Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Leftist columnists anticipate government "crackdown" on social media even in US, to protect "the rich"; Mark Cuban criticizes public "whining" on CNN

Alter Net has one of its quasi-hysterical articles, on the idea that the government will clamp down on social media to protect the interests of the super rich, a piece by Sarah Jaffe, here.

In principal, western governments would be forced to learn how to draw the line (or gray zone) between legitimate assembly for “morally legitimate” protests as with the Arab Spring, and those particular flash mobs gathering for rioting or organized thievery in Democratic countries.

Again, I’m quite familiar from my own “coming of age” experiences of the indignation against accumulated or inherited “undeserved” generational wealth, often railed against by the far Left in the 60s and 70s.  At one time, I sat in on meetings of the “Peoples Party” (Dr. Spock) with its calls for “revolution” and constitutional conventions. The Left in those days had been very moralistic.

The First Amendment, remember, absolutely protects the right “to peaceably assemble” and to petition. These are “collective speech” rights that have traditionally, before the Internet era, been more critical than personal speech.  Here is Cornell’s analysis

The idea that there is some kind of plot to destroy social media and Internet speech to protect the “rich” hardly computes with me. After all, the Internet has made a number of mostly younger (not always) entrepreneurs rich, and the president recently met with them on the matter of the role of social media with revolts in the middle East.

The interview by Piers Morgan with Mark Cuban last night on CNN comes to mind. Cuban said that he welcomes emails from the public with ideas for media, sports or philanthropic  projects, but hits the delete button on those communiqués that emphasize whining, like “somebody stole my idea”.  (That sounds like the Winklevi, doesn’t it!)  Cuban has answered mine before. His contact point is on "Blog Maverick" (link). Note well his leadoff with a recycled discussion of the demise of the desktop PC.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Righthaven said not to be engaging in unauthorized practice of law

The Righthaven matter may be winding down as an extra-tropical low pressure system, it seems. One of the latest wrinkles reported by Steven Green in “Las Vegas Inc” (I know, Vegas can’t have hurricanes) is that Righthaven is practicing law (before the federal courts in Nevada) without a license.  The latest link on this matter is (website url) here

The key idea seems to be that Righthaven isn’t a “law firm” licensed to practice law in Nevada. It is instead just a “contingent-fee agreement masquerading as a company”.

Righthaven Victims reports that the Kincannon Law Firm in Columbia, SC (link) is accepting clients for class-action litigation against Righthaven.

There is another class action from victims in Colorado by Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, link). 

Recently (Aug. 27), I reported on "patent trolling" on my trademark law blog, a practice following the Righthaven model. A company named Lodsys is at the heart of the matter (with Apple developers). 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Facebook refines its privacy controls; Weather sites on web getting swamped

Facebook is fine tuning its privacy controls.  Cosmopolitan has a typical story, by Zoe Ruderman, here.  And it points to the “horse’s mouth” (like Stormy, in the 40s Walt Disney short, perhaps), here

The most obviously significant change may be the ability to reject and approve tagging of photos of “you”.  (I do not tag photos of people myself.) 
There is a lot of fine-tuning of who (not necessarily just Friends) who can see any particular content item. This is refined much more than say, with blogging (where it’s possible to mark blogs as private).  Therefore it’s possible to use Facebook as a kind of “corporate Intranet” with a restricted access. 

Facebook also says it’s changing the word “everyone” to “public”.  With “public”, “everyone” may see a particular item, but probably not everyone actually will.

Facebook says it is moving these privacy and audience-restriction options up to where they are easier to find in your Profile. So far, I don’t see them in mine (“public” link – I don’t think I’ve posted my Profile link before!).

There is a strategic importance to all this. Employers could, as a condition of a job, regulate the way people manage their own social media privacy settings to keep customers or clients from accidentally finding out personal information about associates that could drive them away as clients.

Is Mark Zuckerberg "prime minister of the World"?  (They say Bill Clinton is "president of the World").  Time Magazine (in its "Person of the Year" for 2010) used the metaphor "alien anthropologist"  for MZ. What's interesting to me, in a time when politicians are so paralyzed by their "partisan" gridlock in the US that some call for a "Parliamentary System", companies like Facebook, Apple and Google (and individuals within them, even starting in dorm rooms) can get so much done.  All this while President Obama stays on vacation and waits for an East Coast hurricane. 

 By the way, here's an NBC Washington embed on Irene:

View more videos at: http://www.nbcwashington.com.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Florida substitute teacher fired for past "movie" career even under a pseudonym; "anonymity" is not working these days

The AOL Huffington Post is reporting that a licensed Florida substitute teacher, Sean  Loftis, was suspended from his job from Miami Dade public schools (and his credentials were revoked in April) after the school district discovered he had acted in as a gay porn star with pseudonym Collin O’Neal.

