Dan Lawton : Journalist

Living the Digital Life at UO

The University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication hosted a conference on social media Wednesday that featured a cadre of journalists, media professionals and attorneys.  The discussion ranged from libel law to Twitter to Tillamook cheese, which has apparently generated a cult following online.

When I arrived, UO Law professor Ryan Vacca was giving an informative presentation on liability in Internet law. One of the most fundamental questions he answered, in my mind, was the liability of web hosts for the content of others.  I’ve always wondered what would happen if someone, in the form of a comment, appropriated content or wrote something libelous on my blog.

According to Vacca,  a blogger or message board host would most likely be protected in such a case under section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, which states that, ” No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”  From a strict liability perspective, Vacca said that the best way to deal with copyright claims on user content was not to to acknowledge them in writing, as doing so can potentially weaken protection.

The second panel featured a designer and administrator from PR and marketing firm Wagner Edstrom, who spoke about the different strategies their firm employed and advised graduating students on how to approach employers in the PR and marketing industry.  Also sitting on the second panel, was the sole journalist speaking at the event, Register Guard Entertainment Editor Senera Markstrom .  Markstorm paid a quirky homage to conventional media by breaking out a pink box labeled 1994 that contained a telephone and handwritten notes.  She also talked about integrating social media into her work at the Register Guard, which outside her, appears to have virtually no social media approach.

The keynote speaker at the panel was Lauren Gelman, Executive Director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.  She spoke about the variety of the legal issues that continue to pop up as social media users post more and more personal information about themselves online.  In the Q and A session, I asked Gelman about her thoughts on the recent class-action settlement that Google negotiated on behalf of their digital book project.  Some, including myself, believe that if approved the settlement would give Google a monopoly on digital books.  When I asked Gelman if she thought fear of the plan was justified, she was brisk with her response, saying, “You should be terrified.”

All and all, it was a pretty solid event, but  I really would have liked to have seen more journalists speaking.  We know that P.R. gets the Internet–there are endless social media gurus out there to prove it–but there seems to be a dearth of voices on how journalism is effectively utilizing social media to combat its economic woes.  Although, that might be partly due to the fact that the future of journalism is a question that few people currently answer with much besides pessimism and abject nostalgia.

Read My Column on Google’s Book Project Here

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