Saturday, November 30, 2013

Could Internet sales tax hurt authors or filmmakers who want to sell directly to consumers over web?

USA Today on Friday (November 29, 2013) offered a pro and con “opposing viewpoints” analysis of the proposed Internet sales tax.  While the newspaper thinks it would level the playing field, the opposing view is that it would hinder or kill startups that want to see through their own websites rather than outsource to huge ecommerce sites like Amazon. The link for the opposing view is (website url)  here
Sometimes, filmmakers and authors do prefer to sell through their own sites, which means they need to meet some privacy guidelines in setting up their own e-commerce.  (One of these artists, selling (the film “Codebreaker” about Alan Turning) through Transit Media, told me it’s easier to recoup investor money as needed with the profits if you sell it only yourself.)  Major hosting ISP’s can generally service this.  Will they now have to run an application to charge and route a sales tax to the purchaser at his point of origin (rather than where the good was sold from?)  Would shared hostin ISP’s be able to provide the sevice?  How much would it cost?  Would apps be available for businesses that run their own servers (rather than host them)?
It would be fine for a low-volume sales operation (like mine would be) just to keep track of the sales and pay the states of origin once every three months manually.  That probably wouldn’t be a problem if states allowed it.

When I set up my original “High Productivity Publishing” in 1997, I sold the books myself, took only cash or check (and a lot of people were OK with this then).  I did have to get a sales tax permit from Virginia and later from Minnesota when I moved to Minneapolis for a job transfer.  That was manageable.  I don’t know if the new arrangement would be OK.  

Update:  Dec. 3

The Washington Post has a front page story by Robert Barnes, "Justices won't hear case on Internet sales taxes", link here. The decision is curious, in that the Supreme Court doesn't seem to be as busy as usual this season.  Critics say that the Court should give guidance on this issue, to let smaller online retailers know what the rules really are going to be.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Online retailer "fines" consumer for bad online review and tries to collect as a debt

ABC News reports a bizarre case where a customer was “fined” by a company $3500 for writing a negative review of its services or products, five years after writing a negative review online. The company claimed this was a “terms of service” violation enforceable by contract, and reported the debt to collection agencies.  I’ve never heard of this practice. 
ABC News reports the story here. It would make “sense” to sue someone, but I haven’t heard of such a “fine” being treated as a “bill” or charge reportable to collections.  I did not encounter anything like this when I worked for a collection agency in 2003.
ABC reports the original company as KlearGear (it was a Christmas ornament that was ordered). The review was written on “RipoffReport”. The curious thing is that the incident had happened in 2008, and the demand for money didn’t come until 2013, and the “defendant” was willing to take down the report. The defendants reportedly will counter-sue.  
The case does remind me of “gag orders” associated with some medical service providers.  I have not personally encountered the practice.  I generally don’t write reviews on other sites (other than very simple ones on Amazon) other than my own, because I have my hands full with my own websites and business.

Update: Nov. 30

The "Legal Guys" on CNN took up this case.  Richard Herman said (even warned) that "non disparagement clauses" are enforceable but that the consumer would win this particular care because the company put in the clause after the fact.  Avery Fisher and guest attorney Paul Callan suggested that, even though non-disparagement can be put into a contract, this was obvious a contract mad ein bad faith and that courts would not honor it.

CNN reported that customers found that the company could not be reached by phone.

CNN also reported a similar "fiine" with a real estate contract in Florida.  But so far, charging a "fee" instead of suing has been very unusual.  It sounds like a frightening idea. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Why Care About the NSA?", a short film from the New York Times

Electronic Frontier Foundation has tweeted its recommendation to watch a short film by Brian Knappenberger and the New York Times.  I believe the film might be screened in some short film festivals. It is titled “Why Care About the NSA?” The link for the film is here
David Sirolta, Kurt Opsahl and Daniel Ellsberg speak.

One of the reasons given for caring is that most people don’t really know when they may be doing something “wrong”.  Journalists and bloggers may find that this comment particularly applies to them. (My "implicit content" problem might be a good example.)  Another is that private companies that track don’t prosecute, but the government (using data from the National Security Agency) could.  And still a big reason is the idea that data could be used to go after activists unpopular with government, especially with the right wing.  These could include union organizers and pro-abortion activists, or pro-military.  Imagine, one woman said, what “Gunner” Joe McCarthy could have done with a modern NSA.