The school district says that policies require that teachers act publicly in a way that reflects positively upon themselves as teachers, whatever that means. 

The ACLU has not been able to get Loftis reinstated.

The case is interesting to me in large part because of the use of the pseudonym, and the teacher’s intention that his identity as a porn star not be known. However, recent thought has questioned the effectiveness of multiple identities on the Internet, which are so easily disclosed.  Facebook, remember, and some other social networking sites require the use of “real names”.

It’s also interesting that he was penalized for past lawful employment.  This sounds like refusing to hire someone who has worked for a tobacco company. 

Back in 1999, a nurse was fired from an Arizona hospital for Internet nude activity – with her husband. So was another teacher in Florida that year.  Both cases made the ABC 20-20 show.

Loftis has also worked as a CNN “iReporter”.

Washington Post supports Protect-IP bill, tries to reassure new artists

Wednesday, Aug. 24, The Washington Post ran a provocative editorial (on p. A18) about Protect-IP, “Safeguarding Creativity: Bill would help combat copyright and trademark offenders on the Internet”. It defends the Protect IP (Intellectual Property) Act introduced in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and reports that a version will be introduced in the House in September.

Curiously, today’s editorials (as of 1 PM Wednesday) were not accessible online yet at the Post website.

The editorial assumes that most counterfeit or infringing or pirated products are being “sold” from overseas websites, and seems to assume consumers won’t recognize the frauds easily.  

It also says that service providers or other webmasters are not liable for linking to infringing sites (this sort of concern had come up back in 1996 with the Communications Decency Act, before Section 230 was developed), and tries to answer the concern that whole sites will be at risk for inadvertent inclusion of material from fraudulent sellers. It does say that webmasters of service providers must take “technically feasible” or “reasonable” measures to follow court orders, and it is in that area that ambiguity remains, as well as with the idea that any begrudging party could bring action.

One problem is that different content providers have very different “business models”.  Established media companies, publicly traded, perceive that they have a fiduciary obligation of “zero tolerance” of illegal copying, and established “stars” perform in a system that encourages litigation for its own sake. Emerging artists want a system that encourages sharing as much as profit margins. Unfortunately, they can become shut out of the system some day in the effort to protect an old corporate content system.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

YouTube's ContentID should deflect the existential concerns about "downstream liability"; a resource on photography of copyrighted materials (and of people)

A couple more items (I don’t want to trivialize them) have been appearing in discussions about the whole area of controversy over copyright infringement (and trolling) on the Internet.

One is that YouTube’s ContentID system automates the process of detecting likely infringement, giving copyright owners the opportunity to monetize (maybe with micropayment systems) or block content, with actions automated in a system.  Google’s own discussion of how the process works is here

Corynne McSherry has a commentary at Electronic Frontier Foundation about a deal between YouTube and the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), to use this automated system in lieu of pursuing the “downstream liability arguments” that Viacom has tried to enforce regarding long-past infringements – an idea that could become an existential threat to user-generated videos and other content altogether.  The EFF link (“Publishers decide they’d rather pay songwriters than lawyers”) is here. EFF gives a sublink to another report showing a collection of videos, each of which illustrate a potential pitfall (vs. Fair Use) in automated content management.  Still, an automated pro-active system is preferable to downstream liability coupled with a requirement for manual reviewing.

I think it’s generally OK to make videos of public gatherings and political speeches, but I’m cautious whenever music is played.  Generally, in clubs I don’t make clips of more than a few seconds because of potential music copyright issues.  It’s difficult for an “amateur” to mix collages of the work of others safely (and publish them, without running into “copyright school”); I’ll cover this soon when reviewing a book “Reclaiming Fair Use” by Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi (on the book review blog).

I also wanted to point out a reference white paper by the World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO, “Legal pitfalls in taking or using photographs of copyrighted material, trademarks and people”, link here. It’s true that a photograph or jpg reproduction of a copyrighted item could be infringing (just like copying it at Kinko’s could be).  This sort of problem is most likely to occur with materials inside museums, but most museums post their photography policies on the premises and online (from what I recall, Mount Vernon didn’t allow any pictures indoors).  Usually, it’s OK in practice to use images taken of museum materials if the museum allows photography and doesn’t say otherwise. (A few say they allow non-commercial photography only; I wonder if inclusion of the photograph on a blog with ads would really be “commercial”).  Sometimes policies are based on protecting items from the effects of flash itself.

It’s almost never acceptable to make a video excerpt  (as in a digital camcorder) from a movie or television program or indoor or formal music performance or play.  Hollywood still sees this (unnecessarily, I think) as an existential piracy threat, and a few people have been arrested and prosecuted for taking pictures during movies (movies blog, Aug. 3, 2007).  It’s often OK to photograph panel discussions or directors for Q&A’s afterwards at premiers, as often happening at film festivals and independent film venues.

