48 more ways big media conglomerates should rein-in their lawyers

48 HR Magazine

Multiple choice quiz:

What is 48 Hours?

A. The name of a CBS TV show
B. The name of an innovative crowdsourcing magazine project
C. How long it takes CBS to unleash its lawyers on a crowdsourcing project using the term “48 Hours”
D. All of the above

Of course, it’s “D.”

I’ll get to the lawyer part in a minute, but first, some background.

Longtime readers of this blog know that Derek Powazek has been a recurring star here, as he continuously demonstrates what I mean when I say “the magazine is not a business model, it’s a format.” (My fan-boy posts about Derek’s work started with this hyper-ventilating post in 2005 about JPG Magazine and last September, I wrote about his project, Strange Light.)

Recently, Derek and his wife (the former Flickr community-building superstar and appropriately named Heather Champ) helped guide a project that (at least according to David Carr’s excellent account of it on the NYT’s Media Decoder Blog) was conceived at, appropriately enough, a bar by journalists Mathew Honan, Sarah Rich and Alexis Madrigal.

The idea was dubbed the 48 Hour Magazine Project and was an impressive mashup of several web-enabled technologies, concepts and approaches that have developed over the past decade (or, in some cases, couple of decades), including crowdsourcing, collaboration, project-focused conversational media and the impressive developments that are taking place at HP Labs’ MagCloud that are redefining the economics, production and distribution of the magazine. (Note: I used the term “the magazine” to describe a format, not “the magazine business” as currently perceived.)

If not for the Nashville flood and its aftermath, I would have personally joined the thousands of writers, photographers, illustrators and others from around the globe who contributed to the weekend-long project. The idea, to create from concept to off-the-press printed 60-page magazine, was, on many levels, a smashing success.

From David Carr’s post:

“‘Issue zero’ as it was called, probably won’t win any National Magazine Awards, but it is a remarkable artifact, a testament to the proposition that even the most wired cohort of journalists in the country retains a fetish for the printed product. The hustle theme blossomed into a piece about old-school scalpers versus StubHub, about how the best lie ever is to tell yourself you can do something you have no business doing, along with a meditation on disco and the demise of James Brown.'”

For an in-depth account of the weekend, San Francisco Weekly’s Lois Beckett was “embedded” at the project’s hub and wrote this fascinating documentary-style blog post about it.

But, as with any great idea wonderfully executed, there has to be a spoil-sport.

And yes, as typical, lawyers are involved.

As reported by David Carr:

“On May 11, Lauren Marcello, the assistant general counsel at CBS sent a cease and desist letter, noting that ‘CBS is the owner of the rights in the award-winning news magazine televison series, ’48 Hours,” and its companion series, including ’48 Hours Mystery,” adding later in the letter, ‘your use is unlawful and constitutes trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition …'”

As the success of the future of magazines produced in 48 hours does not hinge on the term 48 Hours, I feel certain the magazine project group will cooperate with the legal goons from CBS.

One positive note of publicity for CBS however: I think most people had no idea that 48 Hours was still around.