August 27, 2007

You Have To Mean It If You Set It To Music [2:31 pm]

Unauthorized Enjoyment of Song Irks Law Firm

It sounds like the setup for a joke: a law firm picks a fight with a legal blogger over the leak of an internal song celebrating — well, itself.

First, the song: after the law firm Nixon Peabody was named to Fortune magazine’s 2007 list of the best companies to work for, the firm, which has 700 lawyers, commissioned a celebratory anthem with an infectious 1980s-style beat and a sing-along chorus, “Everyone’s a Winner at Nixon Peabody.”

The lyrics, sung in a kind of Earth, Wind & Fire style, include: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s all about the team, it’s all about respect, it all revolves around integrity.”

But what began as an innocent instance of corporate self-congratulation has turned into a minor Internet sensation and earned the firm a bit of a black eye, with bloggers poking fun at the song and criticizing Nixon Peabody’s response to its leak.

[...] Mr. Gerhard asked Mr. Lat to take down the song, but he refused, saying his playing of it fell under the fair-use provisions of the law. Though Mr. Gerhard said the firm did not “intend to let this thing lie,” Mr. Lat says he did not receive a cease-and-desist letter. By Friday, YouTube had removed the song, noting that it had received a copyright violation notice.

[...] But if Nixon Peabody had hoped to squelch the song’s spreading, it had acted too late. Scores of other blogs have since commented on the song and the firm’s response. Another YouTube user has created a second video, using only a minute-long snippet of the song and saying that his use was firmly protected by laws governing parody.

Like the video’s tagline says, “Fair use is a bitch.”

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OT: I Wonder What Changed His Mind?? [8:38 am]

Embattled Attorney General Resigns

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not announced immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Also Attorney General Gonzales resigns: official; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Resigns

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The Power of the Platform [8:15 am]

When demand and distribution meet, businesses either face up to the change or lose out: ‘South Park’ Creators Win Ad Sharing in Deal

To Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators and executive producers of “South Park,” Comedy Central’s most lucrative franchise, the clip ought to have been blazing its authorized way around the Internet, its flouting of social norms picking up ad revenue with every set of eyeballs. Instead, the clip was easy to find, but it wasn’t making any money for its rightful owners.

“If I’m overseas and have to get an episode right away,” Mr. Stone lamented, “you literally have to go to an illegal download site.”

Because of the slow entry into the digital realm of Viacom, Comedy Central’s parent, and an almost crippling deal point in Mr. Stone’s and Mr. Parker’s contract, the lewd, rude, crudely animated and mordantly funny series — one that began with a viral video before the term even existed — has barely had a presence as an avalanche of user-generated entertainment hit the Web. Meanwhile, sites like YouTube met the demand for free “South Park” clips without paying for the privilege.

Now, however, Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker and their bosses at Comedy Central, a unit of Viacom’s MTV Networks, are attempting to leapfrog to the vanguard of Hollywood’s transition into Web. In a joint venture that involves millions in up-front cash and a 50-50 split of ad revenues, the network and the two creative partners have agreed to create a hub to spread “South Park”-related material across the Net, mobile platforms, and video games.

[...] [The deal] also creates an entity called SouthParkStudios.com, to be housed in the show’s animation studio in Culver City, Calif., that is intended to be an incubator not only for new applications for characters the likes of Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny, but for new comedy concepts that could one day mature into TV series of their own.

All told, people involved in the deal confirm that it is worth some $75 million to Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone over the next four years. But what is likely to draw the most attention in Hollywood is not the richness of the pact, but the network’s willingness to share its advertising revenue.

Television networks have long maintained a wall between ad revenue and the compensation they pay the talent.

Later: Digital ‘South Park’

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Micropayments? [8:11 am]

This article makes a weird claim that I frankly don’t buy, but it is an interesting exploration of the rhetorical games surrounding the deployment of new technologies: In Online World, Pocket Change Is Not Easily Spent

The idea of micropayments — charging Web users tiny amounts of money for single pieces of online content — was essentially put to sleep toward the end of the dot-com boom. In December 2000, Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program, wrote a manifesto that people still cite whenever someone suggests resurrecting the idea. Micropayments will never work, he wrote, mainly because “users hate them.”

But wait. Amid the disdain, and without many people noticing, micropayments have arrived — just not in the way they were originally envisioned. The 99 cents you pay for a song on iTunes is a micropayment. So are the tiny amounts that some operators of small Web sites earn whenever someone clicks on the ads on their pages. Some stock-photography companies sell pictures for as little as $1 each.

“Micropayments are here,” said Benjamin M. Compaine, a consultant and lecturer at Northeastern University who specializes in media economics, “they just have not evolved in the way that everybody expected.”

If you say so, I guess. But it’s hard to argue that what’s discussed here is micropayments, unless we want to redefine the term entirely.

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A Jurisdiction Spat [7:59 am]

Humane Society Has Its Sights on Amazon.com

The online bookstore sells subscriptions to two cockfighting magazines, The Feathered Warrior and The Gamecock, even though cockfighting has been declared illegal in all states (until Louisiana’s ban takes effect next summer, the activity remains legal in parts of the state).

After trying in vain to persuade Amazon to stop selling the publications, the Humane Society filed a civil lawsuit in District of Columbia Superior Court asserting that the Web company violates animal cruelty laws and that the magazines, which run advertisements for blades that attach to birds’ legs, are effectively catalogs for illegal goods.

But Amazon says the suit amounts to censorship. “These materials are legal to sell, and we do not believe we should act as a censor because their message is objectionable to some people,” said Patty Smith, a spokeswoman for Amazon, adding that her company sells subscriptions to more than 90,000 magazines. “With our incredible selection of titles, we’re bound to sell something that someone will find objectionable.”

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SEO, Newspapers and Persistence of Memory (updated) [7:53 am]

When Bad News Follows You

A BUSINESS strategy of The New York Times to get its articles to pop up first in Internet searches is creating a perplexing problem: long-buried information about people that is wrong, outdated or incomplete is getting unwelcome new life.

People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.

[...] Kraus’s situation is an unhappy byproduct of something called search engine optimization, which The Times has been using to make money by driving traffic to its Web site. Technically complex, search engine optimization pushes Times content to or near the top of search results, regardless of its importance or accuracy.

[...] But what can they do? The choices all seem fraught with pitfalls. You can’t accept someone’s word that an old article was wrong. What if that person who was charged with abusing a child really was guilty? Re-report every story challenged by someone? Impossible, said Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor in charge of the newsroom’s online operation: there’d be time for nothing else.

[...] Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has a different answer to the problem: He thinks newspapers, including The Times, should program their archives to “forget” some information, just as humans do. Through the ages, humans have generally remembered the important stuff and forgotten the trivial, he said. The computer age has turned that upside down. Now, everything lasts forever, whether it is insignificant or important, ancient or recent, complete or overtaken by events.

Following Mayer-Schönberger’s logic, The Times could program some items, like news briefs, which generate a surprising number of the complaints, to expire, at least for wide public access, in a relatively short time. Articles of larger significance could be assigned longer lives, or last forever.

See also Rewriting history: Should editors delete or alter online content?; also Slate’s counterpoint: Blaming the Times for Your Bad Reputation; also Blaming the Times for Your Bad Reputation, Part 2

As I previously wrote, you may think reputation belongs to you, but it doesn’t. It lives inside the heads of other people, and now inside Google. It’s their possession. If you want to change it, do something to convince people and the Web that you aren’t who they think you are.

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