November 8, 2007

Moral Relativism [8:37 am]

Defending Yahoo? Or slamming business as usual? What happens when we abdicate all policy (ethical? political?) decisions to the marketplace: Yahoo isn’t the only villainpdf

For ratting out Shi, Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang has been dragged before Congress, called a “moral pygmy” and forced to issue an apology. In contrast, Cisco and Chief Executive John Chambers have received little public scrutiny for providing China’s cadres of Comrade Orwells with the Internet surveillance technology they need to cleanse the Net of impure democratic thoughts.

Cisco is hardly alone in helping China keep the jackboot to the neck of its people. Skype, an EBay Inc. subsidiary, helps the Chinese government monitor and censor text messaging. Microsoft Corp. likewise is a willing conscript in China’s Internet policing army, as Bill Gates’ minions regularly cleanse the Chinese blogosphere. Google Inc.’s brainiacs, meanwhile, have built a special Chinese version of their powerful search engine to filter out things as diverse as the BBC, freeing Tibet and that four-letter word in China — democracy.

[...] The broader problem is that American business executives have little training in how to deal with ethics in a corrupt and totalitarian global business environment — blame U.S. business schools for that. As a result, moral horizons tend to be short, and executives who find themselves in the heat of a battle don’t know where to draw the line, which is what happened to Yahoo.

[...] For all these reasons, it is ultimately shortsighted to single out Yahoo for the kind of behavior now common to many big U.S. companies operating in China. That’s why we need to have a much bigger discussion about how to engage economically and politically with China. It’s also why the proposed Global Online Freedom Act, which would make it unlawful for U.S. companies to filter Internet search results or turn over user information, should not be viewed as a magic bullet but rather as the start of that debate.

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Rehabilitating Dillinger [8:20 am]

And subverting history — all through the use of the rights of publicity: Safeguarding the legacy of a crookpdf

When it comes to protecting the memory of his great-uncle, Jeffrey Scalf sees himself as a lone sentinel.

Admittedly, it’s not easy to defend the name of John H. Dillinger, a man once referred to as Public Enemy No. 1.

“For good or ill, this is my family’s legacy and no one is going to take that away from me,” says Scalf, 50, who readily admits his childhood fascination with the infamous outlaw has become a crusade.

He says he has been ripped off by the author and publisher of a Dillinger biography, who refused to pay him licensing fees. He feels burned by restaurateurs who use the 1930s bank robber’s name to hawk burgers and beer, and cheated by a California video-game company that used Dillinger’s digital likeness in a game about gangsters.

And don’t even get Scalf started on civic leaders and festival organizers who stage public events using the notorious thief’s name and exploits — but won’t pay him to use the name. It’s highway robbery, he says.

[...] “John did some bad things. He lived a tragic life,” says Scalf. “But he was no killer.”

That claim has drawn ridicule from most historians, and those targeted by Scalf say he is the one exploiting Dillinger — for his own profit and personal glory.

“This isn’t about preserving history,” says author Dary Matera, whose publisher tangled with Scalf over “John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal.” “It’s about control and money.”

[...] An Indiana law, known as a postmortem right of publicity, allows Scalf and other descendants the right to charge for, or prevent the use of, Dillinger’s name, likeness, voice or personality, says Amy Wright, Scalf’s attorney. In Indiana, such rights last 100 years after a person’s death and cover, among other things, the deceased’s signature, photograph, distinctive appearance and mannerisms.

Later: the nephew responds — Dillinger reloadedpdf

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