Shooing Away Legal Eagles

July 15, 2008

This lawyer stuff is not to my liking. I read the Google Web log post “The Law and Your Privacy: An Update” and I shivered. I recall my debate coach in high school criticizing my linking of a broad generalization with a personal argument. He used a fancy Greek term I didn’t understand. What I did understand was his telling me that I would lose if my opponent drove a truck through the argument and over me. You can read the Google Web log post here.

Then I scanned Michael Arrington’s “Google/Viacom Agree to Preserve User Anonymity in Data Shakedown”, and I thought my debate coach would have smiled that chilling grin he used when he knew he had a winner. Mr. Arrington summarizes what the various legal eagles worked out, and then he added this remark with which I agree:

I for one have no further objections to this data being handed over from a privacy standpoint, although I still urge Viacom to stop the endless litigation and consider more innovative business models around their content.

By the way, the TechCrunch post includes the court document issued by Judget Stanton.

I have had the opportunity to serve as a consultant in some legal matters, and I think my health issues in early 2007 were blow back from the stress of these jobs. Once a legal process starts moving, in my opinion, the matter takes on a life of its own. The logic is exactly that honed in university rhetoric courses and then refined in law school.

Once inside the argument, the reasoning becomes sharply faceted. For those without much experience getting ripped by one of the winningest high school debate coaches in Illinois’ history, you have to keep fingers out of the moving machinery. A misstep can mean real trouble.

Mr. Arrington’s point is one that speaks clearly and wisely. Throwing money at a crusade is fine and dandy for a while, but most legal skirmishes can be resolved by talking. In this matter, I know I cannot tell who is “right” and who is “wrong”. Once the legal drag line starts ripping earth, you see the big gouges and piles of dirt. It’s pretty tough to envision what was there before the process began.

In my view, big media ignored the grassroots revolution that has been building. I wrote an essay about Napster years ago in which I portrayed media’s view of that service as the spawn of Satan. The angle I took, as I recall, was that the people doing the bulk of the file sharing, copying, and trading were the sons and daughters of the big media people and guys like me. I recall watching students at a major university engaging in mass audio ripping and sharing when I visited my son’s dorm. Now there are young people who just don’t understand why everyone doesn’t behave as they do.

Today, with traditional media business models failing, controlling ephemeral zeros and ones is pretty tough. No, not tough. Impossible. Google bought YouTube.com and with it Google acquired traffic and an opportunity to monetize. The traffic is still there, but the service has been difficult to monetize. Meanwhile savvy young people have seized upon online media as their next big thing.

Young people see online video as the way to snag chunks of crunchy information. I have done several research projects probing into young people’s attitudes about online information. I don’t understand what I learned, and I can sum it up easily:

Online is the standard TV-telephone-juke box-hang out super enabler. I am a dinosaur. I think it is admirable to preserve traditions. A crusade, as long as one is not killed, can be enervating. However, with each passing year, the swelling number of young people who are going about their business oblivious to the needs of courts, Google, Viacom, and adults in general is growing. I would assert that if Google and Viacom did not exist, the inexorable march of executives’ children will continue into the fluid, copyright indifferent digital future.

Based on my research, in my opinion, it is more productive to work out a pragmatic solution and turn one’s attention to serving the needs of this growing and soon to be dominant majority consumer mass. I have a wonderful gold Waterman fountain pen, a relic from my Booz, Allen & Hamilton days in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I don’t use it. I can write this essay on paper, and most people can read my writing. But I have had to adjust to the new world. My expensive Waterman is sleeping in its velvet lined storage box, but I don’t think I will use it again–ever.

Adjust and adapt. Otherwise the rising tide of young people’s behavior will marginalize BOTH new companies like Google and the old guard like Viacom.

Agree? Disagree? So educate me, already.

Stephen Arnold, July 15, 2008

Comments

One Response to “Shooing Away Legal Eagles”

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