Posts from December 2, 2004



: Rex Hammock is becoming a regular at the White House.

Bloggers’ Legal Defense Society

Bloggers’ Legal Defense Society

: We need all the many blogging lawyers to band together to provide legal help for their fellow bloggers. Said it before, I’ll say it again now.

The latest case: Jason Kottke did some great reporting and posted audio and then a transcript of Ken Jennings’ loss on Jeopardy, the worst kept secret in Hollywood this side of Michael Jackson’s weirdness. Sony lawyers contacted Jason, first telling him to take the audio down, then telling him to take the transcript down (even though the same details were reported in the Washington Post). Now Jason — a pioneer in this ‘sphere, a damned Davey Crockett of blogging — is thinking about giving up the blog. He’s feeling the chill.

You’ll all remember when Robert Cox felt a similar chill from The New York Times’ lawyers until (a) he got some help from pro bono lawyers from blogs and (b) saner souls prevailed at The Times and they came to a swift and civilized agreement. Nonetheless, we know that Robert, too, felt the chill. We all do when lawyers descend upon us. Civilians can’t afford the fight. And that’s just the point, of course.

So we need our own lawyers.

Anil Dash, Tom Biro, and Steve Rubel, three good gentlemen of this space, have written about this and there’ve been suggestions about starting a blog industry association, which was discussed at Bloggercon II and which might be a solution. But I think such a group has other jobs on the business front (setting ad standards, setting measurement standards, getting data on the blog world, selling the wonders of blogs to marketers).

In this case, I think there is a very specific need: Jason and Robert before him needed to tell the lawyers calling him to “call my lawyer.”

Of course, bloggers can’t afford lawyers of their own. But we know from Robert’s case there there are a good number of good souls with legal degrees out there who are willing and eager to help.

I suggest that what we need now is a means of organizing them so a blogger who’s getting harassed by big corporate or government attorneys can call for help. In some cases, the lawyers may say that the blogger did something wrong. But in most cases, the lawyer can breath fire back at the corporate dragons and skip the harassment stage and get right to the civilized discussion and agreement stage.

We also need to know about these cases so we can publicize them.

And I will still beg these same attorneys to put together a curriculum on legal rights and responsibilities for bloggers so folks who don’t have corporate attorneys behind them can know what’s what.

Finally, we also need to see about getting some group-rate libel insurance for bloggers.

Note also that we’re going to need legal help the first time bloggers face challenges under shield laws, for Freedom of Information Act requests, for access to government, and so on.

So, I urge, beg, cajole, wheedle, and whine hoping that a few good blogging lawyers will step forward to found the Bloggers’ Legal Defense Society.

I suggest we need:

1. An organization. Somebody needs to put it together. That somebody needs to be a lawyer and/or law professor. You know who you are!

2. A wiki or equivalent where lawyers can sign up, listing their specialties and agreeing to get emails (or RSS notification) of a bloggers’ distress call. Plenty of folks could set that up.

2. A means by which bloggers can post their problems. The lawyers will be notified so one or more can volunteer to help. Bloggers should monitor this so we can publicize deserving cases (because PR is just as powerful a weapon).

3. Curriculum on legal rights and responsibilities, including libel and copyright. Also a wiki so no one has to do it all.

4. A volunteer to find and negotiate a group rate for libel insurance.

5. Contributions and a means to accept them (which means this needs to be a 501c3, eh?).

Volunteers? Please? The future of citizens’ media depends on this.

Today, the cause is merely Jeopardy. Tomorrow, citizens’ media could be in jeopardy. Let’s act before it’s too late.

Digital queen

Digital queen

: Adam Penenberg profiles the digital life of everybody’s favorite Berkeley blogger, Mary Hodder.

Equal privilege

Equal privilege

: Eugene Volokh rights a superb op-ed in today NY Times proposing a new, limited standard for shield laws that does not protect illegal activity — but (and he doesn’t emphasize this but does presume it) extends such privilege to anyone acting as a journalist, which is to say: bloggers.

: I tried to deal with similar issues here — when I asked whether you would go to jail for your blog — but didn’t do it as well as Prof. Volokh, of course.

