The legal battles during the discovery phase of the Oracle v. Google Java licensing and patent infringement complaint are now well documented. Just search for “Lindholm email” and you’ll find pages and pages of opinions and blog posts on the case. Why so much fuss over a piece of email? Well, as Judge Alsup aptly describes, this is the type of smoking gun email that has the potential to “turn the case on its head.” More importantly, this inadvertent email never needed to happen, if the parties had better leveraged existing eDiscovery technologies.
The eDiscovery battle over admissibility of this email, as well as whether it can be a public record, is natural and to be expected, especially in such a high profile dispute. Google has already made five attempts to either claw back these documents or protect them under seal. Besides the question of whether privilege waiver is in fact granted simply by adding an “Attorney Work Product” annotation to email, which Judge Alsup has eloquently addressed in the filing here, there is another interesting question to be considered. In addition to the two email copies that had the above designation, there were nine other sequential drafts, created within a five minute period. These drafts were generated by the “auto save” capability of the email software, possibly as a way to prevent the author of the email from losing partial work. Don’t we all love that feature, since despite all the technological advances computers crash, networks fail, and software freezes, and in those times we’re thankful that our work was indeed automatically saved? However, if these are indeed present, are these drafts discoverable, especially if they have not been shared with anyone?
Although in this instance the intent of these drafts is made evident by the final email, which included the recipients, none of the nine drafts of the email have a TO:, CC: or BCC: address field filled in. So technically, the drafts in their “pre-final” form were never communicated to anyone else. If so, should they even be considered electronically stored information (ESI) that needs to be produced? Let’s say that these emails were never sent and merely existed as drafts, perhaps capturing a person’s train of thought. Are they discoverable?
Of course, determining whether such partial and non-evidentiary ESI exists among your millions and millions of documents to be examined for production becomes increasingly the purview of powerful search and analysis software. In this instance, Google and their legal team would have been well-served by email analytical software that can isolate drafts and offer them for removal from production. Also, using a capability such as Near Duplicate Identification would have identified these drafts as similar to the final ones that were marked as privileged. After all, if the legal team had known of their existence prior to production, they would not have been surprised by the opposing team producing them as key documents.
I invite your comments, especially on the notion that partially completed drafts are admissible as evidence.