Virtual Sacrilege

9:10 AM -- SXSW 2008 -- In the digital world, transgression and sacrilege are facts of life and, as Heitor Alvelos said here this week, "In one way or another, we are all breaking down traditional notions of justice, fair use, morals, property. If we are not actually responsible for transgressive acts, we still live with them and accept them and consume them."

At Light Reading, the reaction to a perceived transgression in the virtual space once played out in the real world in the form of a precedent-setting lawsuit. In 2005, Juniper Networks sued several anonymous Light Reading message board posters for libel and defamation.

The company's intent, we think, was to silence the company's nameless, faceless critics online and to make the offending remarks go away. Well, things didn't go as planned.

Light Reading reporters, too, have been changed by the faster flow of information in the digital world -- and, to some extent, piracy and transgression are to thank for this positive change. Our best scoops have served as the foundation of the mainstream media's telecom coverage. The mainstream stories are picked up, disseminated, and reinterpreted by the bloggers. Those blog posts are then posted and discussed on our message boards, sometimes with a helpful note suggesting that we get off our asses and go cover the story. Hmmm...

Hector Postigo nailed it when he said that the authored work is now the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it.

This idea of the reporter as the beginning of the conversation has been a part of Light Reading from the early years of the site. We've always made connections between groups of people seeking information and groups of people who have those facts.

As we move closer to the days when bylines become bygones, you can still get a scoop. But don't hold onto it too long. The longer you stay out of this constant conversation with an eager audience, the lower your value becomes to that community online. Reporters often are not eager to be accessible to the communities they serve -- and that's too bad.

But when you respond to change positively, a way of working that was once seen as sacrilege is now commonplace.

Another quick thought on digital media in general: Let's not forget the important lessons found in how the Japanese treat manga.

In manga-land, there is an unspoken, implicit agreement between the creators of original content and the dozens or hundreds of works that spring up based on the characters in that original content. Somehow, there's an understanding that sometimes, in some contexts, copyright violation -- yes, transgression -- draws more attention to the original work. It opens that work up to more copying, but it also increases its commercial and social value.

I think content producers (reporters, musicians, artists, authors) and their corporate masters need to work harder to establish that unspoken agreement that works so well elsewhere. In the virtual world, there's much more fun to be had with a little petty theft than with a lot of petty regulation.

I'd love it if you steal that last line. Really.

— Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading

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