials would create a Facebook profile featuring her real name, images of her with her son, and other identifying information when she allowed them to search her smartphone. (She didn’t learn about the fake profile until a friend asked her about some of the images it displayed; the woman didn’t have her own Facebook profile at the time.)

Support for the woman’s plight came from the unlikeliest of places: Facebook’s own Terms of Service. The company said in a letter to the DEA that creating fake profiles, especially those using someone else’s images, is against its rules. It then deactivated the account created in this case and asked the DEA to confirm that similar accounts would also be removed from the site.

Facebook’s support followed controversies around the real-name policy it invoked to quash the DEA’s invasion of this woman’s privacy. The policy was criticized for preventing Facebook users from using names other than the ones they were assigned at birth — especially if those names were used by drag queens, who seemed to attract special scrutiny from Facebook’s employees.

Yet the problematic policy might remain the only defense against these images being taken from people’s smartphones. The Justice Department didn’t have to admit to any wrongdoing as part of this settlement, and the woman has agreed to drop her lawsuit against the government for using her information without her informed consent, which could allow the DEA or other agencies to use similar tactics in the future despite the backlash this particular case attracted.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]