Sitting across the table from Adorian Deck, it is difficult to imagine him as a groundbreaking legal warrior.
Cherub is more like it. He chooses his words carefully, speaks quietly and has an unassuming manner punctuated with a slight, almost-shy smile.
Yet, the stage is set in Sacramento federal court for an epic clash between Deck, a senior at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, Calif. who will soon be 18, and Emerson Spartz, another whiz kid of the cyber era, over what intellectual property rights mean in the burgeoning universe of social media.
Without hostility, Deck said Spartz is a thief. His one-time hero stole OMG Facts, he said in a lengthy interview.
Deck said he created (at)OMGFacts in 2009 as a Twitter feed providing a steady stream of information, with an emphasis on celebrities, pop culture, history and commerce.
"I went from 12,000 to 30,000 (followers) overnight after Kim Kardashian became a fan," Deck recalled. It eventually amassed more than 300,000 followers, becoming the 18th-most-active Twitter feed in the nation.
Deck said Spartz approached him in early 2010 with assurances that he had the know-how to make Deck's brainchild "a much bigger presence." After a number of Skype meetings, Deck joined Spartz's rapidly growing social media network.
Deck's federal complaint states that Spartz took advantage of the inexperience of Deck and his mother, Marylou, who also signed the partnership agreement, to "misappropriate (Deck's) intellectual property and the fruits of his creative efforts."
Via email to a Bee reporter, Spartz vowed a vigorous defense and said he may countersue. "Mr. Deck's actions are undermining the venture, which hurts both of us," he said.
Deck was a 16-year-old high school junior when he was contacted by Spartz, who was 22 with a University of Notre Dame business degree.
"We really couldn't afford a lawyer" for guidance on the deal, Deck said. Plus, he wanted to trust Spartz.
Spartz, now 24, is somewhat of a legend in the fast-evolving world of social media. At age 12, the Indiana native founded and still owns MuggleNet.com, the world's most-visited Harry Potter website.
He also is the chief executive officer of LaPorte, Ind.-based Spartz Inc., the umbrella entity for Spartz Network, a maze of social media and websites that, according to the parent company's site, have more than 6 million unique monthly visitors and more than 3 million followers on Facebook and Twitter.
"I was awed," said Deck. "My friends talked about him and his projects a lot." Now, he said, "I kinda feel like I've been betrayed."
He is at pains to make it clear that suing Spartz is not an act spawned by a desire for revenge. "It's just to make things right financially," he said.
Attorney Glenn Peterson is not so sanguine. The partnership agreement "is one of the most predatory documents I've ever seen," Peterson said.
Deck launched (at)OMGFacts on Sept. 27, 2009, while confined at home for several weeks with a respiratory illness. Four months later, Spartz contacted him.
The contract that resulted purports to retain Deck "to perform certain services," and compensate him with 30 percent of the revenue from the YouTube channel and 100 percent of the revenue from the sale of OMG Facts T-shirts marketed on the website.
So far, Deck said, he has received $80 of YouTube proceeds and $200, "or maybe a little more," from T-shirts.
The contract also purports that Deck assigned to Spartz Inc. "any copyright in any existing or future works," including those he made prior to the April 2010 pact.
"Thus, apparently for less than $100 ... (Deck) conveyed all of his preexisting intellectual property to Spartz, and any corresponding rights (he) had or may now have in OMG Facts," the complaint says. "On that basis alone, the contract is unconscionable and unenforceable under applicable law."
Things came to a head earlier this year when a friend alerted Deck that Spartz, as the property's sole owner, had applied for an OMG Facts trademark. Deck and his mother then sought out Peterson.
Peterson, a veteran intellectual property practitioner, said he believes the lawsuit will be governed by existing copyright and trademark law, so it will probably not make new law in that sense.
But, he added, "this is, as far as I know, the first legal action in which the rights to a social media platform are in dispute."
(Contact Denny Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)