The New York Times reported Tuesday, in a piece by Nicole Perlroth and John Markoff, that the NSA has developed a "peephole" to penetrate Google and Yahoo!, with the fiber-optic cables from Verizon that connect the data centers, which are themselves heavily secured.  The story is here.  There are major data bunkers in Loudoun County VA and in North Carolina, for example.  

It gets worse (not better).  Huffington Post reports, in a staff story that the NSA spies on "porn viewing" in order to find "radicalizers" whom to discredit, link here. An online reputation issue, maybe?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

For me, progress: I play in a one-night chess tournament, and miss a chance for a big upset; learn the "on any given day" lesson!

I made some personal progress last night.  For the first time since 2000, I played in a chess “tournament” with more than one round.  In fact, this was a three-round “Action” tournament at the Arlington Chess Club in northern VA.

It started rather late, at around 8:20 PM (major league baseball usually starts at around 7, but Sunday and Monday night football start late).  The three rounds were played as Game-30, which means the winner has to compel resignation or confer mate within thirty minutes with a readable score.

My result was a loss, a win and a draw.  The win was with Black.  In the last round, I was lost but my opponent was in time trouble and agreed to a draw.  In the previous action tournament in St. Paul MN, I had one only the last game, conferring mate just as the flag fell.

In the first round I played a high “Expert” who told me later I missed a shot, in the position shown.  That is on move 10 (in the position shown), take the “f7” pawn with the Bishop, followed a move of the Kight to attack the Rook.  I just looked. I think he’s right. Right now, I don’t see a defense. The position arose out of a Grunfeld Defense where Black played his queen bishop pawn one square, unusual (combining it with the Slav Defense). I wouldn’t expect a player of his rating to allow this, but that’s my problem now.

Chess is like other “sports” in a sense, because even though the stronger player usually wins, in any given day anything can happen.  Upsets do occur.  I guess I missed an upset.  The next game, on the other hand, I won quickly with the Black pieces myself, picking off queenside pawns in a Sicilian Defense after White missed a best line and went wrong.

Chess is something people get very good at when they are young  Sometimes, kids reach near master status while still of middle school age.  Learning to play well at that level is like learning to play piano in a sense, or becoming a computer programming prodigy.  It seems more likely early in life before the brain has started pruning its circuits for more focuses adult life.

Technology is important in conducting tournaments.  Software allows the tournament director to assign and print the pairings within five minutes after a previous round, with the help of a modern Sony (or any modern Windows or Mac computer) and small laser or inkjet printer. 
I think that chess has something to do with character development in a “libertarian” sense, because it teaches the idea that specific actions can have specific, sometimes calculable consequences (as in tactics).  Other time, precise consequences, in complicated or obscure positions, are harder to see.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

DMCA Takedown abuse leads Wordpress to join in two suits about fraudulent or bad-faith takedown notices

There are more “fires” today.  Arstechnica reports a case where a site called “Retraction Watch” saw some of its articles (regarding medical research) copied by a site in India so it could file a DMCA takedown on the Retraction articles, which have to do with cases or erroneous or falsified scientific reporting.  The article by John Timmer, as it had been publihsed Feb 5, 2013, is here
Retraction Watch today reported that it is filing a suit and is being joined by Automatic, owner of Wordpress, regarding a false or abusive DMCA claim, in a posting here
The Oliver Hotham writes about how he was “bullied” by “Straight Pride UK” with a DMCA takedown when he reproduced an email they sent to him, link here.

He even says that the group has made legal bully-like demands that they never write about them again.  Can something like this stand up?  The danger is that something like this could wind up in an out-of-court settlement in some other copyright or libel case.  There was a little incident in 2001 where I had to wonder about something like this.
Wordpress is also backing up Hotham in a suit, as reported by Corynne McSherry from Electronic Frontier Foundation, story here
These cases bear watching.

Major case in Sixth Circuit tests Section 230 when ("gossp site") service provider moderates content or seems to "entice" defamation

There is a major case involving Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (the misnamed “Communications Decency Act” of 1996) going before the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It involves a lawsuit against “” for defamatory posts about a supposed cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals.  The plaintiff, Sarah Jones, prevailed in a federal district court on the grounds that the website apparently “approved” posts and apparently wrote some addition brief content (“one-liners”) in the moderation process.   Several media outlets wrote about this case yesterday, Nov. 20. Findlaw has an account, by William Peacock, here. The story maintains that other circuits have interpreted CDA230 very narrowly – which works for the defense, because moderation of content is not supposed to report in liability. I moderate blog post comments, and in fact Blogger pre-moderates the comments for spam before I see them.
Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story here EFF suggests that the plaintiff also argues that Nik Richie, the site operator, encourages defamation with the ("gossip site") website name and promotion.  I’m not aware of whether that point has been settled in CDA230-related cases.  But if the Sixth Circuit rules for the plaintiff, there will be conflicting rulings and the case is likely to wind up before the Supreme Court. EFF and several other entities have joined together to file an amicus brief, link available there. 
There has also been a proposal by state attorneys general to weaken Section 230 with respect to state criminal laws (Aug. 9).

