The thing about blogging is that bloggers tend to have the last word. Lawyers don’t get that very well. And corporate leaders who let the legal brains take the lead on the blog world, are setting themselves up for some real nastiness in the blog world.
This is the message I tried to communicate about Disney as related to their legal attacks on Spocko. Apple has a history of protecting their intellectual property very aggressively–understandable given the fact their value is increasingly tied to their stunning innovations. But, you take this thinking into the blog world too far and you are going to get hammered. Blogging (and increasingly the internet) is about conversing. And when the reaction to conversation is to bring out the legal beagles, it tends to annoy those who just want to talk about things. If a conversation involves proprietary property, the polite thing to do is to make a request. Just say please. If there are competitive reasons, or the property in question can do substantial harm to the company if not protected, then say pretty please, or else. But to just jump up with the barking dogs isn’t polite, doesn’t make much sense, and will cause the kind of reaction that Apple is seeing in the blog world: see techcrunch article called Apple Bullies Bloggers Again.
Here’s the risk–Apple is riding high. Stock is skyrocketing. Innovations pile on innovations. Complete domination in key markets. And now comes the arrogance. We all like winners. We hate arrogant winners. Arrogant winners become losers. And we become glad. Pride goeth before the fall. And all this thinking just because they let loose some eager lawyers to beat up on bloggers. Apple, wise up.
There are various ways that companies and organizations are dealing with blog wars and online critics. One of them is legal. And a major legal tool is copyright infringement. I am aware of companies using violations of copyrights to try to control or limit what bloggers are saying about them. Disney is using the posting of audio files from an ABC Radio owned radio show as a basis for shutting down a media critic’s site (spocko) that is apparently causing them some damage.
This story provides the details. Indeed, go to Spocko’s blog and you get an error message.
My question is this–is wielding the heavy legal hand effective in the blog world? This is a pretty extreme case and there is no question that companies, artists and individuals need to work very hard to protect their intellectual property in the wild lawless internet land. But the purpose here is clearly not to protect valued intellectual property. It is to staunch the flow of ad dollars resulting from Spockos attacks and efforts to stop advertisers from supporting right wing messages he hates.
The blog world in general does not look kindly on this strategy. It will be interesting to see the comments about Disney’s heavy legal hand. I suspect most bloggers will be rooting for Spocko. And in that is the lesson for you or others who may be heavily engaged in your own reputation blog war.
I just posted about how sites like MySpace and YouTube are being held responsible for whether someone posts copyrighted material they don’t own or control. Now, here comes a ruling in the opposite direction. The California Supreme Court decided yesterday that websites can’t be held liable for libelous statements published on their sites.
It’s a difficult question and the dilemma faced by the jurists is reflected in these comments: “The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications,” Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote in the majority opinion. “Nevertheless … statutory immunity serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended.”
Well, this is California. How I interpret it is that the online culture of free expression overrides the potential damage to individuals when websites publish information they know is libelous. This is very good news for the dedicated reputation terrorist and quite bad news for those involved in blogwars who are hoping for some protection against the most outrageous lies and accusations. My sense is a balance needs to be struck–and this one doesn’t quite do it.
A growing issue for companies and organizations involved in a “blogwar,” is the posting of copyrighted content on places like YouTube. Here’s the scenario. Your company produces ads or promotional videos which the critics take, distort, turn into parodies, comment on, or in other ways attempt to turn against you. Then they post it on sites like YouTube, GoogleVideo, MySpace, etc.
If your company is in this situation, you have an interesting dilemma. Use the copyright laws to require your critics to take the offending post down? You can do that, but you face the very likely attack in the blogosphere of “trying to control content and end debate.” It runs counter to the blog values that says anyone should be able to say anything about anyone else and any for profit entity that tries to protect itself is not transparent and is trying to hide something. So the policy seems to be that reserve the big legal hammers for only the most egregious violations of copyrighted content and have a pretty high level of tolerance for most of the garbage that gets thrown out there.
Now some help on this issue is coming from content producers who have a strong financial interest in protecting their copyrights. We noticed lately how YouTube had beefed up their requirements for the person posting content to make certain that they owned the copyright or had permission from the copyright owner before posting anything to YouTube. Clearly a defensive measure.
Now comes a lawsuit by Universal Music Group against MySpace for failing to police MySpace users against posting copyrighted material (music in this case) which they don’t own. Look to see MySpace beefing up its policies in order to protect itself. Clearly YouTube and MySpace don’t believe they are in a position to take no responsibility for the copyright issues. And since they are the big target, it means that they will work harder to protect themselves against those who misuse copyrighted material. And that’s good news for those in “blogwars.”
A court in Florida awarded $11.3 million in damages to a woman whose business was damaged by online attacks. Here’s the story from USA Today. This particular story is interesting because the defendant never showed up and didn’t have an attorney because she lost her home in Katrina. And the battle was over the service she received in helping retreive her sons from a boarding school in Costa Rica where her divorced husband had sent them. Apparently she didn’t like the service she received and posted some bitter complaints on a blog or forum site.
Having been involved in helping companies deal with vicious and untruthful online attacks, this will be seen by many as an important precedent for those concerned about protecting reputations. From that standpoint, I welcome it. The $11.3 million judgment is of course, silly. How they came to this amount from the damage this small business may have experienced escapes me. And of course it is a rather empty victory given the defendant never showed up and clearly does not have the ability to pay.
Another concern is the impact on the freedom of speech that is a value dearly held by the blog world. To know that you can sustain this kind of damage when blasting out your thoughts in the heat of the moment is going to give some people pause. It probably should to some degree. But if our legal system has the same impact on Internet communication as it has in our health care system, our product liability situation, and in most other areas of our lives, we will all be the losers for it. So I hope some balance emerges.