The bIPlog was produced by a class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism that brought together students from journalism, law, computer science and information management and systems to create a Weblog on intellectual property issues.
The Weblog grew out of a meeting in April 2002 of editors from online and traditional media publications, entrepreneurs at technology and information companies, and others who were asked to critique the new media and online publishing courses offered at the journalism school.
The common sentiment from those in attendance was that journalism schools needed to do much more to prepare students for the new world of publishing over a digital network. In particular they emphasized the huge battle brewing over copyright and other intellectual property issues - a fight that would have profound implications for the publishing business, technological innovation and the public's access to information. And they said journalism classes must be more experimental - adopting new and different forms of online media, such as the Weblog, to deliver news and information.
Afterward John Battelle, a teaching fellow at the journalism school and now the director of the business reporting program, and Paul Grabowicz, director of the school's new media program, decided to try to combine some of the concerns raised at the meeting into a new class for the Fall 2002 semester: using the Weblog to report on the complicated issue of intellectual property. The class was to be small and experimental - only a handful of students, but open to students from other campus departments.
The class soon proved controversial as well. When the course description was posted on the Journalism School's Web page, it quickly was "blogged" - picked up at a number of Weblog sites, and then by the media. Among bloggers much of the reaction was hostile- that journalists were muscling in on and ruining a democratic, freewheeling form of expression. As one complained, "...this (class) is going to be the Altamont of the blogging movement..."
When the class met in late August, eight students, drawn from the journalism school, the school of information management and systems, the law school and the computer science department, had signed up. We spent the next two and a half months exploring the Weblog phenomenon and its usefulness as a form of journalism, probing how the digital revolution was changing the rules of intellectual property, and then planning our Weblog.
As for what to cover, we adopted a more traditional journalism approach, with the students being assigned "beats" within intellectual property. That was designed both to divide up responsibilities for coverage among ourselves, and also give the public a better sense of the scope of the Weblog. The beats were reflected in the Weblog itself, offering people the options of reading the general postings in the main section, or going quickly to a subtopic of intellectual property they were particularly interested in. The beat structure also provided us with a logical place to post the topical stories the students were writing.
Then there was the especially tricky question of what editing policy we should adopt. Should each posting be checked by an editor before it went live? Or did the constantly updated, running commentary nature of a Weblog suggest a less restrictive approach? We came up with a compromise that was a little of both - stories would be vetted, but the editing responsibilities were spread out among everyone in the class. This decision also was one of the main reasons we finally settled on the Movable Type blogging software, which allows postings in "draft" mode, which then can be edited before being published.
Finally there was the all important decision - what do we call this thing? Something catchy and simple but that also captured the essence of what we were all about. We settled on the UC Berkeley Intellectual Property Weblog - bIPlog for short.
We could easily have spent the whole semester - or even another semester - refining and second guessing all this. But as with any new publication, at some point you need to pull the trigger. We did that on Nov. 15, when after some last minute tweaking we went live with the bIPlog.
The class ended in December 2002, but some of the students - and some newcomers - continued posting to bIPlog for a while.
Currently bIPlog is being kept going by one of the students from the original class, Mary Hodder from the School of Information Management and Systems. She is now posting directly to bIPlog, without editing.
Send an email with your thoughts, suggestions and criticisms.
We spent the first three weeks of the class trying to understand the nature of the blogging movement - both the characteristics of Weblogs and whether this media form was something journalists and media companies should adopt. We discovered many Webloggers were doing things that previously had been almost the exclusive domain of journalists - not just writing but also reporting about the news. Conversely, journalists increasingly were using Weblogs to do a different kind of journalism - something that wasn't housed in the traditional narrative form, that had opinion and personality, and that interacted in a much more significant way with readers. On a more practical level, we also examined the blogging software that was making this all possible, with the journalism school's Webmaster, Scot Hacker, who was helping teach the class, presenting the results of trial runs he had done with a number of different Weblog software packages to find the one that was most flexible and might best suited our needs.
