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Oracle suggests Google may have some skeletons in its closet

Payola is a touchy subject, as DailyTech found out when it was exposed hardware makers paying off sites for good reviews.  Not everyone was happy with the full financial relationships between the media and businesses being out for all to see.

I. Following the Money

Likewise, in the case of Oracle Corp. (ORCL) versus Google Inc. (GOOG), a surprising judicial decision [PDF] will likely please some and leave others crying foul.

The infringement case is now over until the appeal starts -- and Google has essentially won.  But Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose/San Francisco) surprised some by ruling that Google and Oracle must disclose payments to members of the media that occurred during the case.

He writes, "The court is concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or Internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in the case."

Oracle HQ
Oracle and Google's court battle is mostly over, but they've been order to disclose financial relationships with the media. [Image Source: Bloomberg News]

He justified the order by writing that the information "would be of use on appeal" and could "make clear whether any treatise, article, commentary or analysis on the issues posed by this case are possibly influenced by financial relationships to the parties or counsel."

Some would argue that the order trends dangerously towards disrupting freedom of the press -- given that it comes from a government source.  But although unprecedented, the order is not entirely out of the blue.

Florian Mueller, an intellectual property analyst represented himself as an independent observer to multiple news publications, only to reveal that he had a "new" financial relationship with Oracle that took affect near the close of the case.  

The revelation was pretty interesting, considering that Mr. Mueller long predicted Google's situation to be very dire, when in fact Google presented a very strong case, allowing it a resounding victory.  Mr. Mueller has repeatedly denied the relationship biased his reporting of the case, claiming that his predictions of doom for Google were simply his honest opinion and a testament to courtroom unpredictability.

Florian Mueller
Florian Mueller (right) popped up on Oracle's payroll near the end of the case.
[Image Source: Malaysian International Gourmet Festival]

II. Is Google Hiding Something?

Oracle, for its part seems okay with the ruling.  It writes, "Oracle has always disclosed all of its financial relationships in this matter, and it is time for Google to do the same. We read this order to also include indirect payments to entities who, in turn, made comments on behalf of Google."

It's hard to tell if Oracle is bluffing, or if it actually believes Google may have paid bloggers off.  Needless to say, things could get interesting if Google has made such payments.

Reaction to the decision was mixed.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation -- a leading advocate of digital freedoms had no compunctions with the order.  Its intellectual property attorney Julie Samuels told Reuters, "The court has really wide discretion in granting a remedy to fix any kind of wrongdoing."

Bribe under table
Court-ordered exposure of payola may be Constitutional, if the speech in question is involved in a court case. [Image Source: i-Sight]

However, Constitutional law professor Barry McDonald of Pepperdine University told Reuters that the ruling could "improperly chill speech" although "I doubt a court would be very receptive to that claim if the speech at issue was essentially being bought by a party in some sort of misleading way."

In other words, if payola is used to bias the public's perception of a court case, it is likely not unconstitutional to force it to be disclosed.  In other cases, it may be immoral but fall in a gray zone, potentially protected by free speech rights.

Sources: Judge Alsup via SBNation, Reuters, The Verge



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Relevant?
By Reclaimer77 on 8/9/2012 2:33:01 AM , Rating: 1
How can they make the argument that "public opinion" being swayed changed the outcome of a trial? Trials are, in theory, supposed to be immune to media coverage and public opinion.

I just don't see the argument here. Sour grapes imo. Especially considering that we know for a fact Mueller is in Oracles pocket.




RE: Relevant?
By icemansims on 8/9/2012 8:56:13 AM , Rating: 2
In this case, yes, it's too late anyway. However, with signs that there are going to be more, that can definitely change. By forcing both parties to reveal who's being paid and not, then you can actually lump those "independent contractors" as part of each respective company.
Look at it this way:
If they were hiring PR firms, wouldn't they be required to disclose that?


RE: Relevant?
By Reclaimer77 on 8/9/2012 9:24:51 AM , Rating: 2
Seems like a dangerous, and perhaps unconstitutional precedent to me. Obviously in most court trials, one or both parties stand to gain financially from a win. By having to reveal financial statements, that could prejudice the court against a party that was truly wronged. We're talking about justice here, right? Justice is supposed to be blind.

But in today's wishy-washy view of everything being shades of grey, and nothing truly right, and nothing truly wrong, I guess I'm not surprised it's coming to this.


RE: Relevant?
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/9/2012 10:15:20 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Seems like a dangerous, and perhaps unconstitutional precedent to me. Obviously in most court trials, one or both parties stand to gain financially from a win. By having to reveal financial statements, that could prejudice the court against a party that was truly wronged.
I think you're misunderstanding the scope of this. The only financial statements either company has to release is payments to media companies who covered the case.

