Getting TIFFed Off: The Dangers of Not Going Native with ESI . . . Or, The Perils of Killing the Bunny
For a full understanding of the Great TIFF v. Native Debate and the dangers of choosing the wrong side, try this. Picture a bunny.
Why not? Spring is near, and Easter is only a month away. So, picture a bunny. You can cuddle it, watch its little nose twitch, listen to its heartbeat, even observe its behavior and follow it home. If you are one of those lucky creatures who speak bunny -- like computer programmers speak source code -- you can politely inquire where it's been, what it's seen and who it has spoken with.
Electronically-stored information (ESI) such as e-mails and spreadsheets, is like that living bunny. It exists in pure native form, possessing an exotic birthday suit from which can be gathered the hidden details known as metadata -- who authored the data, who sent and received it, the underlying formulas behind the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, where files or e-mails were stored, who read or possessed them, when they were created, accessed, modified and saved. Such ESI produced by a party is fully searchable. Like the bunny, it can talk to your opponent, and tell them things.
But herein lies the nasty little secret: attorneys and their clients do not want the bunny to talk to their opponents. In fact, they would love to produce ESI in such a way that their opponents cannot communicate with the bunny. But in most cases, their opponents' requests for production specifically ask them to turn over the bunny. So what can they do?
Picture that bunny, dead. Whacked. A poor dead bunny, handed over to the other side. No pulse. No heartbeat. You can't follow a dead bunny home. You can't talk to it, and it certainly can't talk back. That dead bunny is a TIFF, or "Tagged Image File Format," like a PDF. When the bunny is snuffed and the electronic data "TIFFed" -- i.e., printed out in hard copy and then re-scanned -- it becomes dead and frozen, rather than dynamic and searchable. What you see is what you get. The hidden information, the ability to search millions of pages of text for smoking gun language, and to peek at its living history, is lost. And your opponent has no way to recreate it. There is no way for him to resuscitate that bunny. Sure, he can take a DNA test of the dead bunny: convert the tiny elements of TIFF images -- the individual letters, like the Ts, As, Gs and Cs of a double helix -- into searchable text format through optical character recognition ("OCR"). But OCR does not solve the main problem: identification of the lifeblood, the living metadata of the bunny's life history (the who, what, where, when and why) that does not appear in the TIFFs.
Still, what's wrong with this? Why not always produce ESI in TIFF rather than native metadata form? Why not always produce a dead bunny? Isn't this a perfect solution? Unfortunately, no -- as one law firm, two lawyers, and their very unhappy client just learned in Bray & Gillespie Mgmt. LLC v. Lexington Ins. Co., No. 6:07-cv-222-Orl-35 KRS (M.D. Fla. Mar. 4, 2009). In short, Lexington wanted a live bunny and requested all ESI in native format without any alteration or deletion of metadata. Its opponent Bray & Gillespie (B&G) produced a very dead bunny, and was called out by the court for doing so. And that was before B&G's counsel began lying about who killed the bunny and when.