Wednesday, March 31, 2010

US Copyright Group plans "spamigation" lawsuits against up to 50000 illegal downloaders (by P2P and Torrent) of a few indie films

An article in The Hollywood Reporter by Eriq Gardner reports of another mass “John Doe” copyright lawsuit by some independent film producers, so far against 20,000 or more parties who have downloaded films illegally through BitTorrent in a P2P environment. It is expected that the final number of suits may reach 50,000. Parties, culled from IP addresses with subpoenas to ISP’s, are presented with a cease-and-desist and complaint and a “prayer” for a settlement. This sounds to be on the scale of the RIAA music download suits a few years ago. The link for the story “New litigation campaign quietly targets tens of thousands of movie downloaders”, is (web url)  here.

A typical complaint, filed in the District of Columbia from a plaintiff in Germany, is (PDF) here.  But apparently most of the plaintiffs are in the US, copying a practice from Europe.

One could call this legal practice “spam-i-gation”, but actually this also happened in the early 1990s with respect to deficiency judgments in real estate in the savings and loan scandal (the “letter lawsuits”), a practice apparently not repeated during the more recent subprime crisis.

This time, the driving party seems to be the “US Copyright Group” using a technology from Germany called Guardaley IT to monitor movie downloads by BitTorrent.

So far, the films reported to be involved are “Steam Experiment” (or “Chaos Experiment”) with Val Kilmer), “Far Cry”, “Uncross the Stars”, “Gray Man” and “Call of the Wild 3D”. I found all five on imdb. It surprises me that they would attract this much illegal downloading, so some of it may be happening casually by people not seriously concerned about getting into trouble. I have some scripts (derivative in some way of my "Do Ask Do Tell" books and sites) that I might be able to sell some day to similar kinds of independent producers, and, based on the nature of these sample films, it sounds conceivable that a film I could make someday could become a target for such trading. I would want as many people as possible to see my film, but I would have to behave as my investors want!

In the music business, massive litigation is starting to prove unproductive. In some cases in the film business, investors might believe that they can recover their investments through this kind of litigation, as the article explains.

I do not use P2P at home. I rent films from Netflix (online and through DVD) by paying a low-price subscription to watch the content legally. In some cases, films have been available on DVD or for legal download at the same time they were available in theaters.

As far as I know, I have never seen any of these films personally, and none were familiar to me through the "grapevine" (screenwriting seminars, etc). But I found all five available on DVD from Netflix, and just added all five to my rental queue to investigate further what this is all about. All of them are given as available “Now” by Netflix without wait time (some may not be available at all processing centers leading to delay in arrival for a particular consumer). “Far Cry” and “Wild” are available for instant watching. It’s all legal to watch the movies this way for very low subscription prices. (It’s not legal to make personal copies, and that gets into the DMCA and digital rights management.) How much sense does all this P2P downloading behavior make?

Check my Blogger Profile to navigate to my movie reviews blog and watch for these.

Later I’ll look to see what trailers are up for them on YouTube. Are they embeddable? Are they legally posted? This would take more time to dig out.

Update: May 20

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story today by Eva Galperin, "EFF Seeks Attorneys to Help Alleged Movie Downloaders", link here.  The story mentions that Summit Entertainment's film "The Hurt Locker", which won Best Picture at the 2010 Oscars, is on the list of films being "illegally" downloaded. (I'll add that I watch all my films "legally", at theaters or with Netflix or (more recently) YouTube rentals.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now the Web complicates ethics for therapists and patients -- in both directions

User-generated content and medicine came up again this morning in a front page Washington Post article (Tuesday, March 30) with respect to therapists (psychiatrists, psychotherapists) and their patients. The story title is “Google and Facebook raise new issues for therapists and their clients”, by Dana Scarton, link here.

Should therapists go online and look at what their patients write? It’s obvious that one could get some “insights” into someone from what they write (just look at the news stories on the Internet postings of those who later commit crimes – the legal system has to wonder when writings are “evidentiary” or a “propensity” for “pre-crime” – like in the movie “Minority Report”). Likewise, as we have written before, doctors are increasingly concerned about user-generated online “ratings” and gag order contracts have developed.