Some ISP’s or service providers have indemnification clauses in their TOS policies requiring users to pay the cost of defending the providers should they be sued for defamation. A strong Section 230 makes actual use of these clauses very rare in practice.  If section 230 were weakened, frivolous or SLAPP suits against service providers as well as against speakers could become more common and result in tremendous expense to speakers, through bullying.
Book publishers do not have a “Section 230” protecting them or authors, so they nearly always have these author warranty and indemnification clauses in their contracts.  But book publishers (even platforms for supported self-publishing) normally review content for potential problems anyway, and the practical risk to authors is reduced by the fact that print (or even POD) publishing is slower and involves more third-party diligence than spontaneous online speech.  Book contents, however, are rapidly becoming more accessible to search engines, so defamation could become a bigger problem in the future than it has been in the past.  The search engine companies might be protected by CDA230 when the book publishers (who supplied the online content) are not, and similar concepts would seem to apply to the DMCA safe harbor copyright takedown immunity mechanism (next post).  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New controversies over authors' rights in serials of books regarding control of content integrity; a DMCA case; more privacy concerns from "smart glasses"

Sometimes it pays just to read printed magazines and newspapers on the DC Metro, like it was the early ‘90s.  Today, riding in on the Orange Line, I looked over a copy of Business Insurance, which comes to my business UPS mail box (“it’ free”), and a couple of disturbing stories about book and media author rights caught my eye.

On p, 46 (Nov. 18, 2013), the mag reported a legal dispute between paranormal erotica novel author Erin R. Flynn (from Nebraska) and the publisher of her series Siren BookStrand.  She owns the copyright (or perhaps trademarks) on certain characters in her series of novels, but the publisher has a “right of first refusal.”  The publisher wanted her to make a change to her most recent novel.  It may be speculation, but it could well be that somehow her writing of certain erotica stepped over what is perceived as an industry line.  She refused, and self-published two books on Amazon herself.  (I’m not immediately familiar with how Amazon’s self-publishing process works, but I probably should be.)  Then Siren filed a DMCA takedown, claiming copyright infringement. 

It sounds very disturbing to me that an author could lose control of the “artistic integrity” if his or her series of interrelated books or media works. 
Business Insurance also reports a dispute between Warner Brothers and Global Asylum (a producer and distributor of B-movies and parodies, often of established film franchises; I have reviewed films from this company on my movies blog)  over a “Hobbit” Tolkien parody.
There is also a case regarding a woman who claims workplace injury from creating fake profiles for people for dating purposes on social media.
The magazine “Economist”, Nov. 16, on p. 27, in an article “The People’s Panopticon”, talks about the social and legal issues that may result from the automatic photologging in public places (like bars and discos) possible with the new Google glasses, to be available in 2014.  Will they be banned in some places?  The article points out that privacy laws (for public places) are stronger in Europe than in the US.  In Europe (and probably the UK) people need permission to use public photos of others on the Internet, according to the article.  The article raises the question whether someone could be required to remove a purely private non-commercial “sleazy” photo (from beneath).  How could it be detected, from Carbonite?

My destination was the Newseum, were I wanted to finish last weekend’s visit and see the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 civil rights events.  The most interest pictures showed the volunteers who worked registering black voters in Alabama and Mississippi, including the three young men murdered near Philadelphia, MS in the summer of 1964; I remember that story in the news well.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Some in the casino lobby want to ban Internet gaming; a lesson in lobbyists vs. the individual

Again, it’s obvious that heavy lobbying is in place to influence Internet policy, as with a front page story in the Washington Post on Monday, November 18, 2013 by Peter Wallstein and Tom Hamburger, “Internet gambling battle heats up; 2012 mega-donor lines up lobbyists; Casino magnate wants U.S. to ban online bets”, link here.  The individual involved is Sheldon Adelson.
The article has the expected discussion over whether online gaming could interfere with the real-world casino business, growing in many states (including Maryland, with a facility near Baltimore).  There’s also the obvious libertarian objection to a nanny government interfering with voluntary adult behavior, even if it is potentially “self-harm”.  Somehow, I don’t quite buy the image from the movie “Casino” of a head in a vice.

