More Thoughts on Today’s O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 Fiasco

Tim O'Reilly

Update: Please see this post for an apology and my current thoughts on this situation.

Ok, so I’ve been thinking a little bit more about this O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 Conference fiasco that’s been going on today and wanted to add a few more of my thoughts.

First off I probably should not be calling Tim O’Reilly an asshole. It’s not a very nice thing to call someone and it’s somewhat juvenile. I tend to overreact on things sometimes and I should probably give him the benefit of the doubt on this and in fairness wait until he can respond before joining in with the rest of the lynch mob. I don’t know the man personally and there may be any number of reasons why this cease and desist letter happened and it is possible in fact that he had no knowledge personally that it even went out. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but he’s not here to defend himself so I should probably be patient and give him the weekend or so to get back “on the grid”TM and come up with an appropriate response to this.

So to Tim O’Reilly, I’m sorry for calling you an asshole. I may still call you an asshole when you get back from your vacation and elaborate on your thinking on this matter but I take it back for now and should not have been so quick to malign you.

I think my and the rest of the blogosphere’s reaction today was so swift and strong on this thing for two reasons. The first is just that it’s boneheaded to send a cease and desist to a non profit. Like I said before that’s like the RIAA deciding to sue grandmothers. Whether or not you have a case legally, ethically, or otherwise, it’s never a good PR move to go after widows, orphans, dogs, grandmothers, or non profits. Even if they wanted to maintain rights they could have let this non profit slide this time and dealt with other non profits earlier the next time around. Had it been the Microsoft Web 2.0 conference and they issued the cease and desist, you probably would have had a very different response from the blogosphere.

The second reason that the response was so strong though has more to do with the idea that many of us in the blogosphere embrace this kind of open technology ethos. Business is business, yes. But, when it comes to blogging and Web 2.0 technologies that have been a big part of blogging we feel like the concept of Web 2.0 belongs to all of us as much as it does to O’Reilly Media. And so because the term “Web 2.0” has become very generic at this point and as the term “conference” has always been very generic. It’s just a feeling, but it feels like no one should really “own” that term.

Were the license for the “O’Reilly Web 2.0 Conference” I’m sure we all would have felt differently. But “Web 2.0 Conference” feels too broad.

But technically O’Reilly is probably entitled to ownership of this term. From what I’ve learned since my last post, I’ve been told that O’Reilly Media and CMP actually had put in for service mark on the term “Web 2.0 Conference” back in November of 2003. I’m not sure why it’s taken the copyright office as long as it has to make a determination on their part, but if they indeed did file back then they probably technically do own the title.

This being said though the question is what should O’Reilly Media do now at this point, now that what’s been done has been done.

1. O’Reilly should change their intended license from “all rights reserved” to Creative Commons Non Commercial. They should say that while they wish to be the only Web 2.0 Conference commercially on the market, that they recognize that non profits and individuals might still use the terms for meetups. If I want to set up the Thomas Hawk Web 2.0 Conference just for me and a bunch of bloggers to get together and chat about Web 2.0 and I make no money then this should be allowed. CC is very much a part of the spirit of Web 2.0 and embracing this licensing would build back some goodwill that O’Reilly lost in this fiasco.

2. O’Reilly should send an apology letter to IT@Cork and say that as a non-profit they can feel free to use the name under the new Creative Commons claim and that they ought to disregard the legal mumbo jumbo paperwork that they wanted them to sign previously agreeing not to use it in the future.

And if he really, really, cared, I’d might even hop on an airplane and actually speak at the conference if I could. (After all, he was invited in the first place). This would make everyone feel better at this point and the whole thing might be chalked up to a good learning experience.

I think if this is done that all can be forgiven. Also, in the spirit of fairness, I’m changing my graphic where I’m calling Tim O’Reilly an asshole to one where Tim has an empty bubble over his head instead. (Isn’t it cool how flickr has this new “Replace Photo” thing). The empty bubble represents Tim O’Reilly’s opportunity to put something positive in there and represents my hope that this whole thing turns out well in the end. Creative Commons licensing represents the best way to handle this situation at this point.

