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Mumsnet versus Ford

LONDON – A row blew up this month between widely-read childcare expert Gina Ford and a community website used by 250,000 mothers in the UK, This has provoked renewed thinking about the legal status of comments made on the internet.Essentially, their hosting provider was threatened with legal action if they did not take down comments made in discussions about Gina Ford and her parenting advice that were deemed by her and her lawyers to be defamatory. The proposed remedy of prior monitoring of thousands of posts a day on a community website was not thought workable by the site managers, so instead they have asked all members not to discuss Gina Ford at all. The statement that Mumsnet have published about the episode from their perspective is well worth reading. As well as having links to relevant documents it explains very clearly the problem they face in trying to host open discussions in the UK legal environment. They point out that the situation would be very different under US law. One way to avoid legal difficulties is to host a site in the US and, perhaps, to set up an offshore company that is legally responsible for the site contents in a jurisdiction where suing for libel is more difficult. This is the path taken by controversial UK political blogger Guido Fawkes.It will be interesting to see how the tensions over libel law will play out as the internet becomes an increasingly significant medium. What is clear is that it is not good for the UK internet sector for there to be legal incentives to place your hosting business outside the country.

Strong States, Strong Nation

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – Nearly 1,000 elected state legislators and a 1,000 more from business, academia and legislative staff converged on the Music City last week for the annual National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Some 150 sessions over the course of the week focused on Technology, Communications, Global Competitiveness, Health Care, Energy, Homeland Security, Political Reform, Education, and the”ABC’s of Public Health preparedness-.and other Calamities” (really, that was the title).US States.bmpKeynote sessions included speeches from former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to China James Sasser, world renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former Governor and EPA Secretary Christine Todd Whitman (one of my political heroes), U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and well-regarded Democratic and Republican pollsters Peter Hart and Frank Luntz. Like any big convention, it’s easy to get”lost” if you don’t set a few priorities. For this year’s conference, our focus was on establishing relationships in two key states, Georgia and Texas, and trying to influence key policy resolutions legislators were considering on advanced technology policy issues. As a former legislator in California, I know first hand that lawmakers will often take ideas from the NCSL conferences and introduce legislative bills in their own legislative bodies. Read More »

FTC Chairman “Surprised” Companies Want to Regulate the Internet

SAN JOSE, CA – The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras yesterday spoke in Aspen, Colorado at the annual Progress and Freedom Foundation gathering and stated, “proponents of net neutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where the market is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we should challenge.” This is a strong statement from a leading regulator who, in essence, stated that there haven’t been any problems so those proposing regulations on net neutrality should be extremely careful what they are asking for when the market generally will take care of any issues. She stated that if there were issues of anti-competitive behavior from providers of internet services that it would be proper for regulatory bodies to step in. FTC Chairman Majoras.jpgFTC Chairman Deborah Platt MajorasFrom the FTC press release: Chairman Majoras said that competition generally leads to the best results for consumers, that free markets breed innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship, and that markets -particularly dynamic markets -are usually self-correcting.”I ask myself whether consumers will stand for an Internet that suddenly imposes restrictions on their ability to freely explore the Internet or does not provide for the choices they want. And I further ask why network providers would not continue to compete for consumers’ dollars by offering more choices, not fewer. We make a mistake when we think about market scenarios simply as dealings between and among companies; let us not forget who reigns supreme: the consumer.” Read the full release here.For an on-location report on this speech, please see, where he reports Chairman Majoras stated,”I start by admitting my surprise at how quickly so many of our nation’s successful firms have jumped into urge the government to regulate.” She referred to the coalition of technology industry giants -Google, eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo are among the biggest names -that have entered the telecommunications debate seeking legislation that would require telecommunications and cable companies to provide non-discriminatory access to broadband services.I must say that I have stated this very sentiment before.

Katie Couric and Web 2.0…Natch…

WASHINGTON, DC – CBS News announced that it will simulcast the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric on the web. Brilliant. This is another announcement in the accelerating web 2.0 trend. OK, what is the Web 2.0? It may mean something different to just about everybody. But it seems to relate to emerging business models that have a lot to do with being web based, multimedia content, broadband enabled, ubiquitous connectivity, comfort with new ways of obtaining and sharing information, and advertising dollars or cost sharing that drive many of these new models. With the Katie Couric model, the content will be reproduced at minimal marginal cost, and revenue will be enhanced by advertising — not the same advertising as the TV broadcast — but different ads, no doubt targeted at a younger audience, which will also help CBS move closer to the advertising demographic sweet spot. And CBS viewership will be broadened by definition — not only can you watch it at home, but at work, in your car, on the train, or wherever you have connectivity. Your relationship with the evening network news has changed. katiecouric.jpgRecent Web 2.0 related news includes Google’s $900 million deal with MySpace for search and advertising; a blue jeans promotion deal for a MySpace member with lots of MySpace ‘Friends,’ now something with possible market value; a YouTube video maker signed by the Carson Daly TV show to do content there; AOL’s move from a paid dial-up access and subscription service to a web-based advertising driven service; Foster’s beer’s decision to stop TV advertising in the U.S. and move to Internet advertising; a slew of recent deals to deliver movies over the net (note Cisco’s own investment in MovieBeam); political blogs supported by advertising; political campaigns and parties plugged-in; the exponential growth of social networking through Facebook, MySpace and others; on-line communities supporting all of the above, and tens of other examples. Which of these business models will thrive, and which will morph, zig – zag, or fail, who knows. But one thing’s for sure, the ground continues to shift. Read More »

Summer Ease in the EU

BRUSSELS – With all of Europe’s focus on productivity, competitiveness and conforming to a globalized world, it still manages to keep its tradition of switching off in summer. In reality, Europeans are taking shorter holidays than the old days when families would spend all of August at their country home, hotel or campsite. The average grandes vacances of the summer have fallen to two to three weeks from four weeks a decade ago. Yet, the rituals of the European summer remain unchanged, particularly in the corridors of the European institutions in Brussels. Even if some officials are hard at work – particularly those focused on security (see my previous blog entry), foreign affairs and aid workers in Lebanon, most European Union (EU) officials (in the Commission, Parliament and Council) are off duty from end of July until la rentree in the last week of August. The European Commissioners have taken a six week break away from Brussels and will only meet again on Wednesday, August 30th. No EU major decisions/laws will be taken or adopted in their absence. The streets of Brussels around the European institutions are mostly empty and quiet-no European civil servants or lobbyists around here. Even the best weekly newspaper on EU affairs, The European Voice , takes off the month of August.european parliament.gif Read More »