Bring on the lawyers!

I’ve been saying for years that the institutions of modernism will not go quietly into the postmodern future, and this certainly includes the world of communications. I wrote long ago that we needed to watch the courts, because lawyers are the maintainers of the status quo. That is their reason for being, to keep the money in our culture where it “belongs.” Whether it’s lawyers in political office, lawyers in the private sector, or lawyers in the public sector, the mission is the same: create and uphold laws that validate the behaviors of the haves in the keeping what they’ve got.

This is, of course, problematic when the playing field is leveled by technology and when people formerly left out of the power paradigm are suddenly let in. It was this way with the California gold rush, and it’s this way today.

So we watch the courts, because that’s where the battle is really fought. Unelected governors of the culture dressed in black robes keep a lid on everything, because, well, that’s the way things are done. Where they can find no law to support mission, they often just make one up. Case law, I believe it’s called, but I digress once again.

We watch the courts, and there’s a lot to consider this week.

  • Verizon doesn’t like the half-assed job that the FCC did with setting “arbitrary and capricious” rules for the 700 MHz auction, so they’ve gone to court. Verizon likes closed spectrum, because it gives them a competitive advantage. The FCC bought a part of the argument of that bad old disruptor Google, and decided to make a part of the spectrum open, meaning any device will have to be able to connect to it. Verizon may have legitimate business concerns, but going to court means they want a judge or judges to do for them what they can’t do for themselves.
  • CNET news surveyed some lawyers and discovered that they’re all waiting for somebody to go to court to stop people from blocking ads online. That’s right. The “issue” is “just now ripening,” according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). The article does point out that the courts have historically come down on the side of consumers with this issue, but the new twist here is somebody other than the consumer (Firefox) is blocking ads. Of course, Firefox is open source and built by “the people.”
  • Prince, or the artist known as Prince, or whatever he calls himself these days is suing YouTube, eBay and others over what he views as copyright violations. In so doing, he joins Viacom and others in asking the guys in the black robes to help them against this great evil. Don’t misunderstand; I’m a writer, so copyright means a lot to me. But this copyright business has become the symbol for resistance against an enormous consumer backlash over price gouging and dictatorial control by an industry interested far more in profit than music. According to a Reuters article in the New York Times, Prince is thought to be the first individual artist to go this route. Lawsuits by the music industry have become common.

    Prince has apparently hired British company Web Sheriff to help him ferret out offenders.

    “In the last couple of weeks we have directly removed approximately 2,000 Prince videos from YouTube,” said Web Sheriff managing director John Giacobbi.

    “The problem is that one can reduce it to zero and then the next day there will be 100 or 500 or whatever. This carries on ad nauseam at Prince’s expense,” he told Reuters.

    The phrase “at Prince’s expense” is most interesting, because this is really more about a principle than real dollars lost. And what is the principle? That the courts “should” help the status quo get back to the position it used to enjoy.

  • These are far more complex matters than I’ve articulated here, and I suppose it would be easy for a smart lawyer to explain why I’m full of it. But if this “personal media revolution” has taught me anything, it’s that the people formerly known as the audience — the viewers, the listeners, the users, the fans — aren’t going back into the box from which they’ve escaped. I wouldn’t bet against them in any of this.


  1. I have a blog that discusses what it’s like for a non-lawyer to learn the laws and go through litigation. I’ve run into brick walls because the “legal world” despises nonlawyers. Prior to finding your post, I had posted this today:

    I’m afraid to talk about laws because lawyers, the Bar and all the others in this monopoly consider it practicing without a license. How is it that lawyers get to have a legal monopoly?

    The more I learn about how our courts work, the more I wish someone re-write the laws and clean up the courts and monopoly. People are so afraid to help me, and the lawyers have asked who is helping me and who is funding me. Joe Public…that’s who.

  2. errr, wasn’t it prince that just gave his new cd away for FREE attached to the front page of 10,000 copies (or thereabout) of some paper in england?

    the fun never stops!

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