The second part of the class was a four-week plunge into the world of intellectual property - including readings and guest lectures by attorneys and legal scholars who specialized in copyright and related issues. Much of the discussion centered on a paradox the digital network posed for journalism - a new opportunity to fulfill our mission of informing the public while at the same time a threat to the economics of the publishing industry, which rested on restricting the copying and distribution of the news product. How could we provide essential news to the public - and still get paid for it? This dilemma was reflected in the historic copyright dispute heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in October - the Eldred vs.Ashcroft case that challenged Congress' extension of the terms for copyright protection. The case pitted the entertainment industry, which said rampant piracy of digital music and movies was stealing money from the creators of those works, against the academics and technologists who feared the expansion of copyright protections was stifling the intellectual "commons" of shared information and innovation that had given birth to the Internet.
As the Eldred case was being argued before the Supreme Court, we began planning our intellectual property Weblog, which would report on that and a myriad of other copyright cases and disputes. Some of the issues we wrangled with were typical of the launch of any new publication. What audience did we want to reach? Which of the many facets of the intellectual property debate should we cover and how? What should be the look and feel of our publication? (Thanks to Abe Burmeister for the bIPlog logo and final design).
But there were many new and different problems posed by the Weblog format. Should we cast off "objectivity" for the more informal, conversational and opinionated style that the Weblog seemed to demand? Since this was a "group Weblog," to which all the students and the instructors would be contributing, did we need to impose some kind of uniformity on the postings to avoid being a cacophony of discordant voices? Should we restrict postings from people outside the class to a "comments" section, or allow guest commentators or even co-contributors? And how would be handle editing of our own postings? Weblogs by nature are spontaneous, but journalism is all about the vetting of information.
Beyond the postings, there were questions about what other resources we should include in the Weblog, such as links to other intellectual property blogs. Should we view them as competitors or collaborators? Students in the class also were required to produce original stories on different aspects of intellectual property, and those narratives needed to somehow be integrated into the Weblog's posting format. And we teamed up with an investigative reporting class that was going to do a more in-depth story on one aspect of the intellectual property puzzle. How could a long-form story be made part of a medium that is all about short bursts of information?
Here's how we tried to resolve these issues.
The bIPlog aims to advance the debate over intellectual property by aggregating noteworthy, factual information with thought-provoking commentary.
Our community of contributors to the bIPlog has agreed to these posting guidelines to best serve our readers.
Postings to the bIPlog should:
We ask that anyone who posts to our comments section strive toward these guidelines as well and include their name in any posting.
Weblogs, by their nature, invite postings that are informal and instantaneous. But their value to readers lies largely in comments that are well written and thoughtful. For journalists this tension is even more acute. Weblogs allow the opportunity to avoid some of the constraints of journalistic conventions and engage in a more personal dialog with readers. But other core journalistic values, like accuracy and clarity, must be retained. Many journalism Weblogs address this via different approaches to the question of whether and how postings should be subjected to the traditional journalistic editing process.
In an attempt to balance these competing concerns, we decided that in almost all cases, postings would be reviewed by one other student or instructor in the class before being put on the Weblog. But in extreme cases where a posting is very time sensitive and of crucial importance to our readers, it could be posted to the Weblog without an editor's review. However, that posting would be reviewed by someone in the class after the fact.
Did we miss something crucial? Let us know what you think by sending us email.
bIPlog authors and editors strive to post accurate information, including correct spelling and punctuation. However, we recognize that errors may occasionally slip through.
Unlike print or broadcast, such errors are easy to correct in a digital format: simply change the text and repost it to the Web. But to do so can introduce complications. Someone may read a story on a website, then direct someone else to it, only to find a different corrected version. If changes to the original story are significant, the author (or editor) has, in a sense, rewritten history.
To avoid any confusion, the following procedures should be used to correct post-publication errors:
[Updated 11/10/02, 9:19 pm: Corrected misspelling in defendant's name.]
Napster: Betamax on Speed
CORRECTED: Napster: Betamax on Speed [See note on correction below]
[Updated 11/10/02, 9:19 pm: This posting has been corrected because the original misidentified one of the defendants in the lawsuit. Here is the original, uncorrected version:]
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