15 Replies to “More Thoughts on Today’s O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 Fiasco”

  1. I think it’s too late to save your O’Reilly book deal… 😉

    Honestly, I don’t think they care if the use is commercial non-profit. They want to own the idea and control its image. They fear making less cash if their “product” is diluted or altered. Whatever – lawsuits and pissing contests are as American as Apple pie. (I wonder if it’s too late to change professions.)

  2. Dave, where’s the evidence for your claim that “they want to own the idea and control its image”? All I see is a company trying to preserve the good reputation they have for a particular brand (“Web 2.0 Conference”) from being used by other companies (profit or non-profit makes no difference).

    I see no claim by O’Reilly to ownership of the idea of Web 2.0. Show me where they claim that. If you can’t, then perhaps you should rethink your opinion.

  3. I took the opposite tack when this story first broke; I asserted it must be CMP’s blunder, not O’Reilly’s. Wrong. I hope someone gave me points for my misplaced faith-in-humanity. Anyway, it’s a fun brouhaha.

  4. The trademark isn’t “Web 2.0 Conference”. It’s “Web 2.0”. And the protected use is conferences. The issue is descriptiveness and genericness of the mark. See Boing Boing.

  5. The trademark isn’t “Web 2.0 Conference”. It’s “Web 2.0”. And the protected use is conferences. The issue is descriptiveness and genericness of the mark. See Boing Boing.

  6. I do find it funny that you went so ballastic, cussing up a storm etc., yet you continue to use the FM ad platform in which O’reilly is one of the key investors.

  7. “I tend to overreact on things sometimes”

    Overreact… I don’t know. Usually you have very strong and well researched points.

    Your way of expressing yourself is one of the many good reasons for reading Thomas Hawk’s digital connection.

    Keep up the good work. Keep the intelligent exaggeration, irony and humor.

  8. Wireless World: A marketing malfunction?
    The music industry’s latest lawsuit — this time against XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. over its new player — is generating a lot of poor publicity. Still, experts tell UPI’s Wireless World the recording business probably has a good argument in court because of an apparent marketing malfunction by the satellite-radio producers.
    Recent court decisions are giving the Washington-based Recording Industry Association of America a likely edge in this litigation. By Gene Koprowski

  9. Dave, yeah I’d imagine no O’Reilly book deal for me. I suppose I won’t be covering their conference this year as press either, but I wrote what I thought was the right thing to right and then reconsidered.

    I don’t worry about being blackballed Artie, although that’s contrary pretty much to the spirit of the blogosphere. The beautiful thing about blogging is that anyone can do it. There are no barriers to entry and so black balling isn’t really a concern. At least for me. With your own blog you can reach people directly and don’t need to depend on others or even an industry.

    Soul Patrol. Yes, I suppose it is ironic that I went ballistic when I’m involved with FM Publishing, and John Battelle is partners with Tim, but I think that this speaks about the freedom to blog at FM more than anything. I think the world of FM and think it’s a pretty great network to be a part of.

    This said, I think John and everyone there are all about giving bloggers absolute freedom and editorial control. The fact that I can blog an article that they might not agree with speaks to this point and should be an encouragement to anyone who might consider blogging with them.

    My mea culpa with the “asshole” remark is mine and the right thing to do. It was wrong of me to call someone an asshole without knowing all the facts. It’s a charged word and personal and for all I know O’Reilly himself had no idea that this letter was even being sent. I personalized the issue unfairly.

    I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this after O’Reilly explains his side of things and more thoughtful comments.

  10. Well, now you’ve got your response from Tim. I expect we’ll see a post from you later today?

    Yours was the first mention of this that I saw (but not the last). My first reaction was “that sucks!”, but then I saw another report that it applied only to the conference and that The Man himself was on vacation and unavailable for comment. I decided to reserve judgment and I think his response is satisfactory. It’ll be interesting to see what he does after talking with CMP this week.

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