Rescuing BAMA

I scheduled an Open Door meeting with Top Cat for earlier today. Invoking the Open Door policy with upper level management is always risky, but I had a gut feeling that Top Cat would be willing to listen and act on what I had to say. He’s got some clout with management teams elsewhere in the company and he appears to be well-known by them. Thoroughly disgusted with corporate over the BAMA legal threat I decided to work through management and attempt to beat them at their own game. Armed with a copy of W’s email asking me for help I walked over to Building 4 early this afternoon and sat down to talk with Top Cat in his office concerning this issue.

Top Cat is an odd character. I have heard he worked for twenty years in our Singapore division and is of French descent. He pronounces his name radically different from the way it’s spelled which strikes me as pure comedy. In his office he has a surfboard against a wall and some framed sports jerseys with autographs on them. As I mentioned in the past Top Cat has a habit of communicating directly with employees through daily emails. In his mind I’m sure Top Cat thinks he is doing everybody a favor with his weekly reports and write-ups during overseas business trips, but he has rubbed many employees wrong by doing so. His tone frequently comes across to them as insensitive and naive. Some have judged him as being entirely out of touch with reality. My opinion of him is that he genuinely cares about the company and our customers however he does not fully grasp what is going on at any given time. I can only speculate as to the reasons why.

At two o’clock sharp I met with Top Cat and sat down in his office to discuss the BAMA episode.

I said to him, “There’s something I am concerned with. Earlier this week I received an email from a long time customer of ours that disturbed me. I would like you to take a few moments to read it keeping in mind I have removed his full name and the name of his company.”

Top Cat asked, “Is this something that I should be aware of?”

“Well, yes. Uh, no. I mean I don’t think this is an issue you already know about that is why I am bringing it to your attention now. You should be informed of this.”

I placed W’s letter on the table in front of Top Cat and he began to read.

Factory Peasant,

It appears that lawyers from Bill and Dave’s company have descended on one of the many on line manual sites (which are totally free), in this case the widely used BAMA site, and told them to remove all Bill and Dave’s content or be sued for copyright infringement. These older documents in question clearly show they are from Bill and Dave’s company, and that Bill and Dave’s company is the copyright holder.

Tektronix has already publicly discharged all their older stuff into the public domain for free, and posted notices to that effect. Very admirable. The Bill and Dave’s policy is to forbid this copying or transmission. Now, what makes this especially Bill and Dave’s-like, is that they offer much of this for free off their own site, or don’t offer it at all for any price, in either case, it is hard to perceive the harm involved..

In addition, the lawyer from Bill and Dave’s corporate intimated that a free license to offer this is available, but BAMA failed to secure one. They weren’t then offered one, just told to cut it out. The net is alive with rumblings over this, and none of it is Bill and Dave’s company-positive.

W

Top Cat finished reading. I gave him a few moments to think about W’s email and then I offered my viewpoints.

“I see a number of serious problems here. As I am sure you are aware we have been receiving an increased amount of negative customer feedback on a wide range of issues. There is a growing perception in the industry that we as a company do not offer an adequate level of support to customers. By threatening a popular website like BAMA we are adding more fuel to the fire in that regard. Also, this incident was big news globally within minutes of the legal threat being made public. The last thing we need right now is more negative public relations and that is exactly what this episode is generating. BAMA is used by a wide range of people including electronics students.

“Consider that documentation and manuals for older products are not only useful to past customers, it’s useful to current customers and even our own employees. For example we frequently have to service gear for instrument lines from other divisions. A product group may have a specific use for an older piece of gear that is not replaceable. When it comes to us for repair and troubleshooting we can’t obtain an instrument manual from our own company website which makes the whole repair cycle more difficult. Lately technicians in my area are complaining more often about this. They’re frustrated, and this is such a simple thing to fix. Not including this kind of information on the website is insane. It doesn’t cost much to scan an instrument manual into electronic format and post it on the web. If a small competitor like Tektronix can publish their old material online free of charge why can’t we?”

Top Cat asked, “May I keep a copy of this letter?”

“Yes. That’s for you.” I said.

“I will investigate. Please understand it might take some time so if I don’t respond back to you I have not forgotten.”

“No problem but if I don’t hear from you would you mind if I follow up in an email to you?” I asked him.

Top Cat nodded that would be fine. I thanked him, stood up from his table and went back to work. I thought to myself this would be interesting to see if he actually follows through with helping BAMA.

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~ by factorypeasant on June 22, 2008.

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