In my own case, back in early 1962 (look at the posting here Nov. 28, 2006) psychiatrists supposedly relied on what they learned from me directly in therapy (sometimes group therapy, and later at NIH, family therapy, and interviews with family). I have my patient records from NIH and there is a surprising amount of perceptive psychological detail that still would make sense today (with sufficient “audience preparation”). There are some details in the narratives of what had happened at William and Mary in 1961 that are, however, in subtle but critical details, incorrect. I guess I’m the best source as to telling the story as to what really happened, even if it takes a movie.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Companies, wary of their online reputations, enlist PR firms to work with bloggers and tweeterers

The Washington Post this morning (Monday May 29) reports on the increasing interest that public relations firms (e.g. K Street in DC) have developed in the world of “amateur” online reviews and probably blogs and tweets, in a story by Michael S. Rosenwald, link here The print title of the story is “PR firms find fertile ground in world of online reviews” but the online title is more telling “Reputations at stake, companies try to alter word of mouth online.”

The story discusses the site “Yelp” (link), which, like Craigslist, is set up for each major metropolitan area. I didn’t see movie or book reviews there, perhaps because there are so many other sites that offer them. There is an emphasis on review of various kinds of customer service. I’ve covered before the concerns especially in the health care community, that “amateur” reviews (even anonymous or pseudononymous) could unfairly damage the reputations of providers, and the practice of requiring “gag order” contracts. I wonder how this could work in the areas of apartments and leases.

But the main thrust of the article is the various ways some companies find to do hidden advertising in tweets or other user generated content items. The Federal Trade Commission, as reported before, is requiring bloggers to provide notice when they were provided compensation or free samples for reviewed.
The article discusses a company in Arlington VA, “New Media Strategies”, which describes itself here. Check its blog. I believe the company has appeared at Digital Media/Potomac Wire conferences at Tyson’s Corner in recent years.

As the kind of person I am (I could borrow a composer’s phrase “shy and mighty” – see my drama blog March 27) it’s hard to fathom hiring people to mold a public image when I can do it myself. Even the military services have public relations departments (bruised in the era of “don’t ask don’t tell”) – I once knew a Navy man who worked in it.

Note: On some of my blogs (including this one), images are not displaying because of technical issues. On others it still works. I'll let everyone know when resolved. The problem occurred in the Blogger and Picasa environment shortly before 1 PM EDT today.

Note 2:  (6 PM EDT). The problem appears to be fixed.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Does the Enlightenment view of man doom us? What about our "mirror neurons" and empathy?

AlterNet offered a piece this morning by Jeremy Rifkin, one which questions the meaning of our global communications (and mash-ups and self-promotion) through technology, while denying that we are “social animals” with “mirror neurons” that enable empathy with others. The link is here and the title is startling. It is “Are We Selfish Individuals or an Empathic Society? The Answer Could Determine Whether We Have a Future: The industrial age built on and propelled by fossil fuels is coming to an end. What replaces it is at the center of our fight for survival.”

The piece attacks the notion of mediated individualism that developed with the Enlightenment. The author writes “If human nature is as the Enlightenment philosophers claimed, then we are likely doomed. It is impossible to imagine how we might create a sustainable global economy and restore the biosphere to health if each and every one of us is, at the core of our biology, an autonomous agent and a self-centered and materialistic being.”.

The far Left and the far Right come together on this one. Is this a call for Carlson’s “natural family”? Or does the Family just become the granularity of “selfishness”?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A visit to Va Tech; some reflections on my own "unbalanced personality"

I did pay a visit to the Va Tech campus earlier this week; the last time I had been there was Dec. 1996. It’s difficult to stop people and ask about history, but one student said that the tragedy happened in the “castle-like” building. Apparently that’s a structure adjacent to or connected to the main Burruss Hall.

I thought I would share a much more personal thought than in the posting Wednesday, building on to what I wrote Sunday March 21. That is, I am never willing to let anyone “cling” to me as if I were a “role model” or if doing so would “hide” the person’s responsibility for his or her own issues, given the rejections I faced as a youth and then the loss of normal socializing experience in the college years. I won’t create a phony “relationship” with someone in order to manipulate them with my persona, rather than by dealing with the facts or “right and wrong”.

