Posted by Amanda Chapel
Here's a total rarity in the blogosphere. We're going to connect the dots and tell a story. Surely, if you've spent more than a few hours here in the social-media metaverse, you know bloggers are notorious shell collectors. "LOOK WHAT I FOUND!" is heard as they stroll along the beach at Half Moon Bay. For as much linking as they do, for all the flickr snapshots, rarely do they add it up and give you the BIG picture. "Isn't this cool," Rick Murray and his Web buddies are like to say.
Well, this certainly ain't cool: earlier this week it was reported that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is pushing Congress hard to update intellectual property law. What he wants to do is significantly increase criminal penalties for copyright infringement.
"YIKES," replied a few of the more sensible geeks. They groused for a couple hours; they pumped their chests and boasted about their invincibility; and then got back to Twittering. Chalk it up to systemic Attention Deficit.
But wait a minute! Yo! If that ain't the lights coming up signaling the end of Socialmediapalooza, what is?
Listen, it was a fantastic party but apparently it's been rained out. Yes Rick, what I remember was cool, indeed. But now we've got the whole "movement" out in some dairy farmer's backyard, knee-deep in trash and thick mud. It was great fun for sure, well, at least until the psychedelics began to wear off. Personally, I found myself half naked, covered in filth, with the lifetime of tortuously shameful memories of gleefully doggie humping some grizzly gap-toothed leathered biker out in the open in some God-forsaken alfalfa field in upstate New York. Me! Pure heart Amanda! The gravity of it all came perfectly clear to me when I heard myself shout at the top of my lungs: "Melanie, my wallet?! Damnit. Now how the hell are we gonna get home? Shit!" At that moment I started to cry, my wings melted and I came crashing back to earth.
The same has happened with social media (SM) apparently. But this time it isn't because of some little roving gang of biker-chick pickpockets. The AG is weighing in because SM and the Web have become an all out IP mob looting fest. It's corporate America that's now saying, "WHERE'S MY WALLET!"
And now that the music's stopped, look around. Max's farm is completely trashed: We've got widespread porn that's turned love making into endurance sport for the perversely creative; There's gambling for kids with cartoon characters in Second Life; We've got the authors of famed Cluetrain Manifesto allegedly involved in a vile harassment and death-threat plot; and Social Media has made this the Golden Age of psychopathic swindles and sex predators. Arrrgh... what I wouldn't give for a shower and a confessional, let alone a bite to eat and a nice nap.
Listen, I've been here before! I know this. You really only have got two choices: You can chalk it up to a good time and keep telling yourself that "Mongo was a life experience and if I have his baby it's because God willed it." Or you can reassess and learn from the experience.
Let's reconsider, shall we?
WHAT DID WE EXPECT?
Well, not to get totally Maslow on the idea but... with any endeavor we are looking to satisfy 5 basic needs: food, security, sex, social interaction, and esteem.
Okay: we need to thank Edelman for dramatically proving that there's no bread to be made in this Second Life. Thank Kathy Sierra for shutting down any expectation of security. And thank Chris Hanson for turning off the MySpace nookie nozzle. That pretty much leaves the various conferences where one can meet and schmooze with Robert Scoble. And, of course, there's the free pitchfork and torches provided when joining Jarvis' 6-million person peasant rallies. For many, playing with Bobby and marching with Jeff are totally satisfying.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE INCREASED RISK?
As "cool" as it might sound hanging with a lovable celebrity fat man or mobbin' with a Web demagogue, you gotta consider the risks. Bottom line: Used to be you could fuck all you wanted without a condom; no more.
There are three things in play now that have seriously rained on Socialmediapalooza:
1. You so now have to watch what you say. See above reference to the alfalfa field. You're alone... well... in front of a couple hundred thousand people. As Edelman PR just learned with one of their SVP went on at the mouth and a publication, hugely important to their clients, threatened to boycott the firm... loose lips sink ships. Apparently, now minus his testicles, Rubel is the perfect alter boy; barely a peep.