People (their images) are not protected by copyright (you can’t own a copyright to your own bodily appearance), but may have other legal interests to protect, such as privacy (false light or misappropriation), right of publicity, or sometimes (more recently) online reputation.  I covered the issue of tagging two postings ago.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Practice of "paid" reviews for books and services seems to be widespread on Web

David Streitfeld has an article Saturday in the New York Times about the practice of paying for favorable reviews of books or of various products and services, and of the willingness of some people to write reviews for money.

Previously, I’ve covered the situation where some professionals (especially medical) make customers sign “gag contracts” saying they won’t comment about them online. Many professionals feel very sensitive and vulnerable about the “online reputation” others can give them without recourse.

The link for the Times story is here,  title, “In a race to out-rave, 5-star web reviews go for $5”.

I do not engage in this practice (of writing reviews for pay). I have reviewed a number of films where pre-release ("free") DVD's were sent to me (one was a short film from an oil company); FTC rules now require that bloggers disclose the fact that they received complementary copies. The same is true of one or two books.

In the case of the two Amazon reviews of my first DADT book (1997; 2000), they were not paid; the second review called it a "screed" and wasn't all that complementary (different spelling!)   And, by the way, I fixed the misleading sentence about what "algebra can do" in the online version; sorry.  It would help if the English language used more endings (like other languages) to force agreement. 

See also related article on my Book Review blog, June 7, 2010. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Privacy advocates want Internet "erase buttons" (especially for kids); that's much easier said than done

Natasha Singer has a new story on the concept of Internet “deletion” (as in the book by Mayer-Schoenberger, reviewed on my books blog, May 13, 2010). The United States doesn’t have any specific requirement that companies remove personal information about people at any time, whereas Europe generally does. Here is the basic (website url) story.

She mentions Ed Markey’s “Do Not Track Kids Act for 2011”, H.R. 1895, with Markey’s own link here.    He would require that companies provide an “erase button” to give parents the ability to remove information about kids from the web. That sounds rather infeasible unless specified to specific kinds of information in specific settings (like medical). 

Murkier is the information embedded in social media profiles, which doesn’t necessarily go away when an account is deleted. It’s getting more troubling because images can be tagged, even by others (perhaps incorrectly), and conceivably then searched for by third parties, including future employers and schools. 
An Internet “law and technology” blog has a posting by Evan Brown from March 2012, “Court says you don’t need a person’s permission to tag them in a Facebook photo”, here, in a case Lalonde v. Lalonde, although Brown discusses various caveats.   He gives an interesting discussion of a “beer pong” picture case (Dendrite v. Doe) in a subordinate link where a published photo was thought to imply underage drinking  (defamation) but did not.

There is also a lot of material on the web to the effect that you have no expectation of privacy when in a public place (and your picture inadvertently shows up on the web).  (For example, this reference on Yahoo!)  Private businesses make rules as to whether they allow photography of customers on their premises.  Generally, in some kinds of businesses (discos) people know they will be seen and there is no practical expectation of privacy. You see flash photos (and cell phone videos) being taken all the time in these places. (I guess a spy or hacker could conceivably intercept text messages being sent; maybe sci-fi or maybe real.) 

All of this could be problematic for some people, however, if later caught up in employment situations where there is extraordinary sensitivity to “online reputation”.   References made to otherwise obscure individuals can stay out on the Web and be found by search engines for decades.  I’ve had a couple of requests myself to delete names (one from on online book text) myself. 

The “delete” problem probably won’t just stop with conventional corporate marketing, as Markey’s bill on the surface would suggest.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Florida teacher reassigned for Facebook posting ("anti-gay?"); teacher Internet public speech still a matter of controversy

The Orlando Sentinel (FL) reports that a high school social studies teacher Jerry Buell was suspended and reassigned after his Facebook postings reportedly hostile to same-sex couples (apparently in the context of the gay marriage debate) were noticed by students and school administrators.

Buell insists he is within his First Amendment rights since he made the comments on his own time and with his own computer.

But school districts are increasingly taking the position that speech in social media and personal blogs is inherently public and can lead to disciplinary action if it proves disruptive.

There is, technically, some difference between posts in blogs intended to be viewed by “everyone” and particularly those indexed by search engines, and those with some privacy controls and intended to be seen primarily by friends’ or followers’ lists, which is common practice with Facebook and Twitter. Generally, school districts and other employers have not noted this distinction. Dr. Phil has often warned teenagers that “private” postings tend to get circulated by others virally.