The article does note that most casino companies are OK with regulated online gambling. 

The story recalls some past sequences in my own practice.  I don’t gamble, even though I visit Las Vegas sometimes (last time was May 2012).  In fact, I can recall a day in 1987 when I ran into management from work while on vacation in Las Vegas.  Big memories.
I used to have a lot of my Internet materials on a site called “” which had been an acronym for “High Productivity Publishing”.  In 2005 I moved everything to “”, and let the domain go.  It got picked up by an online gaming company for a while.  I had dangling links, which I didn’t get all fixed at first, so visitors were annoyed when accidentally taken to the site.  This may have been a minor factor in a ruckus when I was substitute teaching and my content was found.  This leads to another discussion – how to tell from server logs who is likely to be visiting your site, something I had not learned to monitor in 2005.  Advertisers want webmasters to know their audience, and yet that raises certain ethical as well as technical and security questions. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I must remain the captain of my own soul

A Sunday school teacher today brought up the poem “Invictus” by British poet William Ernest Henley, concluding with the quote, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

He mentioned that not only did Mandela use that quote, but also so did Timothy McVeigh before he was executed in 2001.

He also mentioned the song “My Way” popularized by Frank Sinatra. “I did it my way.”

And so it is with me.  I barge ahead, insisting that I develop and publish media “my way”, to tell the complete story, without any changes demanded by others that would convey a different meaning.
There was some advice in “Writer’s Digest” one time around 2001, “Write what other people want.”  Trade publishers (and literary agents like the late Scott Meredith) talk about “Writing to Sell”, rather than writing to tell the truth. 

And in the job market, some time in early 2002, after my days of being sheltered as an “individual contributor” had ended, I would be told, “We give you the words”. 

I can be effective as a person only if I follow my own plan, my own paradigm.  That is how it is.  The media projects must be completed, in a manner that is logical for how I started them.  There will be changes to the websites, which will make it easier for someone to navigate all my work since I started it.  But it must be completed as I started it.  I don’t use other people’s money.  Until I do, people will have to respect how I work, for myself.  I cannot be drafted or recruited for someone else’s cause, and likewise I can’t recruit others. 

These comments continue a discussion started Oct. 30.   

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A notorious "manifesto" wouldn't have created much furor two years after newspapers ran it, once search engines worked well

I visited the Newseum in Washington DC today, mainly to see the JFK exhibits. But I revisited the FBI room downstairs, especially the OKC, Waco, and “Unabomber” (Ted Kaczynski) exhibit, and it seemed as if there was a little more material there about the publication of the “Manifesto” in the Washington Post and New York Times in 1995.

The Post still has a link, leading to the text, discussing the controversy here.
But of course the idea of publication would soon seem like a moot point, as the Internet would have made it easy to self-publish anything and, with search engines, find an audience, perhaps not always of reputable people. 

The writer tried to argue that technology hinders real freedom, an idea (Luddite) that would seem ridiculous to me now.  In fact, in only another two years or so, he could have posted his ideas himself. But it was apparent even in the decades before the Internet, that technology had made it possible for a “different” person like me live productively on his own.

His discussion of leftist “oversocialization” (paragraphs 24-32) is quite interesting, and I think largely correct.  He goes on to discuss the need for power and self-importance, and recognizes that moral philosophies keep stumbling on their own inherent inner contradictions. 
The best known example of people who live pretty much outside modern technology is The Amish (see movies, Dec, 28, 2008, and Issue blog Oct. 3, 2006 and May 10, 2012). 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book search wins important copyright fair use case in New York

The Book Search by Google won a major case in the southern District of New York as Judge Denny Chin ruled in favor of Google Books, to the effect that book search fell within fair use, not requiring copyright permission. Timothy B. Lee has a story today on the Switch Blog of the Washington Post here.
Securing permissions for search displays would have been logistically impractical, and in many cases the original copyright owners aren’t known, although companies could be set up to find them.
More significant is that the “copyright owner’s” case was seen as facetious.  In general, consumers are very unlikely to try to “reconstruct” a book from search results without paying for it.  In fact, I generally place a lot of my non-fiction book contents online anyway.  I realize it’s possible to load chapters of my books free onto mobile devices (tablets or phones, not Kindles and Nooks) and read them.  Actually, I just tried my pdf’s from “” and couldn’t get them to load on my Droid phone, but they do load fine on the iPad.  I’ll have to check into why they didn’t work on the phone.  I do trust that someone who really wants the book will pay for it with normal e-commerce channels.  Non-fiction policy writing doesn’t work the same way as entertainment fiction; one shoe does not fit all feet, including Hobbits’. 
There’s another issue:  search engine placement.  Since about 2002 or so, most books published by on-demand companies do get indexed, and there is no opportunity to suppress a search result as there would be with a private online PDF or HTML file that the author maintains himself, to answer some unusual sensitivity (and this happened maybe three times in fifteen years, in each case because of unusual, non-repeatable circumstances.  So online reputation could become a subordinate issue here. 

