For the techno-hippies, mob rules

It’s been a quiet day at work, which means that I’ve been able to follow the growing controversy over CMP Media and O’Reilly’s apparent cease and desist letter sent to an Irish non-profit over its use of “Web 2.0” in the name of a conference. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better example of internet hysteria, mob “justice”, and general stupidity for a while.

First of all, the facts. O’Reilly and CMP have been organising the Web 2.0 Conference for several years, and, in fact, first came up with the term when brainstorming the idea for the conference. As is standard practice, O’Reilly and CMP applied for a service mark for the name to protect its business. Just as IDG owns the service mark “Macworld Expo”, so CMP owns “Web 2.0 Conference”.

A non-profit body in Ireland called IT@Cork is organising a conference about the same themes, and called it “Web 2.0 Half Day Conference”. Note the similarity. Unsurprising to anyone familiar with trademark law, IT@Cork then got a simple cease and desist letter from CMP’s lawyers.

Enter “Outraged of the Internet”. The normally sensible Thomas Hawk claims “until Tim O’Reilly apologizes for this asinine move I’m going to start using the term Web 2.1 whenever I mean Web 2.0”. Marc Canter claims he “takes shit like this personally”. And on. And on.

Of course, the generally attitude of all these outraged netizens is that O’Reilly has behaved badly. A lot of them seem to think that O’Reilly is trying to own the phrase “Web 2.0”, which is simply nonsense. O’Reilly/CMP have long organised the Web 2.0 Conference. Someone else decided to make a conference and call it “Web 2.0 Half Day Conference”. That’s exactly the same as me deciding to organise a “Macworld Half Day Conference” and being surprised when IDG came after me.

You can call a web site a Web 2.0 site. I could launch a magazine called “Web 2.0”. Someone could print “Web 2.0 sucks ass” on a bunch of t shirts – and none of this would infringe on any service mark of O’Reilly/CMP’s. What you can’t do, and I can’t do, and IT@Cork should have known it couldn’t do, is create a conference called “Web 2.0 Conference”. It’s nothing to do with controlling the term, and everything to do with protecting the reputation of a conference than O’Reilly and CMP have worked hard to establish.

But, for the techno-hippies – some of whom have made fortunes from intellectual property – what O’Reilly has done is shocking, an outrage. So they call in the blogging lynch mob, many of whom know nothing about IP law and all of whom are prepared to be whipped up into a fervour by the A-List as required.

Wisdom of crowds? More like Mob Rules.