Now, I realize this could be slightly misleading, say if Google or Oracle purchased advertising with the site, and then the site ran editorials arguing for that party. It's possible such an editorial is truly unbiased, as with larger news sites often advertising and writing staff operate quasi-independently.

That said, in a case like Mueller's where the site in question is a one-man circus show and you're taking payments directly from the company, clearly he's more likely to be biased as he's directly touching the money.
quote:
We're talking about justice here, right? Justice is supposed to be blind.
True, and I think that's why the judge ruled the way he did.

Surely you can acknowledge that the media has influenced jurors -- look at the Zimmerman case, for example.

Most people barely follow current events and what they do get comes digested from a handful of news sources. If those sources are being paid to present a certain point of view, surely you can see how that would create injustice.

Now I'm not saying that the ruling is perfect, or even a good idea, but I can see from a certain perspective how a judge could feel this was promoting blind justice by holding media, plaintiffs, and defendants to a higher standard of transparency.

The true solution would be for people to be better educated and read more news sources so as to get multiple perspectives, while having the critical thinking skills to compare and contrast, such as to eliminate the bias. Unfortunately a judge can't simply rule the public to stop being buffoons -- that will take decades, if not centuries to occur.


RE: Relevant?
By Reclaimer77 on 8/9/2012 10:29:38 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
The true solution would be for people to be better educated and read more news sources so as to get multiple perspectives, while having the critical thinking skills to compare and contrast, such as to eliminate the bias. Unfortunately a judge can't simply rule the public to stop being buffoons -- that will take decades, if not centuries to occur.


Exactly.

Look if I want to pay someone to write an opinion piece in my favor, that's my Constitutional right and is protected speech under the First Amendment. It's not my responsibility to educate the public in a balanced manner. Who actually thinks most "bloggers" are unbiased sources of news anyway? Everything today has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Something just stinks to me about this whole thing. Oracle lost fair and square, and now this?

quote:
Now I'm not saying that the ruling is perfect, or even a good idea, but I can see from a certain perspective how a judge could feel this was promoting blind justice by holding media, plaintiffs, and defendants to a higher standard of transparency.


Oh I can see the perspective too. I just feel this causes more problems than it solves. And seems quasi-legal at that. The judge is taking liberties that go far beyond the normal scope here.

quote:
Surely you can acknowledge that the media has influenced jurors -- look at the Zimmerman case, for example.


Well because of the media we're having a trial in the first place. There wouldn't have been one without a month long campaign to race-bait and create a controversy over a clear justified self-defense shoot. So I don't know about jurors, but District Attorneys sure can be influenced lol.


RE: Relevant?
By Cheesew1z69 on 8/9/2012 11:02:36 AM , Rating: 1
I can't say for sure it was justified, he was clearly following that kid, and as such, I think if Trayvon attacked him, he was the one who was doing the self-defense. Not Zimmerman. Zimmermans story just does not add up by looking over what we have available to us. As his role in NHW, he is to report and observe, not get out of his vehicle and follow which is what he did IMO.


RE: Relevant?
By Reclaimer77 on 8/9/2012 11:20:47 AM , Rating: 2
If that was the case he would have been arrested on the spot. Or at least charged with something shortly after, pending the investigation. They would not have waited an entire month, after TONS of media pressure and activist protests etc etc, to charge him with a crime.

They clearly did not have enough evidence under Florida law to charge Zimmerman. The DA decided to for political reasons. He was pressured.


RE: Relevant?
By Cheesew1z69 on 8/9/2012 11:21:07 AM , Rating: 1
They did want to charge him that night, the DA came down that night and said no.


RE: Relevant?
By CarbonJoe on 8/9/2012 2:21:06 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
in today's wishy-washy view of everything being shades of grey


By my count, it's at least 50 shades of grey.


if it is paid ...
By mmarianbv on 8/9/2012 2:27:43 AM , Rating: 3
is not free speech :).




RE: if it is paid ...
By rstove02 on 8/9/2012 7:41:30 AM , Rating: 2
Tell that to the unlimited donations corporations can give to politicians for them to use media sites to sway opinions.


RE: if it is paid ...
By Flunk on 8/9/2012 9:23:01 AM , Rating: 2
Sometimes there really otta be a law.


RE: if it is paid ...
By TSS on 8/9/2012 9:42:02 AM , Rating: 2
Sometimes there otta be enforcement. I'm pretty sure a couple of laws have been broken to get to this point.


This going to be fun
By Tony Swash on 8/9/2012 6:36:54 AM , Rating: 1
I wonder if there will be any surprises?




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