That means I won’t allow a “relationship” with another family member determine what my own objectives should be, if that relationship isn’t voluntary. But it was also relevant when I was substitute teaching. I don’t let others “connect” to me (Avatar-style) the way other do, as an “authority figure” in a social order. Sometimes that creates issues in maintaining classroom discipline.

I could get into the Rosenfels area and say that all this goes with a “subjective feminine” (and “unbalanced”) personality. Or it could be related to Asperger’s or even the “schizoid personality”, where there is an aversion to social relationships imposed by others, particularly in the family unit. Sometimes intrusive demands from others (especially in a family) and provoke anger. It’s a good question whether any of these factors contributed to Cho’s mental illness and the 2007 tragedy.

One can ponder how this fits into arguments about the “natural family”. The individual likes me finds that some social relationships are demanded of others even when one was childless and did not “procreate” responsibility.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Financial site must observe delays in "republishing" certain information: a potential problem for bloggers?

From Bill Boushka

According to young finance writer Andrew Ross Sorkin (New York Times, March 23), (link here) a number of banks have gone to court to keep stock market research out of the hands of ordinary people (or ordinary investors) for some time after it is known effectively to insiders. They had sued a webmaster for “The Fly on the Wall” (link) to stop "quick publishing" of tips and advice on their business, and recently the banks won.

The judge ruled that the site cannot publish "opening bell" news on these companies until 10 AM Eastern time ( 30 minute delay) and that during the trading day a 2 hour delay must be observed to stop publishing tips and advice on their business. It's important to note that the information is "published" to some people "privately" before average investors know about it; but the information is in some sense "classified".

Perhaps the ruling contradicts the efforts of financial reform considered in the Senate now.

While Sorkin focuses on the delivery of information to layers of investors, the ruling could have implications for blogging in general. What if a blogger discloses a “spoiler” of a plot of a movie in order to make an argument about a political issue, and a movie studio were to claim that his doing so undermined ticket or even DVD sales for the movie, for people whose “dinner was spoiled” by knowing the ending? Would it matter how long it had been since the movie had been released or distributed? Will there exist “layers” in who can publish what and when?

Note from the picture (Burruss Hall) that I visited Virginia Tech yesterday. More comments later with one of my more “personal” posts. But I suspect that financial reporting (and the significance of a story like this one) gets taught there. Would make for a good essay test question.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The web, free entry, mash-ups, and lack of context: more books take on the issue of "amateurism"

Michiko Kakutani has an interesting perspective on p 2 of the “Arts & Leisure” section of The New York Times (Sunday March 21) about social media and user-generated content, “Texts without context: The Internet mashes up everything we know about culture,” link here. The article mentions books by Jaron Lanier, Andrew Keen, and others, on the problem of “amateurism” and on the atomization of content, creating a public no longer able to take in the whole of something (like a physical book on the beach, pun intended). It’s particularly interesting that people want to be noticed globally before they take on responsibility for specific other people, as if generative responsibility no longer added to identity. In the new world, only the most “charismatic” individuals can make a living (and support families – other people) from such unsupervised content – but is that so new?

One idea to remember is that even amateurs and “connect the dots” among their own content items with hyperlinks and blog labels, encouraging the visitor to the whole picture. And that is oh, so 90’s in concept.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Viacom v YouTube: Viacom wants to make all other service providers proactively filter content for infringement: downstream liability again

Fred Von Lohmann has an important article on EFF in the latest chapter of Viacom v. YouTube, “Viacom makes its case against yesterday’s YouTube”, with link here.

Lohmann explains an ironic twist in discussing the case. The plaintiff is satisfied with the way YouTube has been run since mid 2008, with a tool called “video identification” or “ContentID” (link 0 where copyright owners can tag content and have it blocked or monetized on YouTube. But, as EFF explains, Viacom wants “everyone else” to implement a similar level of copyright filtering. And Viacom seems to be attacking the use of the safe harbor provision for other claims (like inducement or “vicarious liability”).

As we’ve note with other issues about downstream liability (section 230 and the recent case in Italy regarding “invasion of privacy”, here, Feb. 24, 2010), the functioning of the open Web (and by and large social media) depends on preventing service providers from having to take responsibility for consumer behavior that they have no reasonable way to control.

Viacom’s page for YouTube litigation is here. Youtube’s (PDF, “highly confidential”) is here. Read them and weep! (as if they were the exhbits for law school final exam questions!)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The choice of consenting adult significant others is seen as a "fundamental right"; how about the "right to reject"?

