Thursday, May 03, 2007

Personal Space

So, have you tuned into the whole Barack Obama MySpace debate? Or is it floating over your head in cyberspace somewhere? From the vantage point of new author who doesn’t want to tick off any potential readers (translation: book buyers), I thought that maybe I should sit back and be quiet. Just let the issue ride.


Many of you know that I am a journalist by training – a former radio, television and newspaper reporter who once had a weekly column in the Michigan Chronicle, Detroit’s premier African-American targeted weekly paper. I’m also a bit of a chatterbox in real life, so being quiet is just plain hard for me to do.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: An Obama supporter, Joe Anthony, had been manning a fan site on MySpace for Barack for just over two years. Apparently Anthony and Obama’s people shared rights and responsibilities regarding content and site maintenance. However, with the site’s growth in popularity due to Obama’s escalating presidential campaign, his camp saw a need for greater – or shall we say, sole – control of the MySpace page that bears his name. Anthony now wants to be paid for his work. The two camps have parted ways over the issue, with MySpace stepping in to grant Obama domain over the site. A call from Obama to Anthony may help smooth things over, though he’s still pretty disgruntled.


I guess I look at this from the perspective of personal space. In the early days of the internet boom (well, around ’94, ’95, I’ll say), rights to domain names were a hot topic. Once companies began to understand “this web thing” and started trying to figure out how to get on the Net, savvy entrepreneurs took to buying up celebrity and corporate brand names like wildfire. Individuals and companies were actually paying people to get their names for domain use. Then, of course, the law stepped in and people had to start finding other ways to make money on the internet besides usurping people’s cyber identities for re-sale.

Seems to me that’s where MySpace is at the moment. Booming from its own self-population, I guess backers and users feel that restrictions on naming sites on social networks like MySpace would inhibit the free-flow feel of the place.

I came across this controversy because I do have a MySpace page and I’d tagged Obama as a “Friend” there. I’ve also tagged the Toni Morrison fan site as a Friend. But that site makes it explicitly clear that Toni doesn’t run that page. It’s maintained by a fan. I appreciate the distinction. If Toni decides to host her own MySpace page, I see no problem with her having the rights to name her page after herself and gather her own cadre of Friends. And I’d certainly hope her biggest fans would understand that.

I can tell you that I assumed Stefanie Worth would be available as a site name when I registered at MySpace. (I mean goodness, I haven’t even made it to Oprah’s couch yet. Who’d want my name, right?) But you can bet I would have been a tad pit peeved to discover that someone – fan or otherwise – was running a page under my name and wouldn’t let me have it back! I mean, come on, can’t you call yours People Who Love Stefanie Worth? The Society of those Smitten With Stefanie Worth's Books? Fans of the Great and Powerful Stefanie Worth? Okay, I’m kidding about the names, but, really, must we argue over this?

You wouldn’t go to the store with someone else’s ID and make purchases under their name and good credit. You wouldn’t open a business under a well-known alias and perpetrate your way through sale after sale, would you? So why do we think that’s okay to do in cyberspace? If Anthony’s site had been named Obama ’08 or We Back Barack, would this controversy even have erupted? Would he still expect to be paid?

While the laws and regulations regarding some internet dealings are still pretty loosey-goosey, things are beginning to change in terms of copyright, etc. Look at the Napster case. And there are colleagues on my writers loops fighting sites that make free book downloads available. (Gulp. Please stop. We really don’t make that much off our books as it is. Please pay the $6.99 paperback price.)

To me, a lot of this haggling can be alleviated through common sense. You wouldn’t stand on my foot in an elevator, please don’t step on my name – via domain, social network sites, etc., – on the web. Give me MySpace and I’ll give you yours.


For more commentary on the Obama MySpace debate, visit:
The Battle to Control Obama’s MySpace at
Obama’s MySpace Conundrum at
Our MySpace Experiment on Obama’s official site at
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