Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is Flickr Hiding Behind Copyright Infringment To Censor Free Speech?

Social Media has the ability to spread ideas like wildfire. However, if you don't own the platform from which you want to espouse your views your speech may be stifled. A perfect example of this occurred when Firas Alkhateeb, a college student from Chicago created a photo that some call art, others call politically charged, and some have called racist.

According to the L.A. Times, Mr. Alkhateeb utilized Adobe Photoshop and modified a photo of President Obama to make the President look like Heath Ledger's Joker character from the most recent Batman movie. In January of this year, Mr. Alkhateeb uploaded his creation to Flickr. Several months later somebody downloaded the photo and put the word "Socialism" on the photo and started plastering posters of the modified photo throughout Los Angeles.

Whether or not you agree with the message that it conveys, it appears that the photo modification is protected under the famous 1841 Folsom v. Marsh case that established the analysis later codified in the United States Copyright Act of 1976 Title 17, U.S.C. Section 107: Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use.

From a legal point of view, there is a valid argument that the photo represents protected political commentary. Under our First Amendment, no matter how reprehensible a person's words or ideas may be that person has a right to them and a right to publish them. As Social Networking use increases, these types of incidents will increase ten fold. Therefore, this type of censorship that Flickr is engaging in may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Copyright 2009 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

Facebook Sued For Being Facebook

Facebook is being sued for what appears to be engaging in evolving as a social networking site. On its face, the lawsuit appears without merit because it does not allege anything new against Facebook. One of the lawsuit's allegations is that Facebook, "seeks to open and/or disseminate private information to third parties for commercial purposes and economic benefit."

Despite what many of its users think, Facebook is not in business to provide free social interactions for the benefit of its users. Facebook is in business to make money by providing a uniqe platform that enables its users to enjoy their online social interactions and activities. If and when Facebook is able to fully monetize all of this freely obtained information it will be the marketing industry's "El Dorado."

Users join Facebook to interact with their friends and potential friends and to share their thoughts and ideas with others. I am a Facebook user. However, I limit the amount of personal information that I post because I know that as soon as I post something I have no ability to fully control it. In contrast, some of my Facebook Friends post a tremendous amount of information that is not fit for professional consumption. For example, a cousin of mine who is a recent college graduate and a Facebook Friend has allowed some of her college Facebook usuage to follow her into the professional world. I have had to warn her not to disparage in any manner her current employer or position in her posts. I just hope that none of her posts boomerang and harm her in the future. As with any new technology, once the Genie has left the bottle you can't put it back in.

Copyright 2009 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Google Book Lawsuit

The New York Times has an interesting article about some of the objections to the proposed deal to settle the Google Book Lawsuit. For those not familiar with this lawsuit here is a condensed description of events: Google is in the process of scanning millions of books into digital format from several famous libraries. In return, Google wants to profit from their scanning work along with the authors and publishers of the scanned books.

I have no problem with Google wanting to profit from their work since new ideas are what drives capitalism. However, some of the legal issues that need to be addressed include:

1) Fair Compensation: Is the monetary settlement fair to the rights holders of the published works? For example, is it fair for the settlement to set non-negotiable royalty terms for works that are out-of-print but still in copyright?

2) Privacy concerns: How will Google track users and will Google then profit from selling ads directed to those users. Will the published works rights holders be able to share in the profits from any ad revenue that Google generates from these ads?

3) Monopoly concerns: Will other companies be able to join Google in profiting from this venture? Remember the old AT&T? After AT&T was broken up, we started to have more telephone choices. Some of the Baby Bells have since merged and now there are some rumblings about possible monopolistic activities but in general we have more innovation with healthy competition than we did before the break up.

I am not in favor of any agreement that sets non-negotiable royalty terms for any published work because each work should stand on its own and be given the opportunity for the marketplace to determine its worth. I also have grave concerns about Goggle's "big brother" capabilities and the possibility of a monopoly. The final agreement needs to address these issues and until it does it should not be implemented.

Copyright 2009 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

Hollywood Is Trying To Figure Out How To Embrace Social Networking

Great article today in the Baltimore Sun today about how Hollywood is trying to figure out how Social Networking websites effect movie openings. Twitter and other Social Networking websites are great for getting the word out and should be incorporated into every marketing campaign for any business. As demonstrated in the past year in elections throughout the world, social networking when used deftly can be a very powerful tool.

Copyright 2009 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.