Singer Gets eDiscovery’d, Must Pay Reward For Recovered Laptop

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Ryan Leslie is an R&B singer and producer from the Washington DC area. While he was on tour in Germany in 2010, a laptop and external hard drive, containing some of Leslie’s new, as-yet-unreleased songs, were stolen. Making good use of his social media presence, Leslie offered $20,000 for the items’ return, which he later raised to $1m. A German man (Augstein) found and returned the items to Leslie via local police, but the singer claimed that the data on the devices was corrupted or otherwise inaccessible, so he refused to pay the reward.

Sure, the matter wound up in court. In October, a District Judge rejected most of the singer’s defenses:

“Leslie also relies on the fact that the offer was conveyed over YouTube (a website where many advertisements and promotional videos are shared, along with any number of other types of video) to undermine the legitimacy of the offer. I do not find this reasoning persuasive. The forum for conveying the offer is not determinative, but rather, the question is whether a reasonable person would have understood that Leslie made an offer of a reward. I conclude that they would.”

Additionally, the Judge did not agree with Leslie’s argument that the reward was specifically for the “intellectual property” (i.e. the songs) and not for the “physical” property (the laptop). Finally, the judge found some inconsistencies in Leslie’s story about the returned devices, as to how his team concluded that the data had been lost. eDiscovery fans will be happy to hear that the judge used a Zubulake analysis, and concluded “that Leslie and his team were at least negligent in their handling of the hard drive,” ordering an adverse inference against Leslie: “it shall be assumed that the desired intellectual property was present on the hard drive when Augstein returned it”.

The case ended up in front of a jury last week, and not surprisingly after the judge’s decision, they found for Augstein, requiring Leslie to pay the million dollars. The New York Post has taken a particular interest in this case, calling Leslie a “Rap Weasel” on its front cover, and then delightedly reporting on Leslie setting fire to the cover at a concert.

This story really has it all: spoliation, theft, tabloids, basic contract principles of offer and acceptance… and yet another reminder that whatever you post online, even in tweets or YouTube clips, can be taken very seriously and used against you.

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