Update: Later today, I found that the PDF's on my phone had indeed downloaded, and could be opened with the phone's own reader.  Rather inconvenient. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Flap over Richard Cohen post illustrates how context and insensitivity can get blurred, an issue for columnists and bloggers

Bloggers and columnists often have drawn ire of others for merely mentioning unpopular ideas or sources with the intention of commenting on them or contrasting them with other views.
A recent example was provided by Washington Post’s columnist Richard Cohen, when he was writing a column about the Tea Party and right wing and commented on what he thought the right’s opinion would be of New York City mayor elect’s interracial marriage and family – something we indeed see all the time today (but at one time was a Supreme Court case in Virginia in 1967).  Were people angered when they read its prepositional phrases?   Or were they mad because he suggested that “conventional people” were now bigoted.   The story about the passage appears in the Post today, by Paul Fahrl, link here.   Reportedly, the Huffington Post broadcast a tweet to fire the columnist , and Salon ran a story, “Richard Cohen: Please Fire Me” here
There’s a double dip of confusion here: he’s supposedly attributing an offensive view to others. I found the article (“Christie’s Tea Party Problem”) in Tuesday’s Post and didn’t find it all that startling.
But I have run into issues where people think that I just mention an objectionable source, I’m giving it credibility. The fact that I am an "amateur" may add more fuel to ideas about my motives.  In the bibliography of a book manuscript that I just turned in, there’s an entry for a particularly notorious anti-gay book (and one can tell that from the title).  Is that showing insensitivity? It’s balanced against other sources, but a particular reader might not bother to notice the context.  But I think you have to account for and understand “what everyone thinks” in assessing “your” own situation.  My own father used to say this (especially after the William and Mary incident in 1961).  Of course, one could take this idea further?  In assessing racial issues, should we understand what white southern plantation owners thought in the early 1800s?  Well, Margaret Mitchell’s classic “Gone with the Wind” does just that in its first half.  But a film like “12 Years a Slave” doesn’t give those views any moral space at all.
Jesus would say, “Love your enemies.”  That isn’t easy, but it is certainly self-interest to at least understand them, and know how their place or station in life came to be.
Back in the 1980s, well before the Internet age, I was living in Dallas when the AIDS epidemic broke open.  There was a vitriolic right wing group called “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS” which tried to construct particular arguments that gay men were endangering the entire general population.  I took their argument seriously enough to write to them and get a response, and made other gay leaders angry.  Their theories didn’t pan out, but at for some time there was the political danger that they could.  It never pays to have your head in the sand.  


Monday, November 11, 2013

A co-founder of Twitter recommends "going long" with microblogging

The New York Times has a piece Sunday, in the business section, by Matt Richtel, “A Founder of Twitter Goes Long”, link  It’s a story about Evan Williams, 41, and his blogging platform called simply Medium.  The “about page” emphasizes the idea of collaborative blogging, but also blogging on flexible schedules, for people who sometimes need to go off the grid and can’t or don’t want to have to contribute all the time.  Given today’s modern ideas about altruism, that can make a lot of sense. Williams also discounts the idea that blog or microblog contents should be directed at friends or followers -- although I must say that using whitelists is a good way to make sure that a few dozen or a few  hundred people see your (or my) messages.
I found a blog entry there by Ryan Holiday named “Growth Hacker Marketing”, a title which reminds me a bit of the “guerilla marketing” paradigm of an ad hoc business writers group (associated with the National Writers Union) in Minneapolis back in 2003 when I was living there.  The link is here. The gist of the concept seemed to be to work small at first, use the “degrees of separation” principle and make contacts, in real life as well as online, and build up a geometric but personalized word-of-mouth reputation growth.  This seems at total odds with all the cookie-cutter marketing of PR firms.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Will journalists be asked to help consumers navigate the technical problems of Obamacare as hires or "volunteers")?