The Los Angeles Times has an editorial which affirms the teacher’s free speech rights (while disagreeing with the teacher on gay marriage, but endorsing his right to express his opinions).  The editors think that students (and workplace associates) must learn to live in a pluralistic world where teachers or bosses with authority over them may express differing and controversial views on matters that can affect students or subordinates.
On the other hand, if a teacher (or a boss in the workplace) has a track record of a lot of web postings that show hostility to persons with certain attributes (whatever these may be), the teacher’s (or supervisor’s) objectivity might be questioned, leading to legal challenges (hostile workplace or learning environment).   I’ve discussed this potential “conflict of interest” problem here a lot before.  One possibility is that employers could require “pre-publication review” of any postings that are intended for “everyone” –level viewing and search engine access.  I have written about this problem as far back as 2000 and gotten reactions as early as 2002.  But social media, when primarily used as a social tool rather than publication device, have complicated the picture.

I written a lot about my own experience with this issue as a substitute teacher. I believe that another school may have canceled my assignments in early 2005 without “banning” me formally because of the tone of some of my online movie reviews (where sometimes I made wisecracks about the physical appearances of actors, which could have been misconstrued (as “prejudicial”) when found by people in a school environment even though posted outside of school).

The link for the LA Times opinion is here.   The original Orlando story is here.

All of this reminds me of a case in the 1990s when an openly lesbian reporter for a Tacoma WA newspaper was reassigned for public gay activism, on the theory that her public “objectivity” as a reporter had been compromised.  The Washington state supreme court upheld the paper.

Friday, August 19, 2011

SEC wants to investigate "Aplusk" for "conflict of interest" over his online writings? Dumb!

MSN has a story about Ashton Kutcher’s writings and "guest editing" for Details, where he talks about the Internet business, and his own role as a “Silicon Valley” investor (after some Google and Facebook executives, he made be one of the most successful investors financially).  MSN is reporting that he is coming under investigation from the SEC and FTC for “conflict of interest.” (Oh, really, he could manipulate his own share prices by blogging?)

As far as I know, Ashton Kutcher sounds like a social and political liberal, but his own record seems to justify what the “Tea Party” claims. He posts new jobs for his company, Katalyst, on his Twitter blog all the time. If the SEC can investigate him for conflicts in his writings, maybe it could investigate me for my blogs if some day my “Do Ask Do Tell” movie gets made and becomes a genuine financial success.

This is dumb. It wasn’t investigating Madoff very well, but it wants to go after “a-plus-k”?   Maybe if people like Kutcher were in public office instead of who we have, the economy could go somewhere.  Anderson Cooper could skit this on his "Ridiculist", with more giggles. 

Here’s the MSN story.

Here’s part of Kutcher’s story (link).

This reminds me of my own "conflict of interest" when I was developing my first "Do Ask Do Tell" book about, in some part, gays in the military, while working for a life company that sold to military officers, all back in the 90s.  Past is prologue. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Remarks: do individual liberties add up? (and more)

Perhaps in the spirit of someone writing a mathematics text and having just proved a “big” theorem,  I wanted to add some “post script” ad hoc remarks to yesterday’s missive.

I spent the mid and late 90s and early 00’s in the world of libertarianism, and I still concur with the spirit of someone like Jesse Ventura or John Stossel – but I also have come to realize that our individual rights, if implemented and defended literally and ideologically, can add up to a world that is unsustainable.  Sometimes indifference (or aloofness) can spill over into neglect or even indirect aggression.  It’s hard to tell when one person’s idiosyncrasy turns into something others will emulate, as if “infected” by a prion template, leading others to fall in a line of dominoes. 

While my political writing started (as I noted yesterday) in a personal area, it migrated into an activity where I seem to spend a lot of energy “warning” people of the megadisasters that can happen.  Yup, they are more of a threat to someone like me, who values his “global individualism”, than to others who are willing to live more locally through family ties. But many potential catastrophes (such as coronal mass ejections) could be mitigated by proper preparation, but our just-in-time society doesn’t seem to have the incentive to invest in the prevention of the prolonged disruption caused by these problems.  It is indeed a paradox of “individualistic capitalism” that it will not properly defend itself over the long term.  One big area of my attention has been demographics, which leads to my next “remark”.

There is something else that crawled of the woodwork during the nasty debt ceiling fight.  We say we value human life as an absolute, and the longer lifespans and medical advances are indeed presenting all of us with a new kind of challenge.  There are always individuals (children, elderly, and some other adults of all ages) who are dependent and vulnerable, partly because of circumstances beyond their control.  Logic limits the range of possible strategies: the public can take care of them (through more taxes or revenues, individual can take care of them within the family unit and community (and this challenge applies also to those who did not “choose” behaviors that lead to having children), some combination of these will care for them, or they will perish.  But by holding fast to an ideological position that people should not be taxed to pay for other people’s elderly and children, the “Tea Party” is putting more pressure on internal family responsibility, and not just to those who have kids. It’s pressing a change in the social contract, back to more the way it was a half-century ago, when young men expected to be given “responsibility” “anyway” and tended therefore to rationalize sexual double standards.

