MPAA spokeslawyers insist that they not be identified by name in reports from press-conference

The MPAA is suing RealNetworks for making a product that will rip a DVD, crap it up with DRM, and store it on your hard-drive. The MPAA says that only their stupid DRM, and not RealNetworks' stupid DRM, can be used to cripple DVDs. My take? A pox on both their houses.

Except this:

Lawyers for the MPAA, in a teleconference with reporters, said Kaleidesape and RealDVD are circumventing "technology designed to prevent copying."

The lawyers, who asked that their names not be published, said they were concerned "Consumers will think this is a legal product...when in fact it is totally illegal."

Wait wait wait wait: what? These unnamed lawyers are on a press-call with the media, as spokespeople for their company, and they "asked that their names not be published?" And journalists complied?

Truly, this is a new low in chickenshittery that has me scraping my jaw off my chest. These lawyers aren't deep-throat whistle-blowers sneaking information out of their employers' filing cabinets: they're the official spokespeople for the firm. And they get anonymity?

So what happens in the future -- after the MPAA gets its ass handed to it by the court -- if we want to argue that the MPAA's lawyers have a long history of going around saying that software is "totally illegal"? Do the MPAA get to deny it, because no one can name the spokesperson who said it?

And why on earth would the journalists honor such a request? "Unnamed MPAA lawyer says stupid thing" fails one of the important Ws of reporting: Who said it? MPAA, RealNetworks Wage Court Battle Over DVD-Copying Software


  1. Well, I know that if _I_ had to make statements like that, I wouldn’t want my name associated with them either…

    That said, ‘Some anonymous lawyer said this product is illegal’ seems about as worthwhile as ‘This guy in a chat room said that he’s total a doctor, and it’s definitely cancer.’

  2. So what if they do? They’re not speaking for themselves, they’re representing the (evil) firm’s (evil) interests. When they’re speaking, they’re speaking with the (evil) voice of the (evil) MPAA.

  3. @5: Why does it matter? Because it is unheard-of. There is no such thing as an unattributed, on-the-record remark to the press. “Unattributed” is the opposite of “on-the-record.” “Unattributed, on-the-record” remarks are the kind of thing you’d expect in Pravda’s reporting on the Politburo, not in a free press’s reporting on a corporate lobby group.

    This matters because it leaves holes in the historical record that the press constructs. For example, today the MPAA often complains that it is unfairly damned as a technophobic organization, saying that it has always embraced technology. However, we know this isn’t true because we have the attributed, on-the-record remarks of its long-time chief spokesman and president, Jack Valenti (who said things like “the VCR is to the American film industry as the Boston Strangler is to a woman home alone.”)

    But in two or 20 years, when the MPAA says, “We have always supported interoperability in DRM” (perhaps as part of a long-overdue anti-trust investigation into unfair DRM-based tying), we will not be able to say, “Well, MPAA lawyer XXXX said, in 2008, that interoperable DRM products are ‘totally illegal.'” The MPAA may say that no lawyer working for them ever said that. They may say it wasn’t a lawyer, it was a PR person. Or another reporter. Or that it didn’t happen at all.

    What’s more, because the identities of these lawyers are hidden we won’t know if, for example, they are now serving as staffers to the Senators running the investigation, or if they are presently running the MPAA itself, or if they were just arrested for screwing the polar bears at the Brooklyn Zoo.

    In short, by failing to answer the first W of the 5 Ws — “Who” — the press is failing in one of its most vital tasks: creating a complete record of the parties and their actions in a public policy dispute.

  4. MPAA are a bunch of dolts that will eventually get what’s coming to them. But since when is a media conference supposed to be public? The media has all kinds of cozy relationships with industry and everyone else. Anonymous sources abound.

    There does seem to be a tradition among journalists that they say why they shield their sources, and I rather like the idea of reading lots of stories about the MPAA that open with “The source at the MPAA spoke anonymously because he’s so hated that revealing his name would likely cause hackers to steal his identity”

  5. Anonymous sources do *not* abound at press-conferences! Legitimate organizations and legitimate press conferences do not open with a guy in a ski-mask stepping up to the podium and saying, through a voice-shifter, “Hi there folks. I’m Mr X, here to speak to you tonight on behalf of Procter and Gamble. My identity is secret, but that’s OK, you can just attribute this all to P&G.”

