Saturday, January 22, 2005

Are bloggers journalists? - part 2

According to a "from wire reports" brief in my local paper's business section today, Microsoft apparently has joined Apple (previous post) on the bandwagon of suing bloggers over posting corporate secrets.

This is all that was in my paper. I can't find it on the Web anywhere, nor in several news databases I can check:

Lawyers representing Microsoft have demanded that Engadget, Jason Calacanis' Weblog about computers and consumer electronics, remove a recent commentary item about the company's Widows Mobile technology.
A letter from the law firm of Covington & Burling said the posting on "violates Microsoft's intellectual property rights" and threatens charges of trademark infringement and trade secret misappropriation if it is not removed.
I've checked Engadget and see several Widows Mobile postings. There's nothing relating to this issue, so can't be sure what's involved. (I've e-mailed Calacanis to see what's up.) But it's clear that some of the corporate giants are going to push this issue.

All journalists need to take note, not just for the potential chilling effect on sourcing, but for a broader concept. I've been developing a theory for some time:

Since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, U.S. society has repeatedly reacted to the concentration of corporate power with legal remedies. It began in the 1800s with anti-trust and the attack on the cartels as well as the rise of public utility regulation, which has its roots in the clash between angry farmers and Midwest grain elevators that had monopolies.

Time after time, governmental power has been deployed to take down such concentrations once the political system judged that "the public" felt it had reached dangerous levels and that it was safe, even advantageous, to act. (Microsoft, itself, should know this only too well.)

"The media" has now reached that level. Never mind that we see a broadening of competition through blogs, etc. The overall climate since the 1970s has been one of growing public disgust with "the media" and the concentration of power. (Blogs, after all, are still just barely known to many Americans (previous post about Pew saying 62% do not know what a blog is)). If history were to repeat itself, at some point government power would be unleashed.

Of course, the First Amendment stands in the way of many of those direct attacks. And so we have seen the rise of alternative torts as society seeks ways to break up this concentration that it instinctively knows is harmful. Privacy, trespass, contract law (in terms of promises made to sources or reprentations made by reporters) have all come into play. Recently, HIPAA was invoked against the Los Angeles Times for work it did on alleged problems at a hospital in that city (previous post).

Now we have the rise of actions seeking remedies under trade secrets and trademark infringement theories.

As journalists, we cannot afford to shrug and move on -- not at a time when government in many cases is moving back to shifting as many functions as possible to the marketplace (that's not a political comment, folks, just a statement of reality). If we ignore this evolving law, we may well wake up one day and find ourselves emasculated.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home