Here’s a challenging idea: Hire journalists to help consumers navigate the vexing Obamacare website and find the best deals for the consumers on the exchanges.  
The link for the story by Sally Kohn is here.
It’s become apparent that many of the individual policies that got destroyed by Obamacare weren’t very good, and tended to leave low income consumers with huge debts.  
Kohn thinks that journalists (or “reporters”) will be better able than the general public to navigate the deals on the site and deal with state differences, once the site starts to improve.  States with their own exchanges, as well as states with or without the Medicaid expansion, will present their own issues.
I recall that administration had jawboned non-profit groups to sign up people by going door to door.  That sounds cheesy,  But it sounds credible that the administration, or that consortiums of insurance companies (especially Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans) would hire journalists or even accomplished bloggers as part-time consultants to help consumers.  Or would this violate the idea that journalists remain impartial and objective? Does this sound like “grab a hammer”? 

There ares some companies (agents) who are set up to help consumers, like Health Markets, here, but they are sales people, not journalists. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Advocacy of reasonable gun control causes an opinion writer to be silenced; a lesson for all speakers?

The story of Dick Metcalf, a figure in the hunting and rifle world, when he wrote an opinion piece (in Guns and Ammo) calling for moderate gun regulation, is telling for those who like to get published, at least by others.  The result, from pressure from advertisers, was that he was banned from a major outdoors magazine.  The tale is told by Joe Nocera in the New York Times Saturday, November 9, 2013, on p. A19 of the New York Times. The link is here
For me, the parable illustrates why self-broadcast and self-publishing, much protected by Section 230, has become so important.  When others pay the freight, you have to say what other people want. You have to protect their interests.  Having a family is seen as a reason others should have leverage over what you say.
It’s worth mentioning that book publishing (previous post) does not have protection like Section 230 or DMCA Safe Harbor for publishers (and a similar risk lives in television and mainstream movies).  As noted here before, authors actually have to indemnify publishers.  This rarely causes problems, although it sounds on the surface like it could invite frivolous lawsuits against deep-pocketed publishers which authors could be forced to pay to defend.  This definitely sounds like an area for tort reform.  But the practical paradigm is different: a lot more diligence goes into publishing a book or movie through commercial channels than in writing a tweet, blog or Facebook post. 

Friday, November 08, 2013

Here's the way I play the self-publishing game, without kibitzing too much

I am making real progress on the commercial submission of my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book, and I expect to turn it in for publication early next week.  Veterans Day won’t be a holiday for me.  Yes, thankfully Halloween and High Heels are over.
I noted on a June 27, 2013 posting on my Books Blog that a few proposals that I had made in my 1997 “DADT I” book are indeed dated and have been outrun by history, more quickly than I would have expected.  This is particularly the case after the partial repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the matter of adult verification of website users that was vetted in the COPA litigation a few years ago.  I had covered the COPA issue somewhat in the “DADT II” book in 2002.  Another issue was that some of my ideas about less government (particularly those expressed in Chapter 5 of the first DADT book) morphed into the reckless brinkmanship that led to debt ceiling confrontations recently.  I can say, “Be careful what you wish for”, but this is not what I had in mind.
I had tried to cover some of these bases with an informal release of the DADT III book myself, as I explained on the Books Blog Oct. 1, 2011, but the issues have evolved “evermore”.  In the meantime, in 2012, I started getting phone calls pushing me to become more aggressive in selling copies of the earlier books, especially “DADT II”.  I finally concluded that I needed to complete the “Do Ask, Do Tell” series with a formal publication with a “supported self-publishing” company and formal presence in all the regular e-commerce markets, including Kindle and Nook download availability.

Publishing a book about policy is always like hitting a moving target, and it's necessary to keep the material up afterward with blogs and other online notes (as I have done for years).  But it's useful to see what you can fix between two dust covers of a book. 

But there are different reasons that books are published, even in the self-publishing world. 

For example, it is true that some books, even from newbie authors, lend themselves to some volume of transaction sales, more probably online today than in physical stores.  This would most notably true of fiction, or in some areas like “how-to” and “self-help” books.  (Cookbooks would be a good example – some ingredients need to stay secret.)  You would not expect to make the materials widely available online (despite Amazon “look inside the book” and Google book search); customers would normally have to pay for an “instance copy” to have the content.  It’s supposed to be like that for movies (where even spoilers leaked online can be perceived as a problem) and a lot of music – and here we get to the dominion of piracy problems, all the way back to the debate over SOPA.   In fact, Hollywood is so jealous of the potential per-transaction value of content that there is a “third party rule” for submitting screenplays and even loglines, and screenplays for expected blockbusters are developed under high security – a far cry from my own past practice of putting some of them on line which, like “The Sub”, got me into trouble once in 2005.

