Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. An amazing documentary about Fox News and the danger of corporations controlling news. There is a QT and a Windows Media trailer online. There is a New York Times article about producer Robert Greenwald's unique method of distributing the documentary, selling the DVD for distribution through political action groups.

As the Times article describes, Greenwald’s style for distributing documentaries may be the beginning of something new — political criticism, using interviews and clips, making a strong political point, distributed through DVDs and political action groups. (See some other examples here). On what theory does he, and others, have the right to use such material without permission? On the free culture theory we call the First Amendment: Copyright law must, the Court told us in Eldred, embed “fair use”; “fair use” is informed by First Amendment values; the values of the First Amendment most relevant here are those expressed in New York Times v. Sullivan. As with news-gathering, critical political filmmaking needs a buffer zone of protection against the overreaching of the law. And if the potential of this medium — now liberated by digital technology — is to be realized, we need clear precedents that establish that critics have the freedom to criticize without having to hire a lawyer first.


Where does the line between critism and theft occur. for instance, Joi has a collection of notes that he is planning on using to create an article. Someone who's opinion differs get ahold of his notes, and publishes them highlighting thoughts that he was never going to use in the actual article. When does that become intrusive? I think whenever we are in the creative process, news organizations included, they have to expand past the point of what the will offer the public. Then at the editing point they bring it into line with the corporate policy.

If Joi's notes on some of his opinions came out publicly, they could be very embarrassing, as well they should. Internal conversations should stay that way. External conversations are for public discussions and consumption. Otherwise, this precedent could have a very negative effect on how any of us attack problems and issues.

First of all, published and unpublished works are a completely different category and I don't think taking unpublished works falls under fair use. On the other hand, investigative journalism and free speech may involved getting ahold of unpublished works. This can be in the form of evidence in a trial or publication in the media. I think this is where we have to rely on juries and the courts to decide. In the case of whistleblowers, they are often in breach of confidentiality agreements and other regulations in order to appeal to a higher good. In many cases, people have to break the law in order to expose other law breaking. I don't think there is any black and white here.

One of the great tragedies that has occured in America during the past several years is this business with our media. Journalists have chosen teams. The two sides have lined up and started beating the drum for their political side; effectively acting as agents for one side or the other. Many of them seem to have totally abondoned any attempts to acheive objectivity. As I see it, journalists with a political bent have two options. They can hold up their responsibility to portray the truth while embracing intellectual honesty. Or, they can tempt fate, color their views, and then lead us down the road to hell.

We're almost at a stage in this country where honest reporting is underground! Think about it. So, I'm really glad to see Greenwald hard at work. "Steal This Movie" was pretty good too. Mainly, I really enjoyed D'Onofrio's performance. Excellent as always.