July 30, 2002 2:36 PM PDT

Dot-com deathwatch puts memos online

With corporate scandals abounding, the Web site known for chronicling the dot-com underbelly has taken to publishing internal memos of bad business practices--for a profit.

F***edCompany.com, the veritable Jerry Springer of the Internet, on Monday launched InternalMemos.com, "the Internet's largest collection of corporate memos and internal communication." Unlimited access to the database of about 800 documents costs $45 a month; the site also makes available for free about 350 papers.

Phil Kaplan, aka "Pud," said he's collected the memos over the two years he's run F***edCompany.com and finally thought "why not" about publishing the collection in light of recent corporate accounting scandals, including WorldCom?s near $4 billion mishandling of its accounts.

"Turn on any news site and you can read a million articles about the WorldCom" scandal, Kaplan said. "But you could come to my site and see the memo from the CEO to staff: 'Today was a sad day at Worldcom,' which is a different perspective than what others were offering."

Since the fall of the dot-com economy, the popular dead-pool site has been a mouthpiece for many disgruntled technology employees and it has recorded the demise of countless Net operations. But like many dot-coms, the site sought to turn a profit through new sources of revenue. Last year, Kaplan turned part of his rumor mill into a subscription service, now with about 1,000 paying $75 monthly for unlimited access to tips.

Kaplan has also jump-started other site operations such as LuckedCompany.com and HTTPads, a self-service advertising server business representing 3,000 sites.

But legal experts caution that Kaplan?s latest venture, InternalMemos, could be a bed of legal thorns if, for example, trade secrets were exposed in one of the memos.

"F***edCompany.com could be f***ed," said Ira Rothken, an attorney at San Rafael, Calif.-based Rothken Law Firm. "Internal memos can be considered trade secrets, and in some cases if he were to publish those, he could be liable for monetary damages for publishing trade secrets," depending on his involvement in obtaining the papers.

Still, he acknowledged that the law around such practices is complex and publishing the documents could be protected under the First Amendment.

"If he has a large level of involvement in stealing or aiding and abetting in the theft of confidential information he could be liable," Rothken said. "If he obtains information from somebody who got it wrongfully and he republishes it he may be immunized under the first amendment."

For his part, Kaplan typically receives internal memos as tips, often without reading them before publishing them to the site. He said he takes a fast and loose approach to deciding which goes into the paid subscription area and which should be free to the public.

"A lot of the reason they?re paid is because I haven?t even looked at them," Kaplan said.

 

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