I do have a fiction novel manuscript and screenplays that I want to sell later.

Other books, in non-fiction areas like policy and particularly the historical de velopment of policy (involving legislation, litigation, and personal histories) lend themselves more to reference than necessarily cover-to-cover reading and volumes of sales.  They are published to create a “matter of record”.  That is certainly the case with my “Do Ask, Do Tell” series.  While it is reasonable to purchase some sales tools, perhaps, or even some Internet ad space on automated serving (when inexpensive), large scale “PR machines” don’t apply. 

I do hope that others will accept this fact about the DADT books.  I’m not putting them out for bean counters.  I am putting them out for a record, and them to work with specific others to develop into other media projects (like film), where I can develop the contacts (a sensitive matter now) on my own. And to develop the material with sufficient integrity, right now I must work alone. My content is not a democracy (a "timocracy" maybe).  
Some people would perhaps say that non-fiction should be published only by “experts” or only by people who have competed and prevailed in some kind of partisan endeavor (whether winning elections or selling life insurance). I cannot promise that kind of track record.  I do depend on the “free entry” mechanism on the Internet, which is predicated on downstream liability immunity for service providers (that’s the Section 230 issue) .  And because of my veneer of journalistic “objectivity” and “connecting the dots” (or “keeping them honest”), I cannot just sign on to one particular party’s cause (however compelling) in order to “pay my dues”.  I hope people get this.  Oh, yes, I get that “real people” have “real families” and have to sell things to support them.  By my insularity (when getting sales calls or visits) I know you think I’m not helping.  But that’s the way it has to be.

I suspect that future success, both with sales volumes in a usual sense, and with developing future media projects, will hinge on my getting into “the game” again on a more personal basis. Enter that chess tournament, don’t just kibitz.  One of the key concepts coming out of this whole “audit process” is that, for people who are “different”, participation and even risk staking in supporting the “common good” is a moral imperative.  We can take “inequality for all” personally (taking on one’s own risk, when it can really cost something), we can tackle it with public policy (requiring legislated shared sacrifice), or we can just let people go and die.  As a matter of logic, one or more of these things will happen.   A community or society decides what it wants to do.  So I will somehow have to practice what I have preached.  But I have to “get the homework done first.”  So I move with "all deliberate speed". 

See related posting Oct. 27, 2013.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Blogger insurance issue simmers in the far background, like on a green screen

There are scattered reports on the web still about Blogger insurance ("media perils"), including one on the Oracle website, here with no date. The article links to a 2004 story (now cached but no longer present) that about someone sued for reposting libelous comments sent to him in an email, and reposting emailcontent was not protected by Section 230. Oracle warns that simply hyperlinking to a defamatory page could make one a defendant for libel (as noted here before), but in practice suits about hyperlinks seem to be very rare.
 M.P. McQueen has a story on Blogger insurance from the Wall Street Journal way back to May 21, 2009, here. He starts with a complicated case were a blogger was sued by a company associated with the adult industry for claiming that the company had allowed compromise of personal information.  It would appear from the facts that Section 230 wouldn’t apply, and there are real questions about whether the blogger is a real “journalist”.  The article goes on to explain how some property and casualty company cover online defamation risks as part of umbrella coverage, a practice which still surprises me because I don’t know how insurance companies could price the risk.  In this world of mandatory insurance in other areas (like Obamacare) one imagines someone wanting to require property companies to offer the coverage, which would not be a good idea.  Libel and copyright infringement risk are not well correlated to physical property damage or accident risk. 
I’ll keep up on this one. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Heavy turnout this morning in Virginia's election; some thoughts on secession; the NSA should read my public posts

I was surprised (and not “glad” like British composer Hubert Parry) when the line for the polls for the Virginia gubernatorial race was long at 10 AM this morning in north Arlington.  And I did vote for the libertarian candidate, Sarvis.  Both major party candidates have real problems with credibility with me.
I used to work as an election judge, with a shift from 5 AM until about 9 PM (the polls open at 6 AM and close at 7 PM).  Some of the same people were there.  It’s a very long day.