2. MySpace said yesterday that it was making a concerted effort to weed out sexual predators from the youth-oriented social networking website. After getting word that an investigative company it hired in December of 2006 has ferreted out thousands of convicted sex offenders with profile web pages, top prosecutors in eight states asked the News Corporation-owned website to expose convicted sex offenders who have posted their profiles.
MySpace is presently checking its membership roster with a database of registered sex offenders and removing pages of those that match. According to MySpace, it is the "nation's first proprietary software dedicated to identifying and removing sexual predators from online communities."
3. The new sweeping intellectual property bill would put real teeth in the law. The new law would:
And the AG's office has significantly bolstered their manpower, as well. "The efforts to improve criminal IP enforcement have led to substantial increases in federal investigations and prosecutions of IP violations," Gonzales said. "We are dedicating more resources than ever before to the protection of U.S. intellectual property rights."
To understand the true significance of that one need to understand reason WHY there is such rampant theft. Simple (and Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur hit the nail on the head), because there's a natural dearth of talent. The fundamental flaw of the theory that everyone with a paintbrush is a Rembrandt, is that there's only one Rembrandt. Everyone else needs to variously steal and do "mashups".
So where are we? Ya increase personal accountability, hunt down the predators, and increase the penalties for theft... and what are you left with? Pretty much a lot of small talk about nothing on Twitter.
And that's pretty much what I remember of our trek home from Socialmediapalooza. Melanie and I probably walked 20 miles before we hitched a ride. I remember how we barely said a word to each other. I remember being grounded for a year. Til this day I still haven't quite resolved what happened in that alfalfa field.
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Everyone knows that the AG is a partisan lackey who has no shame and an even lower price. Bloggers, not old media are the only ones to have the both the guts and patriotism to point out his ex cathedra failings. I'm not surprised that he and his chums have targeted the worlds most generous 'sharers' open source byting . Do we now expect a Salem trial for binary lootery of cut and paste widgets that don't belong to them?
The irony is that the glaringly obvious intellectual property which has been pilfered and needs immediate action to resolve is the return of the AG's brain by the political group formerly known as the Grand Old Party. Somebody tell him it's been swiped faster than a Platinum Amex card through a charity till in a New Orleans government fundraiser.
Where's his wallet?.. No. Where's his dignity?
I'll get off my soap box now ;)
The looters are NOT victims. Those that have broken the law will be tried and convicted.
You do the crime... you do the time.
Here's a bill moving through the California assembly: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_5914455
It isn't Chris Hanson, Edelman, or Gonzalez that are crashing the Socialmediapalooza party.
It is the fact that the drugs are wearing off. Hate when that happens. You wake up and read the cannibis and acid-inspired writing that you thought was Joycean that now reads like a Harlequin novel. You turn over with a head screaming hangover and see who's lying next to you. You say to yourself, "I swear I thought she was hot." Now, not so much.
The drugs are wearing off and then in come the biker-chick pickpockets. (OK, this may be where you might see the Hanson, Edelman, Gonzalez trio) The communications equivalent of pay-day lenders, con artists, and other petty criminals. The opportunists. The noise. "Look! There's a bunch of drugged out folks who took their clothes off and left their wallets open!!" "Hey Frank, I think we've got next month's rent covered."
It is not the policies that worry me. You can always get around them.
It is the reality of all the other crap that is out there that is harder to deal with.
As long as we all view SM as being one big digital love in it is going to be vulnerable to exactly the kinds of things the AG is trying to ram through. Thankfully there are non-PR people thinking about this whole space in more staid and serious ways. I was lucky enough to have attended MITs Media in Transition conference in April. It was chuck full of academics, artists, filmmakers, etc. who are banding together to stand up for the idea of fair use.
There are some seriously cool things happening that are supporting the ability to use copyrighted material. And it's not a bunch of smelly hippies. The Center for Social Media at American University has helped develop the "Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use" which defines a standard for use. This standard is being recognized by most of the major insurance companies which are now willing to underwrite productions that include copyrighted content that appears in compliance with the Best Practices.
The people wanting to rain on our parade are making a preemptive strike on the assumption that we're all just rolling around in the mud; but that doesn't have to be the case. By establishing and demonstrating norms and uses of protected materials we can persevere.