That’s why “upward affiliation”, as the only motivator for interpersonal engagement, falls short in a moral sense.

When I got into writing and journalism, I was motivated in large part by a desire to explain why the “world” had come down upon me the way it had when I had not “harmed” anyone and thought I was going to be productive (with academics and music).  Once again, I think of the “Janus faces”: someone like me is affected disproportionately by seemingly arbitrary but collective social standards (which ensure that everyone has some skin in the game, but which proved very humiliating for me, at least sexually, during my "coming of age"); but someone like me also is likely to have an out-of-proportion effect on others without sharing all their risks.  That’s what asymmetry is all about. 

I heard a quote this morning on GMA, “I never knew what it was like to be loved until I got sick.”  These days, with medicine and longevity the way they are, we hear a lot about accepting more immediate interdependence.  That is a bit of an adjustment for me; I great up with the idea that, yes, one had to deal with a lot of gender-based posturing, but grown-ups take care of themselves.  Adults know that they won’t be on this planet forever, but they remain active and independent as long as possible.  When the end came, in old days, people accepted it, particularly if the loved-one had been active until the last days (as with my father).  That seems less so today. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The issue that started my journalism ("don't ask don't tell") was very personal indeed

It’s useful to me to recollect why I got into “blogger journalism”.  It all got generated by a single issue, “gays in the military”, back in 1993 as the “naïve” president Bill Clinton set out to lift the ban, which is finally repealed (although, we have to watch out if the 2012 presidential election goes “wrong”).

This one issue was “unique” in the way it combined certain elements in our moral and social discourse.  On the one hand, it evoked our feelings about one another, particularly the physical presence of others, when in close proximity to us, not always as a result of personal choice.  It reminded us of our tendency to make judgments about others on the basis of “appearances”, and of our resistance to being forced to bond to others against our will.  Hardly any other political issue could do this. I had magnified this aspect of the debate by pointing out the underlying similarities between the “controversy” over “privacy” in military barracks (the Nunn-Moskos thing), and the similar acrimony I had experienced in a college dorm at William and Mary back in 1961. In time, the comparison would become much more extensive.

On the other hand, the issue also brought up the old tension between individualism (with its attendant struggles over “equality”, at least avoidance of “second class citizenship” or “separate and unequal” before the law), and the real-world need for us to live and work together in a “community” (family and more).  People often have to set aside their personal ambitions (even when conceived in the best of intentions) for the good of others in a community. Those who do not have political or social “equality” become vulnerable to stiffing to meet the more “urgent” needs of others.   And those who are excluded by law or executive custom from participating in defending the common good of the community will be perceived as less “worthy” when times get tough.  It struck me as curious that military gay ban (and the 17 years of “don’t ask don’t tell”) had erupted as an issue just a quarter century (or less) after Vietnam-era military conscription (male-only), had been “the” major moral controversy in my own life, particularly because the system of student deferments (and less combat-exposed assignments when inducted) had protected the better educated as more “worthy”.  (Curiously, the most physically aggressive and “fit” young men could become the most “expendable”, as in a recent film with that name.)

I saw “gay rights” as embedded in a bigger question about how you resolve this “Janus-faced” (looking both ways) about freedom:  progressive notions that approached social equality could be fulfilled only when people could get out of themselves and “care” about others outside of the framework imposed by their own earlier sense of selves with “likes” and “dislikes”.  My period in the 1970s at the Ninth Street Center (now the Paul Rosenfels Community) had reinforced that dichotomy.  It seemed as though “social conservatives” were looking for rationalizations to sustain their own sense of privilege.  Hey, if sexuality could be confined to and expanded within (traditional) marriage, no one would have an undue motive to “cheat the system” and some sort of sustainable social order would live on, and everyone would be valued as a “human being” within his or her “place” (according to ability).  Parentage, stemming from marital sexual intercourse, would take on political and social power over others, especially those less inclined or even able to have their own families.  That might maintain stability, and that’s what a lot of people on the socially conservative side seem to want and to guard jealously. It’s obvious how it can and does get abused, and how it can feed totalitarian and fundamentalist systems.   Yet, individual freedom (as we have come to expect it in the past few decades) poses its own paradoxes.  The “freedom” to pursue one’s own fantasies that can exclude others can invite back the very authoritarianism we have fought.  It’s important to note that “religious morality”, for all its pretense of offering stability and sustainability, seems predicated on the idea that others must follow the same rules as “I do”, lest nothing has any meaning.

