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Content, Ads and shades of grey

Let me start by saying I know nothing about the Federal Election Laws. Ok. Now, with that, I was reading this article by George Will and one paragraph caught my eye. Namely:

"The Federal Election Commission recently fined some "527" groups (named for the tax code provision under which they organize) $630,000. Their offense? Issue advocacy in 2004 that, "taken as a whole," could "only be interpreted by a reasonable person as containing the advocacy of the election or defeat" of a federal candidate. Editorial writers at The Post and the New York Times, ever eager to regulate political advocacy not done by newspaper editorial writers, approved, although the Times thought the fines insufficient, and although The Post, calling the current law "murky," thought the FEC should have enforced the murkiness quicker.

So from the article, and given the First Amendment, I am presuming that the offensive action in this case was a paid for advertisement run in some publication or broadcast. As opposed to the "content" written by the Post, the Times and other publications/ broadcasters. Perhaps an easy distinction to make offline, but online?

One of my early ideas at Topix was to sell story clicks. Stories (more specifically headlines) are the best ads for a publication. I wanted to create an ad network for publications, and use their headlines as the copy for the ads. This didn't come to fruition, for a lot of reasons, but distribution deals nonetheless thrive online. Publications have paid syndication deals with other sites all the time, where they pay the other site to host their headlines and drive traffic back to them. We had one with the NY Times where they paid us to feature their headlines on our site.

Now, the NY Times is not a 527 group. But there are there are plenty of 527 groups online. Lots of them produce "content" every day. Are they precluded from syndicating that content? What if the google crawler spiders them? Does the FEC prevent this? Can the Google spider crawl their member solicitation pages, but not their content? Can they purchase text links on the net? To their content pages, their solicitation pages or both? But the text links can't be headlines (even though those may results in the most solicitation pages page-views)?

Perhaps somewhere the McCain Feingold act addresses this - like i said i don't know. I just find it very interesting how the distinction between content and advertising continues to become murkier and how this will have spill over effects in many areas.


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My co-founder Mike Markson has gone and got himself his own blog, over at the new easy-to-use Vox service from Six Apart. Out of the gate he's got a head-scratcher about 527 groups and Internet syndication. I don't have any... [Read More]

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