Last night, the writers of this blog, alongside a plethora of other copyright bloggers, received an email from one "Wayne Borean, aka the Mad Hatter", who blogs on (among other things) copyright matters in his home nation of Canada.
The essence of Mr Borean's email is the following "several writers who are legal professionals have written articles under their own names, which quite possibly are being influenced by their professional work. This is not to say that the influence is in any way wrong, but rather that if there is a connection, it should be disclosed, even if the writing is of a personal nature, so that the reader can consider that connection when evaluating the article..." - you can read his "call for disclosure" and his request that we should swear affidavits [sorry Wayne, no] in more detail here
From this writer's perspective, the answer is clear - under the ethics rules applicable to my profession, I can only disclose the names of my clients and the work I do for them with the consent of those clients. However, it would not take an interested reader (should such a thing exist) very long to find a range of client names either on my firm's website or in various legal directories, such as the Legal 500 or Chambers - from which they would discover that we have clients on all sides of many controversial issues of copyright law, from studios and record companies to ISPs and telcos. Indeed, many large companies have conflicting views between different divisions on some of these issues - think of what will happen when the Comcast/NBC Universal merger closes - or even within divisions; broadcasters are the creators of copyright programmes but are also heavy "consumers" of the works of other rights holders.
Most lawyers are the same - we are paid to argue for a client's position, whether it accords to our personal views or not. But when it comes to writing a blog, while I agree that, if one is advocating a cause on behalf of a client, that should be disclosed, the default should be taken as read that we have a professional interest in copyright matters.
At a more philosophical level, I wonder why legal professional bloggers are held out for particular scrutiny - surely the same accusation could be made against anyone in the blogosphere? The regular occurrences of people trying to (mis)use blogs for PR purposes are not normally conducted by lawyers or indeed using anyone's real name.
And why does it matter? It is not as if blogs such as this are in a position of power. I am reminded of a maxim often quoted by Tony Benn (who, for non-UK readers, was a high-profile left-wing politician here in the '60s and '70s), who used the following (and variations on it) to measure democratic accountability "If one meets a powerful person--Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates--ask them five questions: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?""
1709 falls at the first question - we have no power, so are free to express our views without answering the other questions. I occastionally read postings on this blog, posted by my co-authors, with which I do not agree - but I defend absolutely their right to say it - and if I do disagree, then like other people, I have the right to add my own comments.