As general counsel of Bauer Media Group (Australia), that nation's largest magazine publisher, Adrian Goss faces all the complex issues of publishing in the digital age on a regular basis – and does so with only two other in-house attorneys to assist him.
Whether the issues spring from the Australian versions of Elle, Cosmopolitan or Harper's Bazaar, or from Australian Geographic magazine, or from specialty titles like Disney Princess or Inside Rugby or Street Machine, the complicated legal questions always make their way to Goss's desk. Bauer Media Group (Australia), a subsidiary of Hamburg-based Bauer Media Group, publishes more than 80 titles in Australia, as well as a series of websites and apps, and any one of these properties can pose a head-scratching problem to the 40-year-old general counsel.
Goss, who has held his current position at the Sydney-based company for three years (he was in a corporate counsel job at the company for the previous five years), obviously enjoys the intellectual challenge of his work and its importance to the mission of his company, which has 1400 employees in Australia.
"The advent of digital media has raised a whole set of entirely new issues," Goss says. "The day-to-day practice of copyright law, for example, has changed dramatically because of the pervasive copying made possible by the Internet, posing real challenges for content owners."
Goss points out that exposure under defamation law has increased because any allegedly defamatory statement is typically "published" anywhere in the world, because anyone with access to the Web can read it. A U.S. celebrity and his or her minders will be much more aware of what is being written down-under, and the impact on his or her reputation is not limited by a national boundary.
"Global distribution raises unprecedented issues of conflict of laws and of the differing treatments of objectionable material in different countries, all of which a general counsel of a media company must be aware of," he says.
As a practical matter Goss says his company usually considers the implications of publication under Australian law.
"We still focus on compliance with Australian law", he says. "You simply can't analyze every piece of content according to the law of every jurisdiction. We write a great deal in our magazines about celebrities from the United States or the United Kingdom. But we find that claims against us are brought under Australian law. Part of that might be because Australian defamation law is seen as 'Plaintiff friendly'."
In view of the popular nature of many of the Bauer Media periodicals, Goss sometimes has to deal with international celebrities who are unhappy with articles about them in one of the Australian magazines.
In 2011, for example, American singer Katy Perry filed a lawsuit in an Australian court against Bauer Media (Australia)'s predecessor, ACP Magazines, over an article in NW Magazine that asserted that while married to then husband Russell Brand, Perry had an illicit affair with her record producer. According to an article in the Melbourne Herald-Sun, the suit was part of a recent trend by overseas-based celebrities to sue Australian publications over articles that allegedly harmed their reputations.
According to news accounts, Perry's suit was settled with a confidential settlement said to be in the six figures.
Goss says legal and business events in general move much more quickly in the Internet age.
"This has consequences," he says, "for the value of exclusive arrangements, for example. In the old days, the exclusive rights to a set of photos were worth a great deal. Now, you might find that these photos that you supposedly have exclusive rights to are essentially everywhere. That diminishes the value of this type of arrangement."
Goss says his team faces a broad range of issues and assignments, some of which are intrinsic to the digital age and some of which have been around for as long as media have been around.
"Let's say one of our online competitors has infringed our copyright in a photo. We would need to respond to that," he says. "But we also deal with more traditional issues such as negotiating a contract with a printer or a Web developer. Similarly, we organise a lot of our own branded events for which, for example, we might want to engage an international or local celebrity and we have to contract with that celebrity. So we deal with a lot of contracts that have real value for us."
One important area in which Goss and his team frequently give advice relates to false and deceptive advertising – both in the form of ads that the various publications carry and in the form of ads for Bauer Media itself.
He always keeps in mind the possibility of a law enforcement action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, his nation's equivalent of the Federal Trade Commission in the United States. The ACCC has a relatively strict standard when it comes to deceptive advertising: If "the overall impression left by a business's advertisement, promotion, quotation, statement or other representation creates a misleading impression in your mind—such as to the price, value or the quality of any goods and services—then the behavior is likely to breach the law," the commission writes on its website.
In order to assist in his company's myriad variety of problems, Goss turns to what he calls "a very small number of outside law firms at the mid-size level" when his in-house team of three lawyers needs help. Most of the law firms that he works with have about 50 partners, he says.
"We don't turn to too many of the larger law firms," he says. "We want to work with law firms where we feel that we are a highly valued client. We follow individuals and not law firms, and we know who is good at what we do and whom we like to work with."
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