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A week ago we posted two excerpts from Fortune columnist David Kirkpatrick’s new book The Facebook Effect. We’re big fans of Kirkpatrick and have been following his book progress since last year. When Fortune’s PR department called to ask us to print the excerpts, we quickly agreed.

Hi Michael, I hope you’re doing well. I work with FORTUNE’s PR group and I’d love to chat with you about FORTUNE’s exclusive excerpt of David Kirkpatrick’s book on Facebook, which I’d love to offer for tomorrow. Please let me know the best number to reach you.

There were rules, said Fortune. We had to prominently link to their articles printing the excerpts. And agree not to post until they had posted their stuff. At first Fortune asked us to just print one excerpt, but later said it would be great if we posted (and linked to) both.

Hi Michael, thanks again for taking the time to chat with me and agreeing to the exclusive post tomorrow on the book excerpts. Both the excerpts are attached. As for the timing, the EMBARGO is until 8am, that’s when the stories will be live on FORTUNE.com. Below are the links, so you can include them in the story. Again, you’re set to post as soon as our story goes live and in the first line or two, note that the story stems from an exclusive excerpt in FORTUNE of David Kirkpatrick’s new book The Facebook Effect.

Main story: http://money.cnn.com/2010/05/06/technology/facebook_excerpt.fortune/index.htm

Bonus excerpt: http://money.cnn.com/2010/05/06/technology/facebook_excerpt_early.fortune/index.htm

And if you don’t mind, once you’ve read the excerpts, please let me know if you choose not to post on one and not the other or both, which of course we would love. And please let me know if you have other questions or need additional information. Below is the link to David’s page on Amazon.com and the hardcover date is set for June 10th. Again, thank you so much for working with us on this and I hope you’ll find the information as interesting as we did. And best of luck with your new home.

That was fine too. We’d print the excerpts. And we’d link to Fortune. We don’t get much out of that deal, but as I said, we want to support Kirkpatrick and I figured Fortune could owe us a favor.

I carefully wrote the post, taking time to properly format the text from the excerpts (which is a real pain), linking to both the Kindle and hardcover pre-sale versions of the book in the first paragraph, and linking to Fortune twice in the second paragraph. I added a bolded statement “In the meantime, Fortune has access to two excerpts from the book, and this stuff is solid gold.”

In my world, that’s known as a big wet kiss. And at first both Fortune and Kirkpatrick were pleased. 22 minutes after the post was live, Kirkpatrick emailed to thank me. 48 minutes after the post was live, Fortune emailed to say:

Hi Michael, thank you so much for doing such a great post this morning.

But of course no good deed goes unpunished.

Just six minutes after emailing to tell me how great the post was, Fortune emailed again telling me that in fact they had only wanted me to post exerpts of the excerpts, not the whole excerpts:

Michael, I don’t know where there was a miscommunication, but I didn’t offer you to post the entire excerpt, just the first look and to pluck pieces from it. I need you to please take down the entire excerpts and just post pieces of it as we discussed. I gave you the excerpts to select from, but did not offer for you to post our content, I’m sorry if that was unclear. This is now an issue of copy write infringement and I really need your help in taking down the full excerpts and just posting pieces of it. Please contact me as soon as you can to let me know that this is happening.

Uh oh. “copy write infringement.” Sounds serious.

That was just before 6 am on May 6. I had been asleep for two hours. Fortune then called me three times between 6 am and 7:30 am. I woke up each time and thought “Who’s the jerk calling me in the middle of the night?” and went back to sleep without checking.

Another email at 6:03 am:

Michael, I really need your help on this. Again, I need the post to be fixed and you’re welcome to post a few hundred words from each of the excerpts, but I didn’t offer for you to post the entire excerpt. I gave those to you only to choose something to post. I’m sorry if that was a miscommunication, but I wouldn’t give you permission to post all of our content. Please take down the post and edit it to reflect only some quotes. Please let me know as soon as possible who I might reach to make that happen. I really need your help.

A fourth (or maybe fifth) call at 9:46 am finally got me up (after almost 6 hours of sleep, my average). This time it was Dan Roth, the managing editor of Fortune.com.

I returned the call and things got…heated. Roth said it was unreasonable for me to post the entire excerpts, despite the fact that they asked me to, and that it should have been obvious that we could only post excerpts of excerpts. He told me I needed to edit the posts. I declined on the grounds that I was pissed off I was being called so many times and that it would be a ridiculous amount of new work to pick out the right excerpts of excerpts.

He called me unethical. He then called me unprofessional. He demanded that I remove the post entirely. I declined. We hung up.

That was the end of it as far as I was concerned. On to new things, and if Fortune wanted a fight with me, I could deal with that. Absurdly I thought I was doing them a favor, but apparently I spent two hours of my time pissing them off for no actual gain on my end. Whatever, dead tree media are always acting bizarrely.

But today the book’s publisher Simon & Shuster got involved and is threatening legal action.

From: “Potter, Janice”
Date: May 13, 2010 9:43:46 AM EDT
To: <tips@techcrunch.com
Subject: Unauthorized Use of Book Material

I am writing to give notice that your display of text from the Simon & Schuster book entitled THE FACEBOOK EFFECT by David Kirkpatrick (posted May 6) is unauthorized and violates our publication rights, as well as the rights of our author and our licensees. Such publication is a clear case of copyright infringement and you are hereby put on notice to take down this excerpt immediately.

If you wish to LICENSE serial rights to the book, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the appropriate Simon & Schuster department.

In the event the excerpt is not removed from your Web site within 24 hours, our attorneys will be contacting you.

Yours,

Janice Potter

Janice Potter
Contracts Director, Licensing
Simon & Schuster, Inc.

So just to be very clear, Simon & Shuster is threatening legal action unless I take down my post linking to pre-sales of the book and giving it a huge thumbs up. Because I posted excerpts of the book that are also posted online on Fortune and other sites. Ok Janice, I’ll bite. Send your attorneys.

Oh, and in the meantime, you idiots, how about this. Should I cancel the Churchhill Club event that I was promoting where I’m interviewing Kirkpatrick on his new book? And shall I cancel Kirkpatrick’s talk in two weeks in front of 2,000 potential book buyers at TechCrunch Disrupt where he’s talking about his new book? How about the two or three future posts where we would have announced the book was available and promoted sales of the book?

In my world, where content is quickly ripped off without attribution every day, a link is gold. I wrote:

Old media frets over blogs and aggregators that summarize content and link back to the original source. They can’t make a business in that world, they say, so they run the other way and try to find a way to protect and charge for content.

These are the cavemen, or whoever, who were afraid of fire when it was discovered because it burned, or was too technologically advanced to really understand. The smart guys used it to cook their meat and keep them warm, and multiplied.

For our part, we throw a party when someone “steals” our content and links back to us. High fives all around the office. At least there’s some small nod in our direction. And the aggregators like TechMeme can figure out who broke the news. Page views are lost, but reputation is gained.

So I don’t think it was unreasonable for me to assume that Fortune wanted me to do exactly what they asked me to do, print the excerpts with links back to them. I thought they were actually being forward thinking.

In Fortune’s world that’s crazy. The content is theirs, and obviously they would never permit anyone to reprint it, let alone ask someone to do it. Despite what I thought they asked, it should have been obvious to me what they meant. Roth actually said that to me.

Pure, unadulterated stupidity.

The next time someone asks us for a favor, we’re less likely to do it given how this turned out. Hopefully, if you’re the one asking, you’ll understand. I want to help you, really, but you may just be too stupid to accept it without threatening to sue me later. You’ll understand, I’m sure. Right?

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