Welcome to the blog world, Microsoft

Welcome to the blog world, Microsoft

: So I go wandering Microsoft’s new blog space and the first blog I look at has this fascinating post, which I won’t quote in full:


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4811174502 8410270193 8521105559 6446229489 5493038196…

Couldn’ta said it better myself.



: Don’t miss James Turanto’s item (from Wednesday) about GoogleNews picking up the arrest of George Bush as a lead headline (from a parody site). Fill in you John Henry speech on why machines can’t replace human editors here.

The tyranny of the fear of the few: They’re bleeping Jesus II

The tyranny of the fear of the few: They’re bleeping Jesus II

: This is what we have come to:

Saying that Jesus welcomes all people is too “controversial” for network TV.

Network TV executives say (but not on camera, God forbid) that they are scared of those few (bigots) who would complain that it is controversial to welcome all people (including gay people). Two networks rejected a commercial from the United Church of Christ that said only: “Jesus did not turn people away. Neither do we.” Go to Josh Marshall (and scroll around) to see much coverage of the networks’ rationales; the New York Times covered it today, too.

“Our policy is we do not do advocacy ads,” said Alan Wurtzel, who heads NBC’s program standards division. ” ‘Jesus didn’t turn people away, neither do we.’ That message clearly implies that other people do.”

Oh, so will it soon be too “controversial” to say that the Statue of Liberty welcomes all people? Will be be amending Emma Lazarus? If we’re taking huddled masses, are we implying that someone else must be rejecting them? What happens if a few dictators complain? Get out the sandblaster! And while we’re at it, let’s get out the WhiteOut for the Declaration of Independence. “All men are created equal?” We can’t let a church say that! Too controversial.

Is democracy now advocacy?

Is human kindness now advocacy?

But, of course, that’s not the problem. The problem is that the networks fear a few people might complain.

So, once again, we are being governed not by a least common denominator — not by a common denominator at all — but instead by the least of us.

Three people write letters to complain about a whipped-cream gag and the government brings down its biggest broadcast fine in history.

A few people might complain and two networks won’t let a church talk about openness.

That’s where we are in this country: If a few people might complain, that draws the line in the sand that the rest of us are not allowed to cross. We can’t hear or speak or debate in this democracy — on our own public airwaves, I’ll add — because a few might complain.

This has become a culture of complaint, ruled by the tyranny of the fear of the few.

And the fault lies with the few fools who ignore the community as a whole and listen to those few complainers instead.

They have no courage. They have no balls. They have no principles.

Note that the oft-reviled Fox is airing the commercial. The oft-lionized Tiffany network, CBS, is not. The wildly rich NBC is not. And the Disney company, ABC, won’t even consider a commercial from a church.

Let me return my Thanksgiving turkey. I guess we no longer value religious tolerance in this nation. I guess we’re too damned scared of it.

And that scares me.

The only cure to this is to tell those executives at NBC and CBS that they are wrong. We need to tell them that the community as a whole — not the complainers, the few — believe in tolerance, discussion, debate, a marketplace of ideas, freedom to speak; we have nothing to fear from speech or ideas or gay people, either.

Oh, yes, networks have the right and responsibility to determine what goes on the air (albeit our air) that they manage. But we need to tell them that they should be more open about what they put there — or less concerned about protecting us from ideas; we’re a smart people; we’re not too stupid to disagree.

We need to give these cowardly executives cover so they can respond to the few complainers — whether they come from complaint factories or from the FCC — that they are trying to serve the community as a whole, not the few.

Go to this page for CBS. Sadly, I can find no similar page for NBC so call 212 664-4444 and ask for Alan Wurtzel. Tell them you’re not afraid of the few. You’re not afraid of discussion. You’re not afraid of openness. You’re not afraid of democracy. Why should they be?

: UPDATE: The coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer (where the UCC is based):

A naked actress jumping into the arms of a famous athlete on “Monday Night Football”? That’s OK.

Two burly bouncers appearing to exclude gays and lesbians from church? Not so fast.

Yeah, thanks for reminding me: Human kindness is controversial but four-hour erections are not? If you’re afraid of controversy, networks, you might want to get rid of commercials for fatty food, too. And pharmaceuticals. And SUVs. And beer. And…..