  6. Before any accredited institution may grant the degree of juris doctor, the institution must first obtain the candidate’s signature on the following form:


    In consideration for the degree of juris doctor, I ______________________ do hereby swear or affirm that I will put the interest of any client with sufficient monetary resources above the interests of telling the truth about the law to courts, news media, sex partners, and my children.

    Dated: _____ ____________, ______

    Signed: __________________________________________

  7. @6 All my arguments as to “legal and impersonal representation of the company” pale in comparison. I’ll concede the point to you.

  8. they “asked that their names not be published?” And journalists complied?

    You’re surprised that whores do what their johns ask them to do? Silly boy.

  9. While I’m no fan of Real’s additional DRM, I have to give them a wink and a nod for going on the offense against the MPAA. The enemy of my enemy…

  10. Thanks for bringing attention to this.
    That lawyers asked for anonymity (and astoundingly got it) doesn’t say anything about the lawyers. A lot of lawyers will be a snake when the job demands it. But for the journalists to go along with it is disgusting.
    The lawyers are presumably the ones who filed the suit, so their names are all over the court file. That file is available to any member of the public who goes to the courthouse and asks for it.

  11. If the lawyers visibly distance themselves from their client, what are they saying about that client? And wouldn’t a savvy journalist just go ahead and let them say it?

    I would much rather report that they asked for anonymity than print their names. Would their names have been an interesting part of this story? No. Is their wish for anonymity interesting? Evidently yes, given this blog post.

  12. AMEN!

    also, +10 points for use of the word chickenshittery. you think theres no single word to describe the situation, then bam. you provide one.

  13. So by their reasoning, I could give a press conference, posing as a lawyer from the MPAA, and kindly request the press to withhold my name from the paper, and make all sorts of outrageous claims without being accountable.

  14. Somebody is making a lot of money exploiting the dreams of media industry executives to wind the clock back.

    If they are so far removed from the reality of their own industry, how long can they say in the top job?

  15. This sort of thing makes me think I should take up Journalism – since the ones we have are clearly idiots.

  16. It matters because lawyers in America are required to – independently of their clients’ views and positions – actually abide by the law, and if they are representing as /fact/ that a particular product is or is not illegal, then they are representing that under their own authority as licensed legal professionals.

    Freedom of the Press makes it possible for it to be impossible to get the names of those lawyers – even with a subpoena – because the reporter will simply go to jail to protect his or her sources.

    So what we have here, in fact, is a media company’s /position/ posited in the media as a fact, as a decided question of law, when it is in fact an undecided question of law – and these lawyers know that their professional reputations, as well as their license to practice, would be in jeopardy if they were on-the-record as having falsely represented this software as being currently decided as “totally illegal”.

    In short: There is only one reason for them to withhold their names: They are lying for their client, and they know it, and they know their careers will be in jeopardy if their names are attached to it.

  17. In principle I don’t have a problem with the lawyers not wanting their names associated with the statement, provided that a named representative of the organization that hired the lawyers explicitly claims responsibility for the statements made by the lawyer on his behalf.

    The reasoning Bardfinn advances above has merit, but I don’t think that it requires them publishing their names in the press. As long as the company keeps records of which lawyers are saying and doing what, then if there is a legal question that needs sorted out those records can be provided to the court.

    I’m not sure if it is clear exactly what these lawyers are positing as a fact of law in the interview. I presume they are referring to the copying of the DVD to the computer’s drive, which I thought was, in legal fact, currently illegal (though widely and gleefully flaunted). Could be that it isn’t actually illegal, but is just one of those things that can get you sued, which for most of us without lots of money is roughly the same thing (e.g., an extremely expensive pain in the ass).

  18. Actually there are lots of “possible” reasons to withhold their names, maybe they are all hiding from abusive spouses or are entering the witness protection program…you never know.

    However I think the most likely reason is not nefarious in any way. They simply don’t enjoy the prospect of having to change their e-mail addresses and quite possibly their phone numbers on a regular basis. Can’t say that I blame them for that. I’m not particularly fond of lawyers and I think they could be a little more choosy about who they represent, but the bottom line is that someone has to rep the scumbags of the world, or the system wouldn’t function even in the limited capacity it already does.