Something big strikes me about all the pieces of philosophy, in the way the chards of the “culture wars” fit together.

The individualist insists that his own dignity depends on the absolute right to choose what other consenting adult to love, and the absolute right to reject a relationship with anyone beyond the scope of his actions. This has been posited as a "fundamental right." He is responsible for his children because of his actions, but he is not necessarily responsible for other family members outside of his choice.

On an intellectual level, the individualist insists on the right to pursue his own values, within the limits of his ability as expressed in the market. All of this sounds like “individualist fundamentalism”, a bit akin to “market fundamentalism.”

A problem comes about when technology gives the individual the capability to reach a global audience with no supervision or need to have responsibility for others. Under these circumstances, the “right to reject” might come across as contempt, and set up a social climate eventually facilitating totalitarian changes. Despotism, ironically, can come about when individualism is used to promulgate absolutism, to defend the individual from unwelcome intrusions from others. Of course, we’re much more familiar with how authoritarian political systems come about from conventional tribal, religious, national or familial power struggles. But they’re not the only way. So when an “individualist” becomes publicly conspicuous, others may want to dare him into previously unwelcome interactions with others, and bring him back to earth. (Here, I use “him” as “him and her”. I wish English had a pronoun meaning that, other than the neutered “it”).

That brings us back to “family values” and the ideas around the “natural family”. Within the family unit and even the extended family, there lives an apparent antithesis of individualism: the individual is expected to incorporate some of the family’s goals as his own, and remain flexible in the deployment of his own emotions toward others on the basis of need, first in the family, then in a larger community. (Alternatively, this means seeing oneself as part of a group rather than as an individual "standing alone".) Fitting into this is not only eldercare, but what Philip Longman describes as the obligation to heed the needs of “other people’s children” – as in a situation where someone, currently childless, is suddenly expected to raise a sibling’s children after a tragedy; this responsibility was not created by a voluntary choice in the libertarian sense. A loose term for this expectation might be “generativity”, an automatic psychic investment in other generations. This was part of our moral compass at one time; will

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Red Tory" argument examines individualism and "localization" of accountability

On Friday, March 19, David Brooks has an interesting op-ed on p A23 of The New York Times, called “The Broken Society,” link here. Brooks starts out by mentioning the libertarian and socially neutral positions of the Tea Party movement and moves on to discuss British writer Phillip Blond, who believes that “revolutions” from both the left and right produced a society that pays lip-service to freedom but that actually invites more supervision by the “corporate state” of shadow government. The change in social mores, partly motivated by the Civil Rights movement given the history of race relations and then moving into gender areas, tended to weaken family ties while promoting individualism (leading to a libertarian-style way to implement what we call “gay rights”). Then “market fundamentalism”, with ideology from the Right (particularly Reaganism) led, through deregulation, to excessive concentration of corporate power and eventually the recklessness that led to the Collapse of 2008. This was sometimes good for the consumer (because of technological revolution and the Internet) but often bad, as health care and education costs skyrocketed, and as consumers were lured into debt. The end result can be, at the individual or family level, a “Darwinian” attitude which can leave people in the cold and invite dangerous political counter-currents, even terrorism.

Blond wants to implement some ideas that seem to restructure the notions of conservatism and liberalism: (1) “relocalize the economy” (2) “remoralize the market” and (3) “recapitalize the poor”. In some ways these might undermine our modern ideas of individual sovereignty and force people more into direct answerability to family and local communities in their actions.

Blond has often written in “The New Statesman” and his philosophy has been summed up as the “Red Tory” thesis, with a discussion here by Jonathan Derbyshire.

The other day, while on a day trip, I saw a piece by a North Carolina physician, Ada M. Fisher, in the Washington Times (Wed. March 17 p A2) “Reinventing conservatism” column, “Socialism American style”, link here. The piece examines the health care debate (and to some extent eldercare policy) in the matrix of “personal responsibility” (and avoidance of anti-selection) that expresses some reductionism that seems a bit shocking. It could take us down a dark path. For example, Fisher (a physician) ignores the idea that having kids involves some genetic or congenital uncertainty (even in marriage), and if everybody was absolutely accountable for their own kids only, no one could afford to take the "chance" in having children!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Advice columnist takes on Internet rants against businesses, and problem of "online reputation"

The “Miss Manners” columnist Judith Martin has an interesting letter and response today Wednesday March 17, p C9 of the Washington Post, “To Yelp or not to Yelp?”, list here.

