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When a group of disgruntled users of the infamous Greedy Associates Web site packed up their pseudonyms and moved to a site where they could indulge their potty-mouth ways, it wasn’t surprising — schisms within the online forum have been common over its five-year life. The surprise is that the site’s owners at West Group had put up with these vulgarians for so long. West views Greedy Associates as “an inherited site,” not something in which the staid legal publisher, headquartered in Eagan, Minn., deigns to directly involve itself. The company acquired the unruly message board in 2001, when it purchased FindLaw of Mountain View, Calif. FindLaw had also acquired the site indirectly, through its 2000 acquisition of Infirmation, a Bethesda, Md.-based online legal publisher where the RealGAs — the first breakaway group from the original Yahoo! Greedy Associates bulletin board — had pitched camp in 1999. West had kept the group at arm’s length, thereby reinforcing the impression that there’s very little business justification for West’s owning the site. It left the site under FindLaw’s control in Mountain View, and gave seven Greedy Associates site administrators broad editorial control over the boards. But when those administrators’ contracts expired earlier this year, West began deleting users who violated existing terms of use banning naughty language and attacks on lawyers and firms. Within days, the exodus began, eventually ending up at a new site, LawTalkers.com. The policy change was “not enacted in response to any threat of litigation,” according to a message to the board from SockForTheMan, a universal log-in for folks at West and FindLaw to use when speaking for the company (“sock” is a Greedy term of art for a disguise). In an e-mail, Sock explains more, saying that “the policy changes were motivated by FindLaw’s concern about its image and how it’s perceived in the greater legal community.” West spokesman Kyle Christensen reiterated that sentiment, saying the posters were acting like kids: “The Internet is growing up and [the GAs] weren’t growing up with it.” Christensen would not permit an interview with Michael Wilens, West president and former chief technology officer, unless we agreed not to ask questions about Greedy Associates, saying, “it’s not fair to have [West's Web strategy and the Greedy Associates] in the same story.” (We didn’t agree to the ground rules.) Speaking of resisting ground rules, the chatterers at the LawTalkers.com site are back to their rambunctious ways — and administrators are even egging them on. One administrator, mister_ruysbroeck, threatened to create a filter to replace demure spellings like “f#ck” with the real deal, replying to queries about foul language: “Are you forgetting the reason we made this board?” West certainly hasn’t forgotten.

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