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Quinnipiac Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 05 – ICM 552 – Who Owns Spiderman?

Who Owns Spiderman?

In 1998, Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman and other iconic comic book characters, contracted with his own company, Stan Lee Entertainment, Inc. (the predecessor company to Stan Lee Media, Inc., also known as SLMI). Lee assigned to the company the rights to all of the characters he had worked on while working for Marvel. In 2001, Lee pulled back his intellectual property rights, alleging material breach against SLMI. This was while Marvel was making movies from Lee’s characters, including the X-Men and Iron Man. In 2007, SLMI began asserting ownership rights. A series of lawsuits followed, with the fundamental question: Who Owns Spiderman?

And Iron Man, and the X-Men, etc.

Lawsuits

According to the January 2015 IP Update, SLMI filed numerous lawsuits. In 2009, when Disney acquired Marvel, Disney became the object of these cases.

Who Owns Spiderman?
English: Stan Lee at the 2010 Comic Con in San Diego (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Image by Gage Skidmore. CC Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license

Finally, in 2014, the Tenth Circuit ruled that SLMI had never asserted ownership and had never produced anything containing the characters at issue, whereas Marvel did. In Stan Lee Media, Inc. vs. The Walt Disney Corporation, USCA, Tenth Circuit, December 23, 2014, the court dismissed SLMI’s case, and said that SLMI had not owned a valid copyright and, therefore, the case was dismissed.

On its face, the case looks a bit like a contract/employment dispute. Who was Stan Lee working for? It seems as if Lee created a company but did not really work for it, at least not in the beginning. Instead, he was working for Marvel. I doubt that SLMI was turning a profit at the time.

By 2001, Lee disassociated himself from a company named after him. But it wasn’t until six years later that SLMI got on the stick and started asserting rights in the characters and trying for a share of the profits.

Ownership?

The issue of ownership is the crucial one. That includes the assertion (or not) of copyright. While the corporate relationships are a little hard to follow, one thing is clear. SLMI had a chance to assert copyright any time it witnessed Marvel, and then successor corporation Disney, prepare and sell any sort of media with the disputed characters. Yet they didn’t do so until six years had elapsed.

The court applied what was essentially a utilitarian theory. The maximization of benefits was to allow the original content creator, Stan Lee, to sell his intellectual property as he saw fit. And, when he pulled back his rights, while SLMI had had ample opportunity to object then, the company did not. Furthering the utilitarian maximization of benefits theory is the fact that SLMI never created or sold anything with the characters in dispute. Copyright doesn’t exist to just bring suit; it exists to protect an intellectual property owner who is sharing with and presenting to the public.

Righthaven

As VegasInc.Com said when talking about Righthaven,

” the theory [is] that copyrights have a special place in the law and are to be used for informational and entertainment purposes, not just for lawsuits.”

It would seem that the only way that SLMI wanted to utilize Spiderman and the other copyrights was as a lawsuit battering ram against Lee and Marvel (and, later, Disney). That’s hardly in line with the maximized benefit theory of utilitarianism.

Presumably, the matter is now resolved, but SLMI has gone jurisdiction shopping before. It’s possible that this lawsuit, or its near-twin, will show up in another circuit soon. But if that happens, I predict another dismissal, based on both precedent and utilitarianism. The webslinger will finally catch a break.

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LinkedIn Quinnipiac Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 04 – ICM 552 – LinkedIn and Its Premium Service

LinkedIn and Its Premium Service

Quinnipiac Assignment 04 – ICM 552 – LinkedIn and Its Premium Service
Nederlands: Linked In icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many people, I am a member of LinkedIn. I use the service even when I am employed. It is a decent means of building and maintaining a connection. However, much like Facebook, it can turn into a bit of a popularity contest. You can also end up connected to people you don’t really know. That is not necessarily a huge problem, however. After all, when you build a network offline, you are encouraged to meet friends of friends and expand your circle. Job seekers in all sorts of fields are urged to mention their searches to anyone who will listen (and, perhaps, to those who couldn’t care less). You’re told to tell your hairdresser, even if you don’t work in that field. And on and on.

And LinkedIn’s got a premium service. For $29.99/month, you can get your resume tossed onto the top of the pile. You get a sweet little badge on your profile page, telling all and sundry that you’ve gone premium.

Of course everyone else who goes premium gets identical treatment. If you are vying for a position where there are 100 applicants, and five of them are premium, then all five of you are at the top of the heap. Furthermore, there are no gradations of quality. LinkedIn neither knows (nor cares) whether you or any of the other premium members are better qualified than the other 95 applicants. You’re still up at the top of the stack, although of course the impact of being premium is diminished when others are, as well.

We were asked to answer a few ethical questions about this practice.

