TOC A droit de suite to suit the 99% Your Turn

November 8, 2011

"Call me paranoid" writes Gary Silverman. He may be confused but mad he is not, as he bewails his fate as the apparent target of a "psychiatric professional from the other side of the country" (*). If the latter thinks he has found "a potential client", he hasn't a leg to stand on.

Still it is important to defuse situations of this type before snap decisions lead to rueful consequences.

I was once on the same boat as Gary Silverman. As invitations came to my inbox to join LinkedIn or Facebook and connect with my correspondents, I felt an all too human pleasure in being thus desired. Among them for instance was a long time friend that life had drawn away.

Unfortunately there is a slight difference between perceptions and reality.

Neither this friend nor any of the others had actually written to me. All they had done, and I found out later some of them did not even realize it, was to grant permission to some social network to lift their address book from their device and fire what amounted to junk mail under their own name.

So this unnamed professional from California may have been as perplexed as Gary Silverman was in the first place when the latter tried to contact him for an explanation. Having no idea how LinkedIn got Gary Silverman's name and having only the vaguest notion of how LinkedIn uses his own name, allegedly on his behalf, he treated Gary Silverman's real email as true social spam.

And no wonder. In highly scripted cases like an email exchange, the writer may be the proverbial dog but machines too have long passed the Turing test. To find out if a machine masquerades as a man, being a psychiatrist is not enough, you need to be a psychic.

And so the only reason for Gary Silverman to be mad is to be mad at LinkedIn for minting money on his name.

Gary Silverman should consider moving to Los Angeles. There is always the risk to bump into the correspondent he is anxious to avoid but, with a good lawyer, he could go hunt for LinkedIn itself. Read Patricia Cohen (**). "The California Resale Royalties Act requir[es] anyone reselling a piece of fine art who lives in the state, or who sells the art there for $1,000 or more, to pay the artist 5 percent of the resale price".

True, modesty prevents Gary Silverman from insisting his name is "a piece of fine art" entitled to what is called the droit de suite. But lawyers are there to free clients from such honorable scruples. His very living being but performance art, Gary Silverman is an artist, his name a piece of art.

Then there is the hurdle created by the resale price threshold. Can Gary Silverman qualify?

Isn't indeed $1,000 a bit high when names tend to be had in bulk for a few dollars a piece, if even that? As a matter of fact LinkedIn currently proposes an inventory of no less than 56 Gary Silverman. Forget the fine arts, the supply appears industrial in scale.

Remember however that LinkedIn can sell each of its Gary Silverman within a rich context. If I wanted to steal a journalist from an international newspaper who combines the toughness of a New York City background with a refreshing sense of humor, wouldn't LinkedIn consider $1,000 a steal for me to read all what it knows, public or not? What if LinkedIn were to follow Google in auctioning such an opportunity? Who knows?

This is why "[some artists] have filed suit against the auction powerhouses Sotheby's and Christie's and the online auction eBay". "As [their lawyer] explained, the complaints seek to force the auction houses to reveal the identities or locations of sellers, information that is often kept secret."

Wouldn't it be a sweet revenge if LinkedIn and Facebook had to lay out their sales for all to see? Sharing after all should not be a one-way street.

Still the $1,000 threshold is a bit elitist. 99% of all names may be sold for less, but they are sold many times more. Even if Gary Silverman happens to be among the happy few, the stars, surely he will be the first to demand the droit de suite for all. What is "Occupy Los Angeles" waiting for?

Social network companies would strongly disagree, no doubt. Why not let democracy speak by organizing a referendum? As Amazon well knows, it's a favorite recourse in California. I would ask the people to decide whether or not "personal data may be used without one's explicit prior consent" and whether or not "such consent is freely given when the user of a service has no other choice but to drop the service".

Harpoons are no handshakes. Listen to Gary Silverman confess: "I'm in too deep to quit LinkedIn right now". One does not have to be a psychiatrist to rule that LinkedIn retains Gary Silverman's consent under the influence of an addiction. To call it freely given is pure Newspeak.

A disintoxication cure may be in order and what is good for Gary Silverman would be good for the country too. Think of cyberwarfare.

"Advanced persistent threats [...] can combine tricking an employee by posing convincingly as a colleague, with programs that take advantage of vulnerabilities in software, known as zero-day exploits". This from Joseph Menn (***). I could be quoting myself. Security demands eprivacy lest spies get so many details about us, e.g. from social networks' hacked archives, they become all too convincing to their preys.

Gary Silverman at this point might become highly suspicious of his colleagues' emails. Being paranoid however, he must have already taken all appropriate measures. Still, if I thought hackers read my fillips for tips, I would of course apologize to him but it is my turn to be modest.

So, a droit de suite for all? Social network sharing with their users? Eprivacy? What a lot of blubber. Who has mercy for Naboth's vineyard?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ..... Linked in and looking for relief, by Gary Silverman (Financial Times) - Nov 4, 2011
  • (**) ... Artists File Lawsuits Seeking Royalties, by Patricia Cohen (New York Times) - Nov 2, 2011
  • (***) . A war marked by fatalism and denial, by Joseph Menn (Financial Times) - Nov 1st, 2011
November 2011
Copyright © 2011 ePrio Inc. All rights reserved.