Friday, March 23, 2007

Whose Copyright is it Anyway?

I've read a bit of buzz about the fact that the NFL asked YouTube to take down the NFL copyright notice that Law Professor Wendy Seltzer put online for her copyright class. When I first read some of the coverage, like the story on AOL, I thought she'd put it up there as an example.

But Seltzer actually put it out as a sort of honey pot. In her first post on the subject she noted that she was, in effect, testing the voracity of the NFL's legal bots.

The whole case is interesting nonetheless and is worth a read on her blog. But it also brings out an interesting point in regards to copyright law in a grassroots world. What are your rights? My wife is a lawyer, so if anything comes into our house that looks vaguely legal she gives it a look. If it goes beyond her knowledge she has a support group of lawyers she can call on to give it a read.

But if I didn't have her and I received a legal note from YouTube telling me that my video was being taken down, what are my rights? What if I was entirely in the right (like making a parody) but didn't know it? How could I get the legal backing, support and knowledge to know that I'm not wrong?

Seltzer says this about counter-notifications, which are part of the legal process should you be asked to take something off of YouTube and believe you are within your rights to keep it up:

[W]e see many DMCA takedowns, some right and some wrong, but very few counter-notifications. Part of the problem is that the counter-notifier has to swear to much more than the original notifier. While NFL merely had to affirm that it was or was authorized to act on behalf of a rights-holder to take-down, I had to affirm in response that I had "good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of mistake or misidentification of the material to be removed or disabled." A non-lawyer might be chilled from making that statement, under penalty of perjury, even with a strong good faith belief.
I'm sure in most cases, if the case became large enough the EFF would pick it up, but I also know people who have had such cases and chose not to pursue them. Not because they thought they were wrong, but because the hassle involved would hurt them emotionally and perhaps professionally for a long time.

So, what is a social media maven to do? First, don't be scared when you get a legal notice. Ask around, use the blogging world. There are resources to help, including the EFF and blogging law professors. Don't be scared to ask for help.

At the same time, don't copy and use copyrighted material at will. Intellectual property is, in the end, property. Not everything is free for the taking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tellme like it is

My very first client at Schwartz was in the voice recognition space. Like a lot of companies from the age of the bubble, they had great technology and a lot of money that they blew through. I remember walking into their office and seeing the company logo stitched into a carpet that sat in front of the reception desk. I have no idea if the VCs authorized that purchase.

In any case, while this company targeted itself at telecommunications companies and large enterprises, another similar company had a more consumer-friendly model. Tellme launched with a consumer service that let you get the weather, news, sports scores and a few other things.
Both companies talked about the idea of "Dial tone 2.0." The basic concept was that instead of picking up your phone and hearing the familiar dial tone, you hear a voice saying "who do you want to call?" And instead of pushing buttons, you just give it a name or a series of numbers and POOF, the person is on the other line.

Never mind that dial tone 2.0 is actually the one we have now and dial tone 1.0 was the original operator who connected you to a person when you gave her that person's name. So the next dial tone would actually be like the first dial tone only without actual people.

In any case, my client fizzled (later selling its technology to a wireless carrier) and after the dotcom bust Tellme stopped updating its service so regularly. I remember calling it during a golf outing in September 2001 to get news updates. I also used it for New York Jets scores through the winter. But when the updating stopped, so did my usage.

Over the next few years Tellme changed its strategy from a consumer-facing service to one aimed at call centers. I recognized the sounds when I called certain companies. Today, as Microsoft added Tellme to its arsenal, Rob Hof at BusinessWeek had a great blog entry outlining how he'd talked to the company and even visited them at least once. In fact, he liked the technology a lot, but just couldn't find the story.

This happens a lot in PR. You get in front of the right people, give them as much positioning and as many stories as you can, but sometimes it just doesn't feel right to them. There isn't much you can do but keep trying.

But while Rob didn't see the story many other publications did. I remember reading huge profiles of the founders and of the company. So even without the hit in BusinessWeek Tellme still managed the $800 million deal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

YouTube, Viacom and the Billion Dollar Hammer

Viacom is taking out the hammer and going after YouTube for $1 billion. I know the blogging folks are going to jump all over this saying this like "doesn't Viacom like the free exposure?"