The letter writer points out (or at least alleges) that many businesses (including but not limited to restaurants and physicians) have their reputations ruined by customers who rant about them online, instead of bringing complaints directly to the businesses. There are specific websites set up to do accommodate rants, and some even “extort” businesses to rearrange reviews to show the most favorable first (a kind of perversion of “online reputation defense”).

Miss Manners does not completely agree with the writer, but the visitor can read both sides.

As noted before here, some physicians have started making patients sigh “gag order” agreements that the patients will not “complain” about their treatment online. Of course, physicians would have to get court orders to prove the identity of anonymous posters?

I would wonder if some posters (if they don't keep anonymity) could find it difficult for people to work with them? Many landlords would check to see if a perspective tenant has an inclination to complain online. Employers have been doing this for several years, as we have discussed here.

The absence of supervision of individual postings has indeed created novel ethical issues.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My "screed" will be on e-book format; it's time for Hollywood to take up "don't ask don't tell", for real

Well, I’ve arranged for my “screed” (originally published in 1997, put into print-on-demand in 2000) to be available in eBook formats in the near future.

I realize that my three non-fiction books are “old”, the latest being 2002.

The focus now is on a novel and on screenplays, and, yes, I’m serious about marketing the “Do Ask Do Tell” concept to the movies. I can’t be real specific in this post, but more should be coming out about it this spring. But just think about recent history: the recent flap about gay rights in Virginia, the recent interest in lifting “don’t ask don’t tell”, and look at what won academy awards this time around at the Oscars. Now’s the time for the “establishment” motion picture industry to treat the subject seriously. (I know; there have been indie films and TV films like "Serving in Silence" and "Soldier's Girl"). And make it “2.35:1”.

The novel involves a married-with-kids CIA agent befriending a gay college student in ROTC, getting serious about satisfying a longing for a different kind of love while tracking down a new epidemic that seems to be preparing the way for a religious solution, making the “beyond” finally very public and beyond official denial.

I don’t usually blog about dreams, but last night’s (just before dawn, EDT) was a humdinger, like a movie script. I was being run through constant auditions in a “synecdoche” set up on another planet, as authorities decided what “life role” I was going to fit in to. I was being transformed for different roles in the way an actor would be. The dream picked up outside, and I saw a Long Island Railroad train. Perhaps I was influenced by all the reports of the Nor’easter. But dreams throw different threads together.

Picture: Millington, MD. I fell behind on a bicycle hike from here in 1992, and a “Good Samaritan” with a truck brought me back to the starting point where we were having dinner.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Justice Thomas's wife works for Tea Party: a conflict of interest? Note, it stays away from the social issues

Christopher Marquis of the New York Times reported today that Virginia Lamp Thomas, wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, is working for the Heritage Foundation, particularly on the issue of possible future appointments for future Republican administrations. The story is here. Mrs. Thomas reportedly sent emails to 194 Senate and House aides asking for resumes for “transition purposes” to be sent to the Heritage Foundation. A Wordpress blog today referred to her connections to “Liberty Central”, a “Tea Party” group ( story link).

Some people are calling this a “conflict of interest”. Jeffrey Toobin, on CNN, said that there is nothing in federal statutes or in the Supreme Court rules prohibiting the spouse of a Supreme Court justice from working for a partisan group or from speaking out on public issues. This is particularly true in a world where spouses regularly “work”.

Since I’ve dealt with “conflict of interest” in my own career with some startling results, this story was of interest to me. I'll probably get into the specifics more later as "confidentiality" circumstances permit.

A CNN report in 2000 had dealt with Scalia and Thomas COI possibilities in the Florida recount, Bush v Gore case, link.

A New York Times story Saturday March 13 reported that the Tea Party groups would stick to economic and governance issues and stay away from the social values issues (like gay marriage). The story (“Tea Party avoids divisive social issues”) is by Kate Zernike, link here. Will the Tea Party attract GLIL or the Log Cabin Republicans?

