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Ask Burt Reynolds, Ken

In yet another reminder of why the blogosphere isn’t a separate place, BoingBoing reports on the hot water that Jason Kottke has found himself in by blogging an audio clip and then a partial transcript of Ken Jennings’ final appearance on Jeopardy!. Sony Pictures doesn’t care for Jason’s reportage, even though Sony doesn’t seem to mind the Washington Post effectively doing the same thing. Understandably, Jason’s feeling a chill.

Sony’s thuggish tactics in suppressing Jeopardy! reportage aren’t so much about the blogosphere, though Eugene Volokh’s argument for applying First Amendment privileges to blogs is nicely timed. In this little example — one of the hottest pop culture fads of 2004 — we see again the effects of the Faustian bargain that is modern IP. Unnoticed in the brouhaha over Sony itself is the fact that it was Sony, not KenJen himself, pitching a fit over a blogger’s scooping the entire civilized world. Where’s Ken? Does Ken care? If Jason Kottke infringed a copyright (which he didn’t) when he linked to and then transcribed clips from a Jeopardy! episode, shouldn’t Ken get the damages?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t matter what Ken thinks. All of us who’ve made it onto the Jeopardy! stage and shaken hands with Alex know that to get there, we had to sign a release that was more than 20 pages long, signing over to Sony any and all rights associated with our appearances on the show, in any medium, in any universe, forever. Every performer an author! To every author his due! Yet the reason that we’re so obsessed with “our” property rights in our lives is that we’re so desperate to sign those rights away. The property model of author’s rights would be a lot more appealing if more authors (speaking metaphorically as much as literally) weren’t so eager to sell out. Sony owns Ken, and Ken seems to be perfectly happy with that fact. It’s Damn Yankees! or The Truman Show, if you prefer, and unless and until the rebel in Ken asks whether it was worth it (remember Burt Reynolds’s classic conclusion in The Longest Yard), we’re all living in Sony’s world.