  • Does the premium service pass ethical muster? Why or why not?

Exploitation

Using the SAD (Situation, Analysis, Decision) method, the situation is, I feel, somewhat exploitative. The job seeker (often an increasingly desperate individual) is tempted to spend their limited capital on the service. The moral agent, I feel, is LinkedIn itself. While the job seeker might be the one deciding on whether to go ahead and go premium or not, it is LinkedIn itself that has decided on pricing and on providing the service in the first place.

The service is a dubious one at best, I feel. The job seeker is pushed to get his or her resume to the top of the stack, but the reason for promoting the candidate is a financial one and is not based upon merit at all. Such a practice preys upon a job seeker’s insecurities and desire to get something, anything to pay the bills.

  • Does the employer have an ethical responsibility to prioritize LinkedIn’s premium service subscribers above other candidates? Why or why not?

The Employer’s Side

The employer has no ethical responsibility to prioritize premium service subscribers over other candidates. For the employer, if he or she knows how candidates pay for placement, then the intelligent thing to do would be to ignore stack placement in favor of other criteria, such as whether a candidate has experience in an area, or is a veteran or a disabled person that the company is looking to court (such a practice may or may not be legal or ethical, either).

Practically speaking, though, piles of candidate resumes, much like slush piles at publishing houses, are glanced at unless the employee is really looking for something or for a certain type of someone. The fact that certain candidates are at the top might mean that they are the only candidates seen by a rushed Hiring Manager. LinkedIn is counting on this behavior by Hiring Managers, as are job seekers who avail themselves of the service.

  • What ethical arguments could job seekers use against this LinkedIn’s practice?

Beyond the question of whether it works at all (e. g. charging for a service that does not seem as if it would work at all), a job seeker can also present an argument about exploitation. Job seekers are on fixed and unreliable incomes at best. To push for nearly $30/month for a service of dubious efficacy means that a job seeker might go without any number of necessities. It may not seem like much, but that’s grocery money. $360/year is the cost of a decent new suit and accessories.

Social Contract

Does this situation fall under contractarian ethical theory (based upon mutual agreement)? Not exactly. The mutual agreement is skewed heavily in favor of LinkedIn, which created the ‘service’ in the first place and does not allow for negotiations on price or features. LinkedIn isn’t acting from an altruistic standpoint, either. For LinkedIn, the situation seems to fall under utilitarianism. E. g. for them, it is a maximizing of benefits and a minimizing of downsides.

For the job seeker, it seems like just another way to prey on their circumstances without providing much of a benefit at all. Under a deontology theory in particular (act morally under all circumstances), the LinkedIn premium feature fails particularly miserably.

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Analytics Quinnipiac Social Media Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment #12 ICM524 – Final Project (Journalism)

Should Journalism Be Data Driven?

For my final project for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Analytics class, I created a short presentation about journalism and data. This video is available on YouTube.

My essential question was whether data and story popularity should be drivers for journalistic choices. Those choices are everything from what to put on a ‘front page’ to what to bold or italicize, to where to send scarce (and expensive) reporter resources, to what to cover at all.

Popularity Breeds Contempt

For news organizations looking to save some money, it can be mighty appealing to only cover the most popular story lines. News can very quickly turn into all-Kardashian, all the time, if an organization is not careful. For a news corporation searching for an easier path to profitability, hitching their metaphoric wagon to the popularity star might feel right. After all, and to borrow from last semester’s Social Media Platforms class, they have buyer personae to satisfy. If all of their readers or viewers or listeners want is to know the latest about Justin Bieber or Queen Elizabeth II, then why shouldn’t a news organization satisfy that demand?

But there is a corollary to all of this.

Quinnipiac Assignment #12 ICM524 – Final Project (Journalism)
Journalism is going to survive. I just don’t see how the businesses that have provided it will survive – Clay Shirky @cshirky #openjournalism #quotes (Photo credit: planeta)

News organizations often have dissimilar foci. If I am reading, say, the Jewish Daily Forward, I am looking for news, most likely, about either the Jewish people or Israel, or at least for stories which are relevant to either of these two not-identical (albeit somewhat similar) entities. Hence a story about the Kardashians, for example, is not going to fly unless it can be related somehow.

Ethics

Dovetailing into all of this is journalistic ethics. Shouldn’t journalists be telling the stories of the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the forgotten? I well recall the coverage of Watergate as it was happening (even though I was a tween at the time). I’m not so sure that many people today appreciate the sort of courage that that really took.

What is the future of journalism? I feel it has got to be both. There must be a combination. News organizations need to show profits just as much as all other businesses. But that should not come at the expense of their responsibilities.

This was a great class, and I learned a lot. My next semester starts on August 25th.