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Summary:

Should journalists have to disclose when they take money from companies to “report” on issues? As this type of fake journalism becomes more common, one judge appears to have had enough.

Propaganda

In a surprise order, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said “the court is concerned” that Oracle and Google may have hired authors to comment about their ongoing court case. Now, Judge Alsup wants the parties to submit a list of their paid propagandists.

The unusual request comes months after the “World Series” of intellectual property trials in which Oracle unsuccessfully sued Google for billions.

The trial was remarkable not only for the large damage figures but for Oracle’s decision to hire Florian Mueller, a self-described “patent analyst” who also takes money from Microsoft. In his FOSS Patents blog, Mueller wrote a series of one-sided posts over the course of the trial such as “Oracle Java patent rises like Ph0enix from the ashes.”

Despite a lack of legal training, Mueller holds himself out as a patent expert to the media and typically does not disclose that he is paid by the companies he reports on (he disclosed an Oracle relationship briefly at the outset of the trial but did not do so subsequently or to other media). Mueller has also blocked me and other journalists who have questioned his impartiality from viewing his Twitter feed.

Alsup does not provide detailed reasons for his order, which was first reported in a tweet by Reuters reporter Dan Levine, but does state that the information would be useful on appeal:

to 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.

In the larger picture, Alsup may be calling attention to the growing phenomenon of astro-turfing — individuals or groups who receive money to pose as voices of the public interest. The Federal Trade Commission has in the past fined a company for failing to disclose paid endorsements. An FTC official told paidContent earlier this year that endorsers must disclose all material facts, including when they comment about a competitor.

Here is Judge Alsup’s order:

Blogger Order

(Image by Imagelabs via Shutterstock)

  1. Tough order to get right.

    I can see that sites like this one run ads from Google advertising networks (eg “AdChoices”) and presumably get paid by Google to do so.

    Does this count this as influence and should they disclose this relationship?

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  2. Modern day payola.

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  3. This article reeks of sour grapes.

    As an analyst and consultant, Mueller is a chronicler knowledgeable enough to be paid for providing his well informed opinion.

    You would be better off pointing out any clear bias in his reporting of facts instead of ad hominem trolling.

    It’s his business how he makes a living.
    He could be a drug dealer for all I care when his coverage is head and shoulders above the typical clueless churnalism.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, George. Yes, I’m no fan of Florian Mueller but it’s not the result of sour grapes. My problem is that his imperious propaganda distorts public understanding of an important and difficult issue. And don’t give too much credit to his coverage; it’s my understanding that counsel for his clients provide him with annotated court briefs on which he stamps his spurious opinions (while typically assuring his readers that they don’t have to read the briefs since he does it for them). I also dislike his habit of responding to people who question his ethics by asserting that he knows far more than them. He is a fraud and a humbug.

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      1. What I hate the most about Florian Mueller is that his bogus stories have already been spread throughout the front page of Techmeme, linked to as the main source for anti-Google FUD about 5000 times already over the past 2 years. Imagining all the wasted time and effort for the blogosphere is just so painful, the case of Florian Mueller is absolutely scandalous and terrible.

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      2. This is nothing new. People have been paid to sway public opinion for centuries. Its called advertising. Do you suppose if any new legislation were to be inspired from this order, it would exclude politicians?

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      3. ‘…imperious propaganda…’
        You mean like this piece on this site from two days ago:
        http://gigaom.com/2012/08/05/apple-and-microsofts-patent-troll-spells-trouble-for-smartphone-innovation/?go_commented=1#comment-876665
        …with an attached apology and disclaimer.
        Schizophrenia much?
        It would be interesting to know who gets paid to say what and who does the fact checking. The poor uninformed reader is poorly served either way.

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    2. I like Mueller but I was not aware he was being paid by one of the sides. I was a bit surprised.

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    3. It’s surprising that you think Mueller’s coverage is “head and shoulders above” anything, when he’s so often biased and clearly wrong (cf. SCO, Oracle). And now we may find out how much he was paid to be that way. Groklaw is much more prescient.

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  4. Great order. Enough is enough. Thanks Jeff

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  5. LOVE it. Get rid of all the media whores, posers, and parasites and let’s get back to making money the old fashioned way in this business. EARN IT.

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  6. Yes, as a journalist who writes objectively and is paid only by the publication I am offended by those who pose as journalists but are being paid for their opinions whether it is a tech blogger a restaurant reviewer or a movie critic. Part of Truth in Advertising should be the inform the public when something is advertising and not objective journalism. To allow people being paid to express certain opinions to mix in with objective journalists threatens the integrity of my profession.

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  7. Aren’t those writers who receive payment while allegedly trying to be objective really part of the world’s oldest profession? Just wondering.

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