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Thursday, June 02, 2005

"Under-promise and over-deliver," is one of the kernels of powerful advice imparted to B. Keith Fulton, an executive at Verizon and graduate of New York Law School, by the speaker he introduced, the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner, Inc., Richard D. Parsons.

Dick Parsons appeared before a group of people at New York Law School last evening (Wednesday). As Time Warner's CEO he earned in 2004, according to Forbes, not including stock options, $13,245,165.00. He is a great spokesperson for the concerns of a company whose soul is in both (journalistic) media content providing and (journalistic) media content CREATION. Create, then distribute! Look for reruns of CNN news episodes in syndication.

Prior to spinning off their music business to Warner Music Group because the music business is too substantially afflicted by the ability of people to pirate peer to peer, Time Warner Inc. was the world's largest copyright owner.

Before fielding questions, Mr. Parsons spoke of two of his concerns, journalistic confidentiality and intellectual property protection.

He felt compelled to consider the first concern because two nights ago Mark Felt identified himself as the 1970's media informant, "Deep Throat." It's safe to say we wouldn't be where we are today if it weren't for his help in bringing Gerald Ford to power.

Jump to the 21st century when journalists Judith Miller, Matt Cooper and Time Warner, Inc. as Matt's employer, are threatened with prison and fined, respectively, for not revealing to a Grand jury the source that leaked the CIA status of Valerie Plame. Identifying a CIA agent is a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, since another country might hear CIA as synonymous with SPY! While we recognize as protected confidential communication between certain parties such as priests, spouses, doctors, lawyers, the shield protecting communication between journalist and confidential informant is in question. Forty-nine states have a shield law but the Federal Government does not. The First Amendment right that protected Woodward, Bernstein and the Washington Post arguably protects Miller, Cooper and Time Warner from revealing the identity of their government informant source.

The U.S. Supreme Court is next in line to determine this controversy, if they rise to the writ.

New York Law School Q&A Moderator, Michael Botein, announced plenty of time for questions. I was one of five people who had the opportunity to ask during the program. During the reception Mr. Parsons stayed to answer others.

The journalists' government source committed a felony by breaching CIA cover. I questioned the distinction between a reporting that endangered the wife of U.S. Diplomat and non-CIA agent Joseph Wilson. (Mr. Wilson was critical of US reasons supporting the starting of a second gulf war.) versus the first amendment protection of free speech during Watergate.

Mr. Parsons clarified his concern that the dialogues of inquiry into the identity of a journalist’s information source must be made before the public, not in some place behind closed doors resembling a star chamber. Furthermore, the objective of the press is to inform the public. The Federal investigation forced reporters to reveal their source in private.

I believe Mr. Parsons was referring to a Grand Jury investigation, which is secret and one-sided, involving not the accused but only a potential prosecutor seeking indictment of a crime. Reporters' objectivity would be compromised if they could be compelled to cooperate therein.

(U.S.V.P. Chief of Staff Lewis Libby, the government leak source, waived his right to confidentiality and Time Magazine's Matt Cooper testified before the Grand Jury in August of 2004.)

Dupes no more. In other news, we're in The Digital Age. This led into the second concern that Mr. Parson shared last night.

Do you remember the beauty of diminished copy quality? Black and White contrast became gray. Pure sound became hiss-filled. Xeroxes of xeroxes became pockmarked as text widened and lost crispness. Those copies were of a pre-Digital Age.

Technology today gives the public the capability to reduce media content to electronic impulses that can be moved around and recreated almost perfectly. Perfect copies, distributed to one or one billion, stretch the rights of intellectual property ownership. Here's another controversy for the courts to determine. In 1984 The Supreme Court found that Sony's sale to consumers of its Betamax was not an infringement, being merely the instrument of potential infringement, as well as of other lawful uses such as fair use and time-shifting (Sony was the defendant with exposure and ability to pay substantial damages.). Today, intentions of software programmers will face renewed Supreme Court scrutiny.

Where do rights of property owners stop and rights of casual users begin?

Mr. Parsons just got back from China. 95% of China's media content is pirated. They neither have nor enforce copyright laws, thus in China there is a barren creative community. China used to be by far the most developed cultural country. (I love those carved ivory chess sets.) Today artists there can't make a living. All their invention is stolen from them. Creativity atrophied because there is no legal protection afforded to the creators of intellectual property.

Do you remember the incentives arising from ownership? There are always those with the creative urge (I'm one.), but for it to be part of a vibrant thriving community/industry, we need enforceable laws to let us know where we are and how we are protected. If not, we may as well abandon the field and go be farmers.

We need more laws. The last person to ask a question, Bob Mendez, included this reminder: laws inspire creativity (like those athlete artists on the playing field who win while abiding by the rules of the game). Throughout the term of our agreement to abide by laws we become increasingly creative in how we do so.