Monday, February 20, 2012

Threats to free speech

Here are two stories of companies threatening the free speech rights of their employees (and former employees). Both came to my attention via Slashdot.

First, who owns your twitter account? This is an issue of trade-secrets, non-compete contracts, and trademarks. The lawsuit is in Federal courts.

If you set it up as a company representative (e.g. using their name), does it belong to them? This is the issue that is contested in an ongoing court case, where the company "Phonedog" is suing a former employer who had amassed 17,000 twitter followers under the name "Phonedog_Noah". When Noah left Phonedog, he changed the name and continued to use the account. Now Phonedog wants $2.50 for each subscriber to the list. What a crock!

Lawsuit May Determine Who Owns a Twitter Account -

My first thought is that if the company wanted control over the account, they should have established it themselves. Either they should have set up their own server, or they should have established some sort of corporate account with Twitter (if Twitter allows such things). If Noah contracted with Twitter under his own authority, then it is his account. Noah is a free man, and can do whatever the fuck he wants with his account.

The other thing that bugs me is how they treat the subscribers an their property. Noah's subscribers are people with their own interests, and Phonedog can go fuck themselves if they think that they have the right to disrupt communications to these people. The question here is "what did the subscribers think that they were subscribing to?". If they wanted to hear Noah's opinion, then they are Noah's audience. If they wanted to hear about Phonedog, then they are Phonedog's audience. I'd think that the proper way to deal with this sort of divorce is to shut down the account in question, and give the subscribers the following non-exclusive options: if you want to hear Noah go to A, if you want to hear Phonedog go to B. I don't know how Twitter works, and whether this is plausible (I'm sure they'd loose a chunk of their subscribers), but it seems to be the only way to handle this split while respecting the audience.*

This lawsuit is in Federal courts. It shows why we need to invalidate all contractual arrangements that constrain a person's ability to make a living or their free speech rights (e.g. non-compete and non-disclosure agreements).

The next situation is that the Heartland institute is threatening lawsuits over alleged leaked/forged documents. It seems that they want to sue all their opponents for defamation or something. So far, there is no actual lawsuit, just vague threats. Fuck them. I think I'll jump in the pool just because of these threats.

*An alternative would be to clone/fork the account. On the one hand, if Twitter allowed such behavior, it might expose the audience to a bunch of spam (equivalent to selling an address list). However, if the chain of inheritance is transparent, subscribers would be empowered to punish anyone who is selling the subscription list (perhaps simultaneously unsubscribing from the original feed and all cloned feeds)

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