Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fine Print

I’m becoming more and more worried at the various “agreements” we are forced to sign or click on in the course of our basic lives. Can it really be an agreement if 1) we don’t have any viable other choice, and 2)we can’t take the time to read and understand every word? I think that would be called coercion and fraud even a generation ago (and don‘t we have some memorable “Snidley Whiplash“ cartoons depicting just that?). I have been told that there is now a clause in the contract I agreed to for this blog that can cancel my access to it if I complain or make them look bad. That may actually seem like a logical request at the level of policy (I suppose if I had to deal constantly with tens of thousands of “partners”, I’d get a little unilateral in my policy statements, purely from nerves), but someone pointed out the tragic consequences for free speech and community. I agree. There is a difference between sliming someone or thing, and complaining. We seem to have lost the ability to determine that boundary.

I also found a clause within this blog’s terms that allows them to use any image uploaded here -- for free, for any use anywhere to promote themselves, for as long as the image is up on the web (and for a certain “reasonable” time after that). I don’t know if that clause was in the old agreement, but it has stopped me from sharing my photography with you (you can check it out on cathymcguire.com). I am strongly reminded of the 1980’s when the idea of e-books was just being conceived of -- and the publishing houses wasted no time in slipping clauses, granting them total rights, into all of their book contracts! I was in SFWA at the time, and there were workshops at the conferences for us to learn whether/how we could either eliminate or negotiate those clauses out of the contracts… the publishers were basically using their muscle to keep us minor authors from having a chance to say no before we even realized what we were saying no to… isn’t that what’s happening now? And without “unions” such as SWFA, there was no ability to push back… is it time for a blogger’s union? Some group that will threaten to pull all the bloggers (big and small, famous and unknown) off a site if the conditions get too autocratic? I know unions have gotten a bad name recently (and some of that is, of course, the opposition smearing them, but some is their own greed or foolishness), but as someone whose grandfathers were in the carpenter’s union during the Depression, I have heard enough stories to understand the need for some group that can represent the “work currency” that the corporations basically bank and then turn around and charge the workers for creating. I’m not a Marxist, but I believe strongly in balance. It’s the only healthy way to live, and unbalance is actually as bad for the corporations as for the workers. Because what happens (we all know) is that those who have the ability to leave a corporation (including the smartest, most capable) will leave if there is a stifling, autocratic regime, and eventually the corporation collapses under the weight of toadyism and mediocrity. Simplified, but true. So in fact the dynamic balance between benefits for workers and for owners is good for both sides. So I choose to believe that when the workers (or bloggers in this case) push back, they are in the end benefiting all.

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