As I write this, I can see how I thought “serving it all on the table” – everything that emanated from the debate on the military ban – became a matter of personal psychological survival. I self-published all this in 1997 (the first “Do Ask Do Tell”) book, but then interesting things happened.  I expanded out of the area where the moral controversy was so “personal” (and indeed imputed ideas about body image), into the more conventional political debate, and covered “everything”, concentrically, because everything was connected (topologically speaking) to everything else.  The debate punted on the tough stuff, ventured into abstractions, talking about immutability, and “who I am” and demanding that unequal things be made equal.  Pretty soon, I became a kind of “alien anthropologist”, a gawker with no real personal skin in the game anymore.  My strategy emphasized self-promotion through self-publishing, with passive social networking that was sometimes pretty effective, until “social media” as we know them today changed the game and even questioned the integrity of my own practice.  After 9/11 and my layoff, I started getting unsolicited approaches from people to both go out and hucksterize their wares rather than mine, but also to take personal responsibility for some of their problems (even their kids).  In time, the publishing, that has started with such personal intentions, had seemed to become a kind of kibitzing, as if from a chess player no longer having the stamina for rated tournaments.

One may write in order to promote his concept of what (or who) is "good". But then one is in the position that, if challenged, mere indifference or non-contact or avoidance becomes viewed as judgment and hostility. 

The stakes have never been higher.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Washington Legal Foundation discusses the standing to sue of a "copyright troll"

The Washington Legal Foundation has a paper by John Kendrick, “Selling Legal Standing: Righthaven LLC and the Judiciary’s”, link (wesbite url) here

The author explains that, according to copyright law, a subsidiary of a media organization created only with the purpose of litigation would not have standing to sue.  Righthaven actually attempted a clumsy workaround to this.
Kendrick says that this “business model” may have been motivated by patent trolling.

The author also discusses the “loophole” in the DMCA that prevents defendants from being warned in advance, but doesn’t note that they may have to become “service providers” first.

Righthaven Victims now says that the count of co-defendants may exceed 500.

Friday, August 12, 2011

UK Prime Minister Cameron stirs debate on clamping down on social media to control potential flash mobs; downstream liability issues come up

British prime minister David Cameron raised a ruckus by suggesting that people involved in the recent “flash mob” violence in Britain should be banned from social media, and that companies involved should scan their content for inciting messages.  One of the most problematic parts of his “proposal” was the idea that people “thought to be plotting” crimes could be removed without any due process.

There are also some reports (as on CNN) that Cameron would cut off social media (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, maybe even Blogger and Wordpress) entirely in the UK during periods of social unrest, which sounds like something China would do. 

Curt Hopkins has a story critical of Cameron’s comments on the “Read Write Web” here

In the US, police in many states are monitoring social media for signs of trouble, as in this AP story, link.   Eric Tucker and Thomas Watkins have another story (link) about the misuse of social media in Cleveland and Philadelphia here, and Cleveland has outlawed the use of social media for such purposes.

In San Francisco, police actually temporarily shut down cell phone service within BART stations to prevent or limit a potential mob transit protest (link, also reported on CNN). 

Various stories indicate that RIM Blackberries, as opposed to other phones, were used a lot in Britain during the recent "events".   Use of communications devices to organize crime nearly always violates a providers TOS (as well as the law), but in practice there is little service providers can do (prospectively) except respond to user complaints or flagging.  Facebook says it removes users when it receives complaints and can verify what has happened.   Requiring social media and publishing providers to screen postings would bring back the old “Section 230” and DMCA Safe Harbor issues: there is no way you can have an open Internet with “free entry” and pre-screen postings for potential copyright infringement, potential libel, or potential incitement to riot.   There is a legitimate question about the minimum age for users, and technology may make it easier to verify user’s ages in the future than it has in the past (an issue we saw with COPA).

Kenneth Schortgen Jr. has a column in the conservative-leaning Examiner blaming the violence of societal decay, where self-reliance and intra-family structure has been replaced by the welfare state and a mentality of entitlement, here. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

MLB baseball teams watch what draft choices say in social media

Apparently professional sports teams are now sensitive about how players and particularly draft choices use social media. Adam Kilgore reports in the Washington Post (Aug. 10, p D5) that the Washington Nationals (baseball) scolded a draft pick Zach Houchins for anti-black and anit-gay epithets in his Twitter feed, link here

The player indicated that he had viewed Twitter as like a quasi “private” conversation (almost like email).  It’s apparent that many users view social media as an extension of personal life with some privacy (however they use settings), not as “publications”. 

Bill Ladson even has a story about this on mlb.com,  here.     

A number of major league teams, including the Nationals and Phillies, have signed on to the “It Gets Better” project.  MLB is now very sensitive to its public image with respect to the conduct of its players, especially after the steroid scandal.

