Conducting a Civil Society

Fuck You! (Strong letter to follow…)
That was a telegram we sent once in the early 80’s when we wanted to bust somebody’s balls, back when I was a real estate developer in Colorado. Our sense was that, when you’ve got someone by the nuts, their heart and mind will surely follow. I was often accused of being an attorney as I personally prepared and executed the contracts, zoning documents, financing agreements and property descriptions needed to upgrade the land we’d optioned or (heaven forbid!) purchased.

In those days I wore expensive suits, red suspenders (we called them “braces”) and I always stood alone before the City Councils and County Commissioners, doing what most developers hire attorneys to do for them: Transform unzoned, worthless land into zoned properties with designated areas for commercial, apartment, industrial and single-family uses. It was modern alchemy: you walked into a municipal hearing owning a worthless option to buy a worthless field and you walked out with 120 acres worth $1 per square foot (x 43,560 sq. ft. per acre–you do the math). It was a heady experience and a galvanizing phase in my life.

I recall that time because I’ve had a lot of experience with lawyers and public officials and with people who use their corporate shield to do things they’d never do personally. And I want to embrace and extend an idea Jeff Jarvis came up with.

Yesterday, Jeff sounded a call for bloggers who are lawyers to defend those among us who do what we have a right to do and therefore attract the attention of humanoid ciphers, attorneys, working for corporate drones who perceive copyright as an excuse to rent the fabric of civilization as we know it–and as a civil society should be conducted:

The latest case: Jason Kottke did some great reporting and posted audio and then a transcript of Ken Jennings’ loss on Jeopardy, the worst kept secret in Hollywood this side of Michael Jackson’s weirdness. Sony lawyers contacted Jason, first telling him to take the audio down, then telling him to take the transcript down (even though the same details were reported in the Washington Post). Now Jason — a pioneer in this ‘sphere, a damned Davey Crockett of blogging — is thinking about giving up the blog. He’s feeling the chill.

You’ll all remember when Robert Cox felt a similar chill from The New York Times’ lawyers until (a) he got some help from pro bono lawyers from blogs and (b) saner souls prevailed at The Times and they came to a swift and civilized agreement. Nonetheless, we know that Robert, too, felt the chill. We all do when lawyers descend upon us. Civilians can’t afford the fight. And that’s just the point, of course.

How could that audio excerpt and transcript–free PR–constitute a jeopardy to the fat cats who happen to “own” the “rights” to the sounds uttered that night, for which everyone was paid obscene amounts of money? These intimidations are promoted by the inhouse and outhouse lawyers because it costs them nothing. Why not up the ante?

Jeff’s hope is to inspire a Blogger’s Legal Aid Society to defend bloggers, and it shouldn’t take more than six months if everyone works hard at it. I’m not as moderate as Jeff and I’m much less patient. I want to rip these drones a new asshole. Every cohort of our society is exercising power as never before and we–the bloggers who really have the power–have no response to litigation. Wake up bloggers! We hold all the cards. We buy our ink by the TeraByte!

Let’s do what bloggers do best. Out the fuckers! There’s a list of names hiding behind every one of these pissant actions brought against one of our own. All of their names are easily discoverable. There are corporate officers, listed in 10Q’s and 10K’s. There are attorneys and partners and judges of record ruling on all these foolish motions. They have work and home street addresses, club affiliations and, if we’re lucky, discoverable dalliances. There are a thousand bloggers for every one of these ciphers, a googleplex of data about most of them and more to be gained if someone bothers to hire a PI or dig into it, all of it public knowledge, but unavailable to the public record until we act.

That a lawyer’s call would quiet Jason Kottke’s voice is an affront to free speech and a violation of something far more powerful–our collective outrage. What do we bloggers do better than anybody? We know how to google and to describe and to crosslink and to hang on to facts like bulldogs. As the N’Yawkers shouted at the Green Goblin as they pelted him from the 59th Street Bridge:

YO! You attack one of us, you attack all of us!

Any action we resent deserves to be exposed. Is our overreaction fair? Of course not! Given the overwhelming weight of our collective attention, it’s incredibly unfair to those who, until now, have held all the cards. They have status to defend, reputations to uphold, power to secure.

Why do you care?

Fisk ’em!

These lawyers are paper tigers.

  • Who, specifically, contacted Jason?
  • What did the letter say and who signed it?
  • What’s the name of the law firm and who are its partners?
  • What other cases are they currently arguing?
  • Before which judges?
  • What actions have been brought against the firm and its people?
  • What have they been accused of, by whom?
  • What will we find when we follow their money?

File something with their bar association. We may not be big individually, but we are mighty in the aggregate. Jason can’t be everywhere but we already are.

Confronted by our awesome aggregated conversation, conjecture and conclusions, blackbirds wheeling on a whim, they will fold their briefs (perhaps soiling them) and retire, trembling, to the sidelines. My suggestions:

  1. If called by a lawyer, calm your mind and lower your pulse.
  2. Ask politely that they put it in writing.
  3. Take the letter to your city or county’s Public Recorder’s Office.
  4. File it for the public record for a small fee.
    (you may enter anything into the public record, even a movie stub).
  5. Scan the letter and post it online as a GIF and a PDF.
  6. List the official record number.
  7. Let us do the rest.

None of this is fair to the lawyers who do this because they’re only doing their job. Tough noogies. In every transition of power, force is projected by the rising elite against the old, and careers and reputations are lost and individuals are hurt. It is the way of nature. The question is, are we bloggers willing to discover and expose the words and identities of the individuals, having no fear of retribution, who threaten our friend Jason? We’re certainly willing to track down every other detail that interests us, why not when one of us is attacked?

The exercise of real power is never fair. In the last year there’s been a shift of power to citizen journalists who simply examine the public record and report what we’ve learned. We must
rise up now that they have come for Jason, for they will surely come for us next.

“Never give in — never, never, never, never in nothing great or small . . . Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
—Winston Churchill

12:29:34 PM    

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