P.S.: Notice the street sign in the picture below!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Redux: more thoughts on the missed career-switch to teaching

I’ve talked about whether I could have become a teacher before here, but another wrinkle occurs to me.

The “No Child Left Behind” law was passed in 2001. By early 2002, when I was in outplacement after my layoff from my last IT job and still in Minneapolis, the outplacement company ought to have gathered together the information on a career switch to teaching. (The law actually took effect in 2002.) It could have gathered information like (1) which states allow substitute teachers to work without a license and (2) the cost and time required by state to get licensed, and (3) the practicality of pursuing secondary education only (no elementary or special) and (4) the practicality of pursuing upper level courses only (like teaching AP calculus in high schools, which I could have done).

Studio teaching in the movies could have been an intriguing idea, but that requires an elementary license. Most states license elementary and secondarily separately.

With this information, I might have made different plans (as early as 2002) than I did. Hindsight is always comforting, isn’t it. Of course, with the state budget cuts now, not doing this might sound good, but there were some good years.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Smart metering of electricity raises privacy, security concerns: how separate from Internet?

The recent concerns about climate change, peak oil, and economic sustainability have led to proposals for “smart metering” and smart energy grids, using the Internet or Internet-like applications to not only meter or measure power usage but make the distribution of power as efficient as possible, particularly in situations where individual consumers might be able to sell power back (as those with solar collectors or Bloom Boxes) to utilities. Thomas Friedman has proposed such innovations in his book “The World Is Flat”.

However, many observers are documenting scenarios were consumer privacy could be seriously compromised. A good treatise on the problem was authored by Elias Leake Quinn for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for a report published in April 2009, “Smart Metering & Privacy: Existing Law and Competing Policies”, link here.

Intrusions could come from marketers (data collection companies), criminals, or rogue government, or especially attorneys. Component electricity consumption could provide evidence of other activities useful for litigating parties, as in divorce. Landlords might want to monitor questionable tenants.

But some of the concerns would rest on how secure the grid was and how disconnected it was kept from the normally accessible portions of the Internet. Some of the greatest dangers could come from hackers or those intent on bringing on cyber warfare, as in the recent CNN special “Cyber.Shockwave”.

Kim Zetter has an article in Wired ("Threat Level", March 10, 2010), “Security Pros Question Deployment of Smart Meters”, link here reporting on an RSA Security Conference in San Francisco. There have been reports of questions about the reliability of smart meters in Dallas (on the Fox channel, report by Natalie Solis, link and in California with a suit against PG&E, Greentech Media article here.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a summary article by Lee Tien (who worked with me on COPA), March 10, 2010, link here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Obama administration contradicts itself in "old model" v "new model" Internet policies

Richard Esguerra has a disturbing article in Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Deeplinks”, link here, “Federal Intellectual Property Enforcement Gears Up”, March 5, 2010

He gives a nod to the Lessig treatise discussed yesterday, but the general point seems to be that the Obama administration is playing one side off against the other for spoils in the whole question of “old business models” vs. newbies.

The administration says it will bend over backwards to get broadband to all small businesses (including publishers). But on copyright law it seems to be swayed by the big guilds (especially in music and Hollywood) that seems to fear that the old established ways of making a living will collapse when exposed to no-capital-required competition.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Copyright law, in digital age, must resist "documentary film" model (Lessig)

The New Republic (at one time, Andrew Sullivan’s province) ran an important essay by Lawrence Lessig on Jan. 26, 2010: “For the Love of Culture: Googe, copyright, and our future,” link here.

He starts out by discussing the attempt of Grace Guggenheim to make a documentary film as a compendium of her father’s documentary library. She soon ran into enormous problems of getting permission to use clips from older films or broadcasts, which (unlike the practice of quoting under “fair use” in authoring books) requires explicit permission for each separate quote. Lessig goes on to discuss how the film and television industry has lawyers who make a living getting these permissions, and then moves on to discuss Google’s book project, which he suggests could run into legal paradigm problems that would take digital libraries into the area of “documentary film” (as far as permissions management) rather than “books”.

I can see how this could come about if I look at the way I built up my "/photo" directory at to demonstrate what kind of film I could try to make. Should "fair use" allow others to lift one or two of my photos or clips?

