Denise Howell is a seasoned appellate and intellectual property litigator based in Los Angeles. Denise writes one of the first and most popular law-related blogs, Bag and Baggage, coined the term "blawg" and helped pioneer podcasting for lawyers. Microcontent obsessed since 2001, she is frequently quoted in the media on legal issues involving intellectual property and technology law. "Sound Policy" is Denise's show at IT Conversations, and it's also what she hopes results from the briefs she submits to court. Email Denise at email@example.com.
Dennis Kennedy is a computer lawyer and legal technology expert based in St. Louis, Missouri. An award-winning author, a frequent speaker and a widely-read blogger, he has more than 300 publications on legal, technology and Internet topics, many of which are collected in his e-books. Dennis has been described as someone who knows almost every rock song in existence and, more importantly, how they apply to technology and law. Email Dennis at his gmail address.
Tom Mighell is Senior Counsel and Litigation Technology Support Coordinator at Cowles & Thompson in Dallas. He has published the Internet Legal Research Weekly newsletter since 2000 and blogged about the Internet and legal technology at Inter Alia since August of 2002. With Tom's singing, Ernie on guitar and Dennis' encylopedic knowledge of rock music, we may have the beginnings of a good band, if this whole blog thing doesn't work out. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marty Schwimmer left a partnership in the largest trademark practice in the world and founded Schwimmer Mitchell, a full-service IP micro-boutique in Westchester County, New York, where he represents owners of famous and not yet famous trademarks. He founded The Trademark Blog, the first IP law blog and the one with the most pictures. He is the first to come in and the last to leave in his firm. Email Marty at email@example.com.
Ernest Svenson practices law with a mid-sized law firm in New Orleans, specializing in business-related lawsuits. Most of his practice takes place in federal court, especially the Eastern District. He is best known for his weblog Ernie the Attorney, which he started as an experiment. Like many experiments it got out of control. Nevertheless, he continues to practice law and, occasionally,
to seek enlightenment. Email Ernest at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About this blog
Between Lawyers provides just-in-time group commentary on the issues
raised when technology, culture and the law intersect. We take you
behind the firewalls and conference room doors to show you how
experienced lawyers deal with these issues and help you prepare for
the new challenges we all face. For more, see our introductory post.
So — what should Nixon Peabody have done when its embarrassing firm non-theme song made its inevitable way onto the Web? (And into the atmosphere of countless homes and offices, as its hapless victims hum and mutter it against their will and better judgment?)
If they'd have asked me (or perhaps 95% of the over 1,000 people who have voted in the Volokh Conspiracy poll), I'd have told them the last thing they should be doing is invoking the DMCA. Instead I'd have recommended:
applying an appropriately liberal Creative Commons license,
holding a mashup contest, and
showcasing the winner and the top 9 runners up on the firm's home page.
It has been fascinating in the last several years to watch what has unfolded as the world's first online war. The fact that stories can be and are told and read globally by representatives of all of the parties involved — journalists, soldiers, natives to occupation zones — has fundamentally changed the way public opinion develops (and thus, at least to some extent, the way strategic policy is formed).
But for those in the military, as is true of so much they do, their online activities take place in an environment of uncertainty and danger. As the Jacksonville Daily News reports, though use of tools like MySpace is increasingly common, "DoD does not currently have a specific 'blogging' policy." This can leave soldiers like Matt Austin and his family and friends wondering what exactly has led to the curtailing of activities that provide a thin yet powerful lifeline home.
On February 26, 2003, Robert Scoble penned (keyboarded?) his Corporate Weblog Manifesto, possibly the single most important thing business people can read (other than, of course, Robert's book) to understand what it takes to navigate and thrive in the blogosphere. Over time there have been a couple of addendums (I may be missing some), which also are key reading. Today, Robert has more in the same vein with Rule #1: Don’t pull down posts — a real world cautionary tale that warrants taking to heart.
