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Take Me To Your Leaders

Mar
29
2005

This morning, a bunch of lawyers and no shortage of reporters, spin doctors, Congressional staffers and lobbyists are gathered in the Supreme Court’s ornate hearing room to listen to an argument about the merits and legal liability inherent in file sharing.
The case, MGM v. Grokster, brought by the record companies, is a turning point in the long and ultimately silly war between record companies and new technology that allows their customers (and, it’s worth adding, the artists) to share music easily, simply and cheaply.
The Grokster case can be boiled down to one big question: Who’s in Charge? Who’s going to make sure the record industry runs with the smoothness (and immense profitability) that it’s demonstrated since its creative geniuses began pressing vinyl? But they’re not the only ones asking.


Over on Slate you can read media critic Jack Shafer taking Los Angeles Times critic David Shaw to task for his Sunday column on “bloggers” and legal protections. Shaw derided bloggers saying all the usual things: They’re inaccurate, they’re not edited, they’re careless, they’re not like him. Shaw works at a big newspaper. He knows who’s in charge: his editor. Shafer is firing back saying the usual things: What’s with this blanket condemnation? And who are you to decide what’s good reporting? A salary – even a teeny one from the cheapskates at Tribune Co. – doesn’t imply competence.
Shaw’s long and ponderous column – if I wrote like that I’d be at a newspaper too, ’cause no one outside the business is reading this guy – asks the same question: Who’s in charge? Who’s going to make sure that reporters, working by themselves on the web, don’t upset the careful balance we “professionals” have crafted for ourselves, with our sources and the court system? Who’s going to make sure this whole, nicely arranged system stays in place so we can go about our business?
Shaw’s comments were taken from the Apple case in which the computer company asked a court to rule on the legal standing of a group of bloggers (one of whom, by way of disclosure, is represented by my smart, talented, nasty and aggressive lawyer Terry Gross). Apple’s not as direct in its question as Shaw is. But the company is asking the same thing: Who’s in charge? Which one of those thousands of voices out there do we have to take seriously? We don’t have to pay attention to all of them, do we? Then who’s going to help orchestrate our marvelous bi-annual product announcements?
These questions aren’t just being asked in the commercial arena, however. They’re being asked in political circles, too. The Federal Election Commission’s recent comments on bloggers and on-line advertising and campaign advocacy go to the heart of the conversation taking place between Big Media and political bloggers: Who’s in charge? Who’s going to make sure that freedom of speech isn’t corrupted by folks who want to sell their endorsements? Who’s going to be responsible for parsing out analysis from advocacy, endorsement from pandering, commentary from congratulations?
In each and everyone of these cases, the answer is pretty much the same: The reader. The consumer. The voter. The music-lover. The computer nerd. But not the guys who have been in charge for most of the past century: The marketing genius, the producer, the editors, the station owner and the publisher, the consultant, the pen-wielding columnist who hasn’t made a phone call in 10 years. They’re not in charge anymore. And they don’t like it.
They’re fighting with every tool they’ve got and they’ve got a number of them. They’re rich. They’re powerful. But time is not on their side.
That’s not to say that all of these conversations about responsibility – because that’s what being in charge means when you take it seriously — are without merit. The FEC should be taking a good hard look at on-line fundraising and the relationship that many bloggers have with campaigns. That’s a blurred line that needs to be more sharply drawn. Another blurred line – the one between stealing and sharing of anything audio, video, written or spoken – needs to be more clearly defined, too. As for the line between bloggers and Big Media? That’s not as deep a moat as David Shaw wants to think. Blogging – like file-sharing, on-line fundraising – is a tool; it’s what you do with it that matters.
This new world of instant and instantly available choice isn’t easy – remember when there was only one phone company? – but it’s pretty exciting. It’s new. It’s different. And we all get to be in charge.
FOOTNOTE: Add to all this wondering about the obvious, Silly Sarah Boxer at The New York Times who either doesn’t understand that 1)the web is sort of like real life — everyone’s got an opinion — and 2)the purpose and power of hyperlinks which is to further the expression of those opinions. Hyperlinks are like pine tar in baseball; they let you hit homeruns with one swing.
Now it’s possible that Silly Sarah is trying to make fun of the self-reverence that some working on line have for their efforts and those of their friends but, um, she’s not a good enough writer to pull it off. Unlike, say, some of those she mentions in her list of lists.

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