He suggests some innovations in copyright law to balance interests properly with digital media. One is to require authors to register their works to gain copyright protection. Another is a much shorter period before digital copying is allowed. Another is a real hard look at the paradigm itself. Radio (via Orson Welles), television, and the Internet have similarities but also differences.

The cultural problems come from the different ways different individuals and companies make their livings in media. Established authors and artists benefit from a strict copyright system whose complexity infringes (pun) on the mechanics of low cost competition from the newbies.

See my Books blog Aug. 13, 2009 for a review of Lessig's "Code 2.0".

Monday, March 08, 2010

Supreme Court will take 1st Amendment case about anti-gay protests at military funerals

The Supreme Court said Monday March 8 that it will take a case of a family of a veteran who sued an “anti-gay group” for picketing the veteran’s funeral, claiming that deaths in battle resulted from the military’s allowing gays to serve starting in 1993 (as God’s “punishment”; even the Taliban would have trouble coming up with this – remember some of the comments by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, especially after 9/11). This does deserve a “sic” indeed: it’s odd to hear the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy referred to as permissive.

The legal issue will be whether the free speech provision First Amendment outtrumps the right to religious observance and to be left alone during such an observance, even in a public place. The Kansas City Star republished the AP story by Mark Sherman here. A lower court had awarded damages to the father of a Marine from Maryland who had died in Iraq, but an appeals court (the 4th Circuit in Richmond VA, generally somewhat "conservative") had ruled that the “church’s” speech, however tasteless, was protected by the First Amendment and has some connection to political debate, however far-fetched. The case is Snyder v. Phelps. Another version of the story appears in “Democratic Underground” here, referring to details in the Washington Post.

NBC Nightly News led off with this story Monday March 8.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

You could also visit “Baptist Watch” (link) for more on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka KS, at one time presented in a report on 20-20 by John Stossel!

Update: March 9

Robert Barnes has another free-speech story at the bottom of p A3 of the Washington Post, "Bankruptcy law doesn't restrict free speech, Supreme Court says", link here. The case is Milvatez, Gallop & Milvatez P.A. v. United States. It concerns a federal law that prohibits an attorney from telling a client contemplating bankruptcy to take on more debt. But the law can be interpreted reasonably, as for example allowing advice on refinancing. Barnes also has an A3-page story on the Phelps case.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Federal law increases reach of record keeping requirements for adult materials

There is a case called “Free Speech Coalition v. Holder” challenging two federal statutes requiring extensive recording keeping of actors any time “adult” videos or images are produced, apparently even for private consumption. The news story (Mar. 5) with link to the amicus brief is here. At issue is a change to US Code 18-2257 requiring record keeping even for content produced for personal and non-commercial purposes.

The Cornell Law School link for the statute on Record Keeping Requirements is here.

There are concerns about the privacy of speakers, as the record-keeping could make it possible for others to track their home addresses. There are also potential 4th Amendment issues with the possibility of warrantless entry into homes or business places by government for inspections.

A possible concern could exist for amateur filmmakers. Someone might make a short film with some physical intimacy short of what is looked up as adult (say still “PG-13”) but have to wonder if the regulations could apply.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Pentagon Metro Incident: Government watches personal Internet sites and blogs for clues, warning signs

Once again, law enforcement is garnering a lot of clues about the mindset and motivation of someone (John Patrick Bedell, now deceased) who perpetrated a crime, in this case, the shooting near the Pentagon Metro station in Arlington VA (Thursday March 4, 2010). I used to take trains from that station a lot in the early 1990s when I lived in a highrise apartment in south Arlington; in the pre-9/11 days, civilians could part free at the Pentagon nights and weekends to go into town. I see that in my first book, I mentioned, as a metaphor for “family values”, a fight between two mockingbirds and a crow near the Pentagon Metro station in the 1990s, in the midst of the “don’t ask don’t tell” debates.

It looks like the guy has written some anti-government rants online. There’s nothing “wrong” with describing supposed government corruption or conspiracy theories behind 9/11 – I (personally) think they (the conspiracy theories that is – even though I’ve reviewed a couple movies about these theories) are wrong, but speakers have a perfect right to articulate them. But it’s becoming clear that law enforcement and employers (both) can troll the Web (including conventional sites and blogs as well as social networking sites) for what “persons of interest” write as a way of guessing what they have a “propensity” to do at some unspecified time in the future. Sound familiar? (It is to people familiar with the legal world of “don’t ask don’t tell”). Welcome to the world of rebuttable presumption and its perils.