A colleague recently asked me what concrete steps I thought an organization could take to help ensure the concepts underlying a blogging policy are actually understood and implemented. Bearing in mind I am so not an employment lawyer, I did have a few thoughts.
Blog. I suspect that companies pursuing their own blogging initiatives in addition to implementing policies intended to cover unsanctioned employee blogs will run into fewer problems with employee mistakes or misunderstandings. This is because the management and culture throughout the organization is bound to better grasp the process and related security and compliance issues. IMO, the best "training" occurs by example and widespread use.
Breathe. As I've pontificated here before, there's a pretty good case to be made that blogs and their ilk are
actually the least risky form of corporate communication. If a company adequately gets across the reasons it expects certain employee conduct with regard to external communications, confidential
information, and technology use, blogs, etc. are at least as "safe" as email and the phone; in fact, because people are more likely to understand up front these technologies are designed to accomplish wide and persistent information distribution, people are more likely to approach their use with caution and respect.
Mix. Organizations need to make sure their P.R./marketing and legal arms are communicating about how employees should be relaying work related information to third parties or the world at large, and they need to have an open-eyed appreciation of all the ways people might be or are using technology to do so. Brace yourself: P.R. and legal goals just might compete. Management needs to understand those conflicts and decide what resolution best fits what they're trying to accomplish (and what the law insists they accomplish).
If you've been following our posts concerning business blogging issues and blogging policies, or if you've just been paying attention to mainstream reporting over the last year or so, you know there has been a good deal of handwringing (some media prompted, some lawyer prompted, some both) about the unique or remarkable legal perils that weblogs and other Web-oriented communication tools supposedly pose for businesses. It was clear to me at last week's New Communications Forum that this meme has had an impact. Even in that very blog-friendly environment, concerns and uncertainties about the legal risks of wholly or partly unfiltered employee communications with the outside world were much in evidence.
Something interesting occurred to me along these lines in the course of being interviewed by Debbie Weil for her podcast. Specifically, of all the various communication tools available to employees, whether while on the job or off the job or both, blogging may actually be the least risky and most innocuous from a corporate risk management standpoint. Consider first that people commonly assume phone, email, cocktail party, and/or hallway discussions are invisible, transitory, and/or confidential. Any one of those situations is thus fairly likely to involve remarks that the speaker, rightly or wrongly, does not expect to come back to haunt them in a public way. Then consider the extent to which public blogs, podcasts, and similar tools are conceptually different from the get-go. The accessible nature of the information put out by these means is part of of the compact. Except in the limited case of behind-the-firewall blogging or podcasting, people using these tools are much more likely to comprehend that a broad audience is possible (usually, desired), and to tailor their communications accordingly.
Unlike a great deal of the reporting I read about the dangers and pitfalls of blogging, I have a hard time isolating any primary legal problems that inevitably go along with employees using communication tools of any sort. Instead, the potential problems are a direct product of the extent to which clear expectations have been set, and the extent to which a particular employee is oblivious or doesn't care. Though there are a host of situations whereby an employee's blog, podcast, photo, or video clip could conceivably subject an employer to third party liability — inadvertent disclosure of confidential or regulated information; harassment, discrimination, or other civil rights violations; false advertising or other unfair competition concerns; and much more — not only are none of them unique to online communications, but it seems to me those using such methods would be almost certain to appreciate that what they're doing is not "private."
Picture a world in which it was a newsworthy event every time someone was fired due to something said in an email or a hallway. Or every time company secrets were clandestinely or inadvertently shared over the phone or over drinks. You'd never hear about the dangers and pitfalls of blogging, because it would constitute such a small part of the overall "problem." (And we could all get back to concentrating on what's reallyimportant.)
Jeremy Pepper, Going for that 25 Percent: "Were those comments from Alaska Airlines? Were those comments from Tello employees or its PR firm? I don't know - but the IP addresses (while they can be spoofed) usually don't lie."