Lawtalk: The Unknown Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions

This book was selected as one of Library Journal’s top reference works for 2011. It was written by a librarian, two law professors and a legal lexicographer. I just checked and the law library on campus has a copy! I’m going to read it and review it.

How Pinteresting

I’m currently working on a presentation on copyright basics for information professionals. I also just received my invite to Pinterest, the social pinboarding site. And lo, what should be in the news? Pinterest’s growing pains with respect to copyright.

The Law Library of Congress recently blogged about fair use in the digital age (video of the presentation is here). One of the speakers estimated that 80% of the images online are unauthorized, which “significantly devalues the intellectual property interests of photographers.”

According to its terms of service, Pinterest users are not supposed to use third-party content anywhere except their pinboards, and users are responsible for securing the rights to anything they pin. Flickr has already taken steps to ensure that copyright-protected pictures can’t be pinned. 

Are users taking this to heart, or is Pinterest a copyright-holder’s nightmare? PC World has a great article breaking down the issue; it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.


From Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, s.v. mingle-mangle:

A common vice of language in early English opinions. It consists in [sic] English larded with Latin or French… For modern legal readers, mingle-mangle makes for fascinating, if not entirely comprehensible reading. 

An oft-quoted example of mingle-mangle is included on the Wikipedia page for Law French. From Chief Justice Sir George Tremby’s marginal notes in Dyer’s Reports (1688):

Fuit assault per prisoner la condemne pur felony que puis son condemnation ject un Brickbat a le dit Justice que narrowly mist, & pur ceo immediately fuit Indictment drawn per Noy envers le Prisoner, & son dexter manus ampute & fix al Gibbet, sur que luy mesme immediatement hange in presence de Court.

Here’s my translation: the prisoner, upon being condemned for felony, threw a brickbat at the said Justice, narrowly missing him; immediately an indictment was drawn up against the prisoner, and his right hand cut off and affixed to the gibbet, where he himself was presently hanged in the presence of the Court.

The very definition of swift justice (with an extra helping of mangle).


The intersection between libraries and the law is quite prevalent. Once you start noticing them, the connections seem to appear everywhere (provided you aren’t limiting yourself to law libraries proper).

For example, last night I was watching Fake or Fortune?, a BBC One program that unravels mysteries surrounding works of art—in this case, a purported Rembrandt. Now what, you may ask, does this have to do with law or libraries? Plenty.

As the painting had been wrongfully appropriated by the Nazi regime in the early 1930s, a tangled web of legal issues (including spoliation, property law, and conflicts of law) shaped the case. Exemplifying the difficulty of repatriating Nazi-plundered art, three separate parties lay claim to the painting (which wasn’t a Rembrandt after all).

And as for libraries? The research began at the Witt Library, an image library curated by the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. As noted by Philip Mould, the art expert:

In these files are just so many answers. I mean, it’s a bit like crime scenes, you know; you have to library all the evidence, library the DNA, and then using it later on, you can establish things. Any picture that has been in a proper public collection, at auction…for the last 100 years, chances are you’ll find it here. Staggering, really.

Mould also mentions how much he loves the smell of the old files, all leather and mustiness (his surname, from a preservation standpoint, is too perfect)—a reaction that will resonate with any library lover.

You can watch full episodes of Fake or Fortune? online at