Even offline, semi-private writings have been reviewed, as with the case of Cho and the Va. Tech tragedy in 2007 (his “screenplays” as turned in to professors or found were very violent). In school situations, even handwritten journals from English classes have been looked at.

The mental illness angle reminds me of what was said about John Warnock Hinckley Jr. and the 1981 attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan.

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Bedell’s blogspot page seems to be “Rothbardix”, “Technology for liberty and justice”, link here. The Blogger “About Me” profile identifies “Me” as “Patrick”.

Picture: Sept. 2005 March (open to public; I walked) commemorating 9/11 passed west side of Pentagon AA Flight 77 impact point.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How old is "old enough" for a kid to have a social networking site account?

On Tuesday, March 2 NBC Washington (Channel 4) did a brief segment by Maureen Kyle on the appropriateness and safety of younger children using social networking sites.

The report presented a boy who had a Myspace account at age 7 and a Facebook account at age 11. But the parents did not allow him to use any real names or even any real facts about the family. However, a child safety consultant said that she did not believe any minors under 18 should be allowed to use social networking sites because their use by minors was like leaving a door to your home unlocked – for predators.

What caught my ear about the report was the attitude toward “fame”. Okay, maybe minors with no legitimate public accomplishments in the “real world” should be on the world stage. But “amateurs” getting started in something (like music) can find the gradually accumulation of self-made “fame” an important tool for competing in the modern world. Otherwise the “establishment” still can keep a lock on who can be heard from.

Update Mar. 4

"Ask Amy" has a letter (p C5) about cyberbullying on Facebook, having repercussions in a small town school, link here. Sge also recommends this site, Cyberbullying Research Center site.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Government pulls out riot control acts against twitterer

The OutFront “Policestate” editorial (“Heat vs. Tweet”) in the March/April 2010 issue of Mother Jones describes the arrest of Elliott Madison, and subsequent seizure of his computer stuff from his New York apartment, for tweeting the locations of police officers monitoring the protests at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh last September. The article doesn’t appear online yet (from what I can find), but the Huffington Post has a similar account from Oct. 4, 2009, with link here.

The federal anti-riot statute is 18 USC &2101, making it a crime to engage in interstate activity to “organize, promote, encourage, participate in, or carry on a riot.” The law was used against the Chicago 7 for the “Medium Cool” protests in 1968 in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. The Cornell University Law School source for the statute is here.

Does a law like this reasonably apply to Tweets, chat, and email?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Psychiatry would see some prodigies as "diagnosable": separating character problems from real illness (George Will column noted)

Syndicated columnist George Will ran an interesting piece in many newspapers Sunday, Feb. 28, “A ‘cure’ for character”, for example, at this link.

He goes into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) which purport to give clinical explanations for what we used to perceive as “character disorders”. And he gives a great retort to this tendency:

“If a 7-year-old Mozart tried composing his concertos today, he might be diagnosed with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and medicated into barren normality”.

Since I know some people who were music prodigies, this comment really did strike me in the gut.

In fact, I took my nine years of piano, and I think I could have worked hard enough to make it work as a career. But this was around 1961, the heart of the Cold War. Young men had to pay their dues, by proving they were competitively capable of providing for women and children. Later, I would (in 1962) find myself in psychiatry, in a mild form of "Shutter Island", facing therapists who said I wanted to step on other people's toes just because I couldn't compete according to their rules -- when they couldn't follow their own rules either. Becoing an oddball when you don't conform (or experience gender-based social complementarity) was a copout, they said.

It strikes me that some of what psychiatry views as diagnosable disorders are personality variations, particularly having to do with the way the individual balances his or her desire to express the self, and experience living as part of a community (especially the family). Sometimes society says, the group comes first, even at the cost of freedom or equality. And yet we see insistence on standing one’s grond as something like “schizoid personality disorder” or Asperger’s.

No wonder some people see the removal of homosexuality from a disorders list in 1973 by the APA as a political rather than scientific finding, as there are so many other disorders (as Will points out) that seem questionable. Was a disinterest in reproduction and lineage really pathological before 1973?