Blogging and "information ownership"

People are starting Weblogs in growing numbers, but the owner of the content isn't always clear This is the headline of John Foley's Information Week column, Jan. 31, 2005. In the column he discusses the growth of blogging, and especially the issue of ownership.

There have been several instances get into the news of employees blogging, on company time, using company blogsites, and who got into trouble for their blog postings. In other cases they were doing the blogging on personal time, not on company blogsites, but they still got into trouble. I myself earned a teensy bit of trouble over a blog posting, and there's probably many instances that don't manage to make it into the news.

It points to an interesting issue of freedom of speech, to my eyes.

In my case the company I work for had received a setback in a patent-infringement lawsuit and I made a blog posting about it. The blog posting was on a blogsite run by my company, but was made outside of company time. Within an hour a bigwig called me on the telephone to suggest I pull down the posting, and noted that I had violated company policy. After a bit of questioning over "why" I eventually realized I'd been out of place making that statement, and pulled down the posting.

There remains a freedom of speech issue, however. I live in the United States, the company is headquartered in the United States, the bigwig who called me is an American (I think), the servers were on American soil, etc, so therefore the whole thing falls under the First Ammendment. Yet, because I had violated company policy (that is, talked about a lawsuit that was still under litigation) my freedom of speech rights were trounced by company policy.

I'm sure my employment agreement included a clause saying I would abide by company policy, and therefore I gave up some of my rights (e.g. freedom of speech) through being employed. I suppose if I had decided to continue exercising freedom of speech, then the employer would have exercised their right to fire me for violating the employment agreement.

What I have been wondering ever since is - how many egregious acts are being done inside corporations (or other organizations) that are being hidden by these contractual agreements that trounce freedom of speech?

For example the Worldcom and Enron scandals were unleashed by "whistleblowers". These people take on bravery, and tell the world stuff that their employment contract says they aren't to disclose. The fraud those scandals represented may be the tip of an iceberg, one we can't see because of enforced silence tied to employment contracts.

We can't know, becuase it's hidden in the silence.