    The MPAA is the enemy in this instance. I honestly couldn’t care less about knowing the names of lawyers which should be easily found on copies of court docs anyway.

  19. It was a bit of chickenshittery on both the lawyers and reporters parts.

    Should I have hypothetically gone through journalism courses and such and become a reporter my line might have been (until my editor screamed at me) “Lawyer John Doe- who asked that his name not be revealed but we’re under no obligation to do that- stated today that….”

    Press Conferences cannot be held anonymously because we have no way to verify if this person does, in fact, legally represent the MPAA. And just because someone asks to not have their name revealed does not mean the reporter has any duty to comply.

  20. This is particularly absurd given that the lawyers involved are listed on the publicly available court filings.
    Listed on the complaint are

    From Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP
    Glenn Pomerantz
    Bart Williams
    Kelly Klaus

    From Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp LLP
    Robert Rotstein
    Eric German
    Betsy Zedek

    And from the MPAA
    Greg Goeckner
    Daniel Robbins

  21. Yeah this is all about lazy reporters not knowing the difference between a hole in the ground and the one in their nether region. (I speak from direct observation, here.)

    Journalism schools have been turning out poorly-prepared graduates for a while now. Partially that’s because at least some journalism departments have become diploma mills not only for unprepared cub reporters but also for corporate PR shills. It’s also because the typical local newspaper, employer of most of these unprepared cub reporters, is no longer a place where journalistic integrity has much meaning, since it has been bought out by a large corporation that cares more about its stock price — that is, how much that local paper is contributing to the impossible returns it’s promised to investors — than what’s going on in Anytown, USA. (After all, unprepared cub reporters work for cheap, and if they’re interns they work for free. Plus this justifies the journalism diploma mills, since there’s so much turnover in the low-morale newsrooms that the average new grad will generally get a job.) The big papers, who generally pull the best talent from smaller papers and are the only places that still have resources to do any kind of critical or investigative reporting, are left with a continually declining pool to hire from when they actually have a position that needs to be filled and isn’t just cut in a budget reduction.

    All this leads to a situation where you have a PR rep (who took some journalism courses) spoon feeding some pap to an out-of-their-league health reporter (who took some PR courses, and anyway was reassigned for this story) who doesn’t understand what’s being said enough to parse and understand it and more than likely just parrots it straight into their story. The editors (if they haven’t just given up on the reporter entirely) are far too overworked to hold the reporter’s hand as they make them rewrite it. Once it’s smeared on a page, it’s past the point of no return — at most a clarification will appear in a few days.

    I can’t really say I blame the lawyers here any more than I blame them in general for working for such a horrible client. Whether I like it or not, it’s expected that they’ll ask for things that they have no right or reason to get. But it’s the reporter’s job not to give an inch, whereas most of them are just rolling over and giving up without a fight — and because they don’t even realize that there’s anything to be fought over.

    What’s happening here is that the lawyers have realized that the journalists covering the situation have no idea what’s going on and really don’t particularly care or have any reason to start. Although RIAA cases are still followed avidly by a few places (I see a lot about them on Ars Technica, for example) they don’t get much traction in the general media except an occasional “People still being sued for downloading music” and precious little of that, what with celebrity gossip, presidential politics for 2 years and now Wall Street pushing 90% of other news off the table right now.

    One fix to the journalism problem by the way is for people to stop reading crappy newspapers until the newspapers hire people who actually know what they’re writing about instead of fools with a sheepskin, meaning that the journalism schools have to get better or stop producing so many graduates or both. With any luck this will also force some of the large media corps to either shed underperforming units or shut them down, meaning that a local paper isn’t ultimately run by some suit in, say, a Virginia suburb any more, or that a media gap opens up that a local entrepreneur can fill.

  22. @13, @27: what reason do we have to believe that these unidentified spokespersons were really lawyers, and if they were lawyers what evidence is there to lead us to beleive that they were amongst the lawyers named in the court filings?

  23. It’s all part of their secret plan for an organization that runs the entertainment industry yet doesn’t seem to exist.

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