The dirty little secret of YouTube is that much of its content isn't so much "user-generated" as it's "user-posted." Yes, there is a ton of user-generated content out there, but it's also where we all go to see the Saturday Night Live skit we missed when we fell asleep too early (because some of us have 3 kids and can't be up until 1am on a Saturday anymore... though I don't know anyone like that, nope... not me).

Also, consider that as Google looks to start actually making money on its investment it is, of course, looking to advertising. So if YouTube starts putting ads on its contributed site content, and some of that content belongs to other companies, like Viacom or GE, isn't it a case of YouTube getting something for nothing?

I also wonder how much of YouTube's success actually comes from the failure of video search. Every once in a while a company comes along that claims it's going to revolutionize video search. But that just never happens, searching video isn't easy. So people go where the video is and the video is at YouTube, complete with tags and handy comments from others telling you what's cool and what isn't. It's a big TV Guide for the Internet.

Maybe if YouTube did what it's parent does, by directing people to Web sites where the content owners can still own that content and sell ads on it (or make money any way they see fit) then there wouldn't be so much yelling.

But then YouTube wouldn't be YouTube.

Oh, and as a side note, Google's market cap is at $139.8 billion, while Viacom is at $27.6 billion.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Playing Fast and Loose with Trade Show Press Lists

Part of a good media relations program is trade show support in which we obtain the press list provided by the show organizers and start calling. Reporters often find this annoying, especially when PR people call with no real news and just offering up interviews with executives.

But the fact is, trade shows (popular and successful shows) are often the only time people from the company you're representing and beat reporters will be in the same city. That means it's one of the few times a CEO can sit down, face-to-face with a key reporter and make a personal connection. From the media relations perspective this is something you don't want to give up.

Today I received a list from a relatively well-known and respected show in the telecommunications field. In glancing at the names I noticed one reporter who I know is on leave from his publication, along with an odd-looking email address. I contacted the reporter to ask if he was back on the job and if he planned on attending the conference. Not only is he on leave through the summer, but he had never even heard of the show and had no intention of attending.

Was this just wishful thinking on behalf of the show organizers? Was it outright lying?

In the past I've seen trade show lists that included names of reporters who attended last year but hadn't signed up for the current year. Still other reporters don't even bother registering as "press" for fear of getting the phone calls mentioned above.

This raises some serious issues in my head. First, many of my clients look at a press list as they send it off to me and say something like "hey, this looks pretty good." They see big industry names and often assume it'll be a no-brainer to book meetings. That's a challenge I can handle. But when the show organizers have completely lied about who is attending, it's giving paying exhibitors the wrong impression about the importance of the show. Sure, they can invite all the press they want, but suggesting that reporters from such places at Forbes, BusinessWeek and The Economist are planning to attend, when the only reporters actually showing up are from small trade publications sends the wrong impression.

I also wonder what advantages reporters get from registering as press at such events. And now with just about every attendee with a laptop and a wireless connection as a potential blogger and podcaster, should they all be registered as press?

The trade show industry is having trouble, we all know that, but are they hurting themselves even more by putting out "press lists" that aren't worth their weight? Are they crossing an ethical line? Or am I just making too much out of too little?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Exciting Shift

Something wonderful happened today on The Garden City: the people took over.

A challenge that I've always felt with blogging is how to get the community engaged. I can write interesting and provocative things on this blog until my fingers bleed, but at the end of the day it's still MY blog, it doesn't belong to anyone else. I am the ultimate arbiter of the direction, the topics and what appears on the main page. Despite the discussion that does go on, this remains a "one-to-many" experience.

But over on the Garden City, things are a little different. I never wanted it to be "Chuck's Blog" or "Kristine's blog" and I find myself cringing when people refer to it as such in conversations. It's about the people and the power they have to share information with their neighbors.

Today three different people created posts, one announcing a meeting and two others asking questions about the city. The best part? The community responded, providing insight and information!

Yes, I know that if you give people the power they'll use it, it's just so satisfying to plant a seed and then see it grow.