On the field, Stephen Strasburg is now doing minor league rehab starts, and MLB.com offers an embeddable video on his return.  The Nats are also “experimenting” with former Yankee pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, who comes back from shoulder surgery. In 2011, Jordan Zimmermann (they call him “John the Baptist”), returning from Tommy John surgery, has been then Nats’s best starter.
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Monday, August 08, 2011

Compassion is the "Hidden Resource": but "you" need to stay focused anyway

Yesterday, Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt concluded a summer “contemporary service” sermon (or “communion message”) at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington with a quick reference to all the turmoil recently:  the political “blame game” coming from the debt debate, the famine overseas, Obama’s War, and even the folly of corn ethanol policy (add to that the stock  market meltdown today and even talk of a “credit freeze”).  She concluded, “compassion is the most overlooked resource”.  It gets personal.

So it gets to my own boundaries.  I’ve followed, written about, and participated in the debate on “equality” over the years.  Most of the time, “equality” doesn’t affect me “directly”. But, “it does when it does.”  The problem with being a “second class citizen” legally, even if nominally, is that sometimes others expect you to become their backup, to accept their goals as yours, even if you think they’re wrong. I could get more explicit, but right now I won’t.

For most of my career, my “fate” was in my own hands, very much a matter of my own performance, especially at work, especially in matters of accuracy and just not making mistakes or taking foolish chances.  In “retirement”, things have changed. Like it or not, I am much more dependent on what others do, including whether those I “depend on” for customer service really do their jobs.  The buck will stop with me when they don’t.

And we all know that the recent debt downgrade points at a deep toothache in our culture.  The fact that some of us (me included) sit on the sidelines, blogging and “kibitzing” while less-than-responsible people wind up “actually” serving in public office is a symptom, that S&P picked up on in its report.  (If I were in the House myself, I cannot imagine being party to a “threat” to the nation’s paying its bills, no matter how conservative I am fiscally and how much I talk about “personal responsibility”.  But I’m not there, nor do I pay much attention to which candidates wind up there. You see the result.)

Our culture has to learn (as it once knew, a half century ago) that “personal responsibility” has two faces, rather like general relativity. One has to do with following through with the consequences of one’s own choices. The other has to do with accepting interdependence, accepting that you have your skin in your world’s future after you are gone.  That’s where it hurts.  That’s where Judith’s remark about “compassion” comes in.  Or, as Rick Warren says, ultimately “it’s not about you.” Ultimately, without recognizing it, we live beyond our means.  Ultimately, public policy gets back not just to personal behavior, but personal compassion.

I often have a sense of dwelling on two planets. One is the familiar contractual world, global in nature, emphasizing individual sovereignty and autonomy, dependent on individual performance. But it depends on a stable global system where contracts are kept. The other is an immediate, social world, which has to persist even in times of disorder. It is a world of sacrifice, and interdependence, that does not bode well for “people like me”.  It is a world of social hierarchy, family values, reproduction, of people “protecting others”, and surviving.  It gets abused easily, leading to authoritarianism politically and bullying personally. But it can’t always be escaped, and people must deal with it for society to have a future.

I laid out my own plans on a posting here July 16.  What I said there is still valid.  To become productive, and to be the role model I would like to be, I need to maintain a stable infrastructure (which means I depend on customer service of companies with employees who do their jobs), and at some point (soon) have a full-time focus on the content that I will finish developing and try to sell.  At my age, there is no other choice.  (As an only child who has “stood alone” for an adult life, I find it difficult to accept risks that others who live more collectively and “interdependently” accept as routine and perhaps unavoidable.)  Yes, I do plan a “systematic” plan to help others and participate with charities. But it is very difficult to deal with the personal problems of others suddenly, and it can be disruptive. (This was a big problem with my substitute teaching a few years ago.)  I cannot make certain things “all right”.   And I do not like to join in with group protests (I have never walked a picket line, and some of the pundit comments about giving up "pride" and accepting victim status as were common during the debt debate deeply upset me. And I detest hucksterizing the goals set by others.) I really do need to stay on my own goals, to give effectively to others, and to show compassion.

Besides compassion, there's another mandatory resource: forgiveness. One may not survive a tribalistic or partisan-driven world without it.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Singles, childless, "intellectual professionals" more likely to share heavily in social media

Yahoo! has completed a study of “Power Sharers” on social media, with some results that correspond to other recent stories about demographics.

People who share a lot of info in social media or blogs tend to be young, male, and often unmarried (45% are single) and childless (about 50%).

They tend to be socially liberal and varied on economic views, often with strongly held convictions (one way the other) on the role of government (libertarianism is common).

When people marry and have children, they often become involved with the sheer physicality of their lives, and become less interested in the abstraction of many ideas talked about on the Web. But that’s by no means universal. Families of people who work in the arts or in media companies (often so-called “blue families” by political demographers) or in technology companies tend to cultivate the individualism that leads to sharing on the web.

The digital media wire link is here.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

If government redistributes wealth, it's all to easy to "rationalize" almost any policy argument; remember "sweet lemons" (and "sour grapes")?

It’s an article of faith among libertarians that all “policy” decisions ought to be made “automatically” by the operations of the free market.

