I finally realized one of the inherent differences between people. Some people see loyalty issues as a science or a math and some as an art. What do I mean by that?
Some people see loyalty as a science...a math-based process whereby the existence of A, no matter what other factors exist, will always equal A. Other people see loyalty as an art, where there are a million colors rioting and affecting each other, where massive changes in one can drastically affect something seemingly unconnected.
The math types see a straightforward connection of "rights" to loyalty, as if that's an entitlement subject. I'm not a fan of entitlement anyway. I'm a big believer in 'you don't deserve anything you don't earn.' So, you can guess I'm not a loyalty math type.
I will dutifully fulfill a contract, even if I hate it, just because I agreed to it, but that doesn't mean I have any loyalty to the other party, outside of the agreed-upon contract. Or...maybe I do, if that party has proven themselves worthy of trust and/or loyalty. Why? Because loyalty is, to many people, an art. Just being in an agreement with someone does not entitle them to loyalty from you, in every conflict that arises.
Now, there may be legal and/or ethical frameworks in place. I wouldn't, for instance, pass one publisher's plans for expansion to another, loyalty or no, because that's unethical. It may be illegal, depending on the situation.
At the same time, we live in a small world, made all the smaller by online communications. People network across dozens of groups and publishers and other communities. It's invariable that conflicts of interest will arise, at some point. The problem is, everyone in the conflict will feel you should place your loyalty with them, and that's simply not possible.
I suppose you could declare yourself neutral in every conflict of interest, but here's the catch! Doing that means forgoing your OWN interests, in the process, and when you're building a career, that's just not feasible. Not to mention, declaring yourself neutral does a few other things. It leaves you at the mercy of whatever the other parties decide, which may be unpalatable to you, in the end. It also makes you appear wishy-washy and without drives, a proactive nature, and business sense. Not a pretty picture.
I'll admit, I don't know how the math types handle this. I'd wager they give lip service to the math and then do whatever will benefit them. At least, that seems to be the thought process, as near as I can understand the decisions I've seen made by these types.
I know how I decide, and that comes down to not only what benefits me but to the possible repercussions (in any direction...playing Switzerland, taking side A or taking side B...even trying to play mediator for the two sides) and to the situation and what experience I have of both parties IN such a situation or in general. Sometimes that means I make choices people feel are disloyal. In fact, it's not disloyal to speak honestly in a situation that demands it and that will impact you and your career. You have to be loyal to YOU first.
Some people think physical closeness, when compared to the other party, entitles them to your 'loyalty' to their side. There are people I've known face-to-face for a few years and people I've known online and occasionally face-to-face for six or seven or more. If those online have proven themselves worthy of my loyalty, they have it, when a conflict of interest arises.
The trouble is, in any conflict of interest or tug-of-war over supposed loyalties, no matter what choice you make, you're hurting yourself in the end. It's a true no-win situation.