( 1) Interpretation of contracts, wills, laws, and other binding documents: expert judgment on clarity, meaning, comprehensibility and (un)ambiguity. What was intended to be said — and what, if anything, does the document actually say? Prenups and other contracts designed to be air-tight are exactly where writing problems occur, as people try to execute complex ideas and cover all contingencies.
Dr. Perlman analyzes specific words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and other units, including the entire document, to offer informed judgments on clarity, comprehensibility, and (un)ambiguity.
Case example: A man suffered damages from defective rental equipment; he did not know that he had released the company from liability by signing a contract that was, when quantitatively compared with everyday writing (e.g., USA Today), too complex to understand.
(2) Plagiarism: expert opinion on likelihood of plagiarism. In the Internet age, plagiarism – deliberate, dishonest appropriation of another’s words and/or ideas — is redefined. Problems occur when the traditional definitions are applied: similarity of text, which is what plagiarism tools find, is not a basis for a charge of plagiarism. It is not unique but prosaic information that is most likely copied, thus undermining the traditional charge of plagiarism. Much more is in the public domain than ever before.
Case example: The creator of an online course found it stolen and being offered – with sentence structure modified — by someone else. Dr. Perlman helped substantiate his charges.
Case examples: Dr. Perlman has defended many academic writers, from college students to law professors, against groundless charges of plagiarism, which are often based on (i) similarity of items in the public domain or (ii) misunderstanding of the institution’s quotation/paraphrase rules
(3) Copyright/trademark infringement: informed judgment on the genericity, specificity, and protectability of individual words, phrases, and brand names; assessment of linguistic similarity to evaluate infringement claims. The question here is: to what extent is the item already part of the language (unless it’s a “fanciful” term like Xerox or Xanax, the most easily protectable)? You can copyright suggestive terms like “Dawn” or “Joy,” but you can’t market a line of pants called “Pants.” Dr. Perlman also considers cases in which one company’s mark may be too similar to another’s, causing confusion — another judgment call.
Dr. Perlman helps attorneys define the semantic points at issue, and he offers informed judgment on the genericity, specificity, and/or protectability of contested material. He also assesses the similarity of names/marks to offer informed judgments in infringement litigation.
Case example: Dr. Perlman demonstrated that another marketer’s brand name was, on several linguistic levels, similar to that of the attorney’s client.
(4) Authorship: Dr. Perlman conducts analysis of a language sample-the grammar, lexicon, and other features – to offer an expert opinion on the likelihood of particular suspected writers, single-author/forged texts, and other legal/linguistic hypotheses. Here’s where his vast experience in text analysis is relevant. Everybody has a writing style — some more obvious than others — and he can usually make an authorship call with some (or a lot of) certainty based on feature occurrence and pattern similarities. If the writer is a foreign language speaker, his/her style will be even more obvious.
Case example: anonymous letters of complaint to a company’s Board; forged letters (by a single author) in employment dispute.
Case example: An ex-husband’s new wife was writing emails over his signature. Dr. Perlman was asked to identify the elements of her style and help resolve the disputed authorship.
Other examples from the above four case categories:
Expert opinion on status of compound words (trademark infringement litigation).
Expert opinion on plagiarism of song lyrics (copyright litigation involving musical group The Who).
Authorship analysis of e-mails in Florida internal union dispute.
Preliminary analysis of authorship issues in malpractice litigation.
Expert opinion on authorship issues in business partnership dispute involving anonymous writings.
Authorship analysis of anonymous letters of complaint to a corporation’s Board of Directors.
Expert opinion on the semantics of trademark infringement in litigation by an apparel firm.
Authorship analysis of anonymous letters (possibly written by disgruntled employees) for major Midwestern corporation.
Authorship analysis of emails to website of a “cult deprogrammer.”
Expert opinion on linguistic similarities between plaintiff’s and defendant’s trademarks.
Authorship analysis of defamatory emails written to an individual in a corporation.
Authorship advice on a possibly forged stock transfer document.
Authorship analysis of letters involved in the Son of Sam case.
Analysis to support allegations of plagiarism of online course material.
Interpretation of contract language regarding the disposition of acquired corporate entities.
Defense against charges of academic and student plagiarism (several cases).
Analysis of chat transcripts to determine whether defendant engaged in enticement or seduction.
Authorship analysis of emails in divorce and custody disputes (several cases).
Expert opinion on whether The DaVinci Code was plagiarized from the client’s writing (it was not).
- Alan Perlman reviews Tom Wolfe’s “The Kindgom of Speech” - I just finished “The Kingdom of Speech,” by Tom Wolfe (2016, Little, Brown), author of “The Right Stuff” (about the first astronauts), “Bonfire of the Vanities” (a shot at NY’s elites), “A Man in Full,” (about the vulgar wealth of the New South), and many others I enjoyed immensely. Apart from his stylistic peculiarities, Wolfe... Read more »
- Intro. to blog; Turnitin.com: Mindless Machine Requires Human Brain - An intro to the blog. What is a linguist? To a lot of people, it’s someone who knows multiple languages. But to many other people, including most who call themselves “linguists,” it is somebody who is fascinated by language. That’s the first prerequisite. That’s why George Carlin, with his exquisite ear for language, is a... Read more »
- The forensic linguist and the Artful Dodger: Can people deliberately fake their writing style? - Perhaps 25% of the cases I handle involve the authorship of anonymous, disputed, or forged documents. The client wants to know who’s writing those nasty, threatening emails or letters. I typically ask the client for writing samples from the suspected author. Sometimes there’s more than one suspect, and I have to decide which of them... Read more »
- Alan defends the humanities in the Keene Sentinel - Alan defends the humanities in the Keene Sentinel
- On the Quasi-plagiarism of Rand Paul - All of a sudden, Plagiarism Rand Paul gets over 40 MILLION Google hits. But the charge is somewhat bogus. Plagiarism, in my experience, is one of those charges that is meant to question someone’s basic integrity. Whether true or not (and it’s hard to decide; see below), the mere accusation brings stigma. I have more... Read more »
- Alan is quoted in the Chicago Tribune. - Alan is quoted in the Chicago Tribune.
- Memo to National Pork Board Lawyers - By Alan M. Perlman. A geek site, as an April Fools prank, launches a new product — unicorn meat – which it calls “the new white meat,” and lawyers for the National Pork Board issue a cease-and-desist order, because they’ve gone to great lengths to copyright “the other white meat” as a synonym for “pork,”... Read more »
- Malicious Obfuscation (Internet article) - Malicious Obfuscation (Internet article)
- When a Lawyer Needs a Linguist… - By Alan M. Perlman. When does a lawyer need a linguist? As Roger Shuy, one of the most pre-eminent forensic linguists, has observed, the interpretation and application of the law are overwhelmingly about language. Thus, there are many situations in which the expertise of a linguist – someone trained in the precise description and analysis... Read more »
- Alan is quoted in the Washington Post. - June 13, 2004, Sunday WASHINGTON POST A LINGUAL PARADIGM SHIFT By Amy Joyce Susannah Rast got a letter from her employer at the beginning of the year that said the company was “implementing a reduction in force to your position.”Not only did her boss not say she was being let go, but it was additionally... Read more »