I hear that in Colorado, eleven counties want to secede and form a 51st state (very red).  Actually, that’s just ten in the northeast, which would become another “Great Plains” state.  (Is Sterling, where I had my epiphany, leading to my book, in August 1994, center of cattle mutilation country, included?)  The eleventh is in the northwest and would join Alan Simpson’s or Dick Cheney’s Wyoming.  It has been said that voters in Texas could split the state into six states, but I heard that after moving there in 1979.  It would sound like an easy way to get more influence in the Senate – except that it probably wouldn’t get through.
All of this reminds me of the mentality in the early days of the nation, about the time of the American Revolution, when some thought that landowners should have more voting power because they had more “responsibility”.  Imagine how this was seen in the South. 
Imagine also how this plays out in other areas.  Suppose people with children had more votes?  Suppose only people with dependents could have free entry onto the web.  Things could have gone that way.
As for the continuing battle over NSA surveillance, I get the idea that meta-data collection could lead to citizens facing a backlash if a more hostile administration occurred.  (I don’t see Obama’s administration that way; some do.)  It could also lead to prosecutions in bizarre situations.  

Almost all of my postings are public.  I hope NSA reads them.  Have at it.  See if they match other intelligence.  Once in a while, I make a posting about something clandestine that has come my way (like the hostile email from a Nigerian rebel group, posted on the International Issues blog Aug. 15, 2008).  In fact, I have called authorities on a few occasions and not posted two or three items. (I go for “see something, say something”; I don’t guarantee journalistic shield or anonymity.)    If government computers are blocked from seeing normal amateur blogs (including those on Myspace or Facebook), it’s possible that valuable intelligence could be missed.  Sometimes ordinary people learn things that the snoops miss.  I probably would have been a good NSA or CIA analyst if I had come of age in a more progressive time.  Why do I feel this way?  Just one major attack could end my way of life, propelling me into a world in which I am useless.  I am not prepared for life as a Doomsday Prepper (even in Sterling, CO).  

Monday, November 04, 2013

Viacom DMCA Safe Harbor case is now before Second Circuit; complains that YouTube "induces" infringement with amateurism

Corynne McSherry of Electronic Frontier Foundation has an important piece on the case of Viacom v. YouTube.  Viacom is the parent company of Paramount Pictures, MTV, and various other movie and television companies.  The case, which Viacom lost, is before the Second Circuit (includes New York).
Viacom maintains that YouTube “induces” infringement, and McSherry argues why it is a silly, circular argument, link here    (Nov. 1, 2013). The inducement theory (as a "thought tort") seems tied to the notion of mass amateurism without oversight. But Viacom has lost this case in a district court trial. 
If Viacom were right, YouTube would lose its DMCA Safe Harbor protections, by a process similar to what was argued about SOPA (see Nov. 25, 2011 on this blog).
YouTube is actually quite aggressive in closing accounts of users with repeated complaints of copyright infringement, as anyone who embeds YouTube videos knows.  I, for one, almost never post a video with a significant amount of recorded music, except incidentally outdoors, never from a disco or drag show, for example, because of music licensing issues.  (I do post my own music online, of which there is some volume; see Drama blog, Oct. 2, 2013, for example.)

This case needs to be watched closely.  DMCA Safe Harbor is one major arm of the “downstream liability” issue. Section 230 is the other. 

Picture: A "natural Trojan Horse", Virginia.  

Friday, November 01, 2013

Criminalizing "revenge porn" can undermine free speech through overbreadth

Is criminalizing revenge porn a bad idea, because states purporting to do so are likely to be overbroad? Sarah Jeong of Wired thinks so, as she explains in this Oct. 28 article on Wired
The writer points out that under California’s law a blogger who, for purposes of journalism, links to a revenge porn site could be breaking the law.  That begs a question I have considered for years – do people have a “right” to broadcast their coverage online of issues in which they don’t appear to have a personal stake?  The likelihood of enforcement of such a provision does seem very remote.
The writer also lists some remedies available to victims even in a CDA230 environment, which appears to protect website operators on the surface.  These include laws against extortion, use of DMCA copyright,  law requiring age verification of adult photos, and invoking a tort of disclosure of private facts (although on that one it seems that 230 applies).
Maryland’s Democratic candidate for state attorney general, Joe Cardin, has introduced a bill criminalizing the placing of explicit photos online without the subject’s consent, with a Think Progress story by Tara Culp-Ressler here
 The law would seem to have the possibility of broad interpretation – what about intimate behavior in public in a disco?   (Is “dirty dancing” considered explicit?)  In some state law proposals, explicit requires nudity, others not.
Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security head, has an interesting piece on p. A17 of the Washington Post this morning, “Invading our own privacy”, link here.  Online, the story is called “What the NSA and social media have in common”.  
See also posting Sept. 3, 2013 on the California law.