Decisions to redistribute wealth or regulate behavior outside the market (and enforcement of contracts) and outside the “do no harm” idea may invoke “arguments” that can be “won” or “lost”, but these arguments about “who deserves what”, even in relation to greater common goals, always involve some rationalization. Remember “sour grapes” and “sweet lemons” in Health and Phys. Ed class, or in the Army (I remember a drill sergeant back in 1968 who liked to talk about these ideas)?

So, like in the debate on deficit cuts, and specifically entitlement cuts, you can “rationalize” means testing seniors when they use benefits in various ways. But that doesn’t make such a policy decision morally right.  You can “rationalize” a number of criteria to reduce benefits:  lifestyle habits (smoking, obesity), childlessness, age beyond life expectancy, total assets, income, etc.   But none of these make doing so “right”.

So, the question may become, what’s the point of a blogger’s discussing the options?  Maybe it’s self-preservation and “selfishness” and maybe that’s the only good reason. Maybe it’s protecting other family members, but that works only when you created a family.  

Actually, though, I think it’s a good thing that some people (like me) step back, look at “all” (or at least many) of the policy options on the table, and try to simulate or calculate propsectively what could happen if we really adopted them. 

There are problems, ranging from climate change, to pandemics, even to space weather, where we do need to work together, outside the box, to sustain our civilization as we know it. It’s a good thing to be warned.

This recent debt crisis was different from most others in one respect: the government was "threatening" not to pay everyone for money already owed. At a certain existential level, that is dangerous in a way that ordinary pertubations in employment because of policy choices is not. Some libertarian columnists, even John Stossel in the Examiner, seemed to talk past that point. 

Picture: Old Rag Mountain in distance, near Shenandoah Park, VA, site of some college-days hikes in the early 1960s. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

What do the copyright trolls and the current Congress have in common? A lot of bullies

I vaguely remember my European history course in College, when we studied feudalism, and I probably didn’t, at 20, grasp the moral significance. As “law and order” (NBC style) in the decaying Roman Empire broke down, families had to give up property and subjugate themselves to nobles in order to get physical protection.  The entire Middle Ages (perhaps the musical suite on the subject by composer Alexander Glazounov) operated like a syndicate of crime families.

So we have a couple of big-time examples of “legal” bullying of members of the public. The first is copyright trolling, including not only Righthaven but past practices by the RIAA and “US Copyright Group”.  Righthaven tried to shake down bloggers and small Internet business owners for settlements without warning them (through the DMCA) or sometimes properly serving them. The latest, covered on the Righthaven Victims blog, is a demand from Judge Hunt in Nevada that Righthaven focus on “material issues.” Again, the whole copyright trolling problem seems like an attempt to reverse the “asymmetry” that has made individuals and small businesses effective competition for media companies.  Whether established interests really benefit from copyright law, or emerging artists do, is a good topic for independent film (like a POV documentary), and I would be game for participating in making one.

The other example, that at first seems far removed, was the recent debt ceiling debate. Here the asymmetry went the other way. A vocal minority in the House of Representatives was able to wield a threat of US default (passing the blame for the “Sophie’s Choice” to the democrats), possibly leaving seniors and veterans without being paid money already owed them.  One could say they were taken hostage by new “bullies”.  Remember, to block payment of or even repudiate a bill already owed (and I think Social Security payments, for the most part, fall into that area) is an offense on a level that goes beyond the usual economic dislocation associated with layoffs, where the work people won’t get paid for hasn’t been done.  (I understand there is a practical, converse argument.)  The idea that you need a debt ceiling, to authorize borrowing to pay a bill already due (for money already appropriated) makes no sense to me, constitutionally.

Here’s the Scribd reference for the latest Righthaven wrinkle.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Missouri, Ontario enact measures limiting teacher use of social media and personal sites that allow student access

In a story by Suzanne Choney from Digital Life, reported today on MSNBC, there is a report of a new Missouri state law that would, among other things, apparently prevent teachers from having “nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student”,  or to use a “work-related website” unless it is available to school officials.

On the surface, this apparently means that teachers cannot “friend” current or former students on social networking sites (that may be what “exclusive access” means), or maintain a personal website that allows potential students to log on.  It would not seem to exclude sites (like my doaskdotell.com) that don’t have logins.

The provision is in 162.069 of a new “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act”.

The MSNBC story is here.

In fact, here is the text online of the Missouri law, link. Read the last sentence of the aforementioned Section carefully.

This report should be thought through in view of other postings here about "employer blogging policies". 

This links to another story on the same site by Helen A.S. Popkin which reports that the regulatory board for teachers in Ontario Province, Canada  bans friending of students on social networking sites or any electronic communication outside of school channels, even if marked private. 

Picture: Kansas City Star press, downtown KCMO, 2006.