Archive for August, 2007
agh – LA Times on “piracy”


This LA Times article
reports on consumer attitudes in LA about “piracy” of goods. Of course, the author (Richard Verrier) seems mortally confused about the differences between trademark and copyright.

Although previous studies have documented piracy’s toll on the Los Angeles economy, the U.S. Chamber report is the first to focus on the attitudes and behavior of consumers here who knowingly buy fake goods, including bootleg movies, illegally copied CDs, knockoff handbags and counterfeit auto parts.

“The study confirmed what we already knew: That the buying of these products is widespread and is viewed as a victimless crime,” said Caroline Joiner, executive director of the chamber’s global anti-counterfeiting and piracy initiative.

Of course, since trademark laws are designed to protect the consumer against confusion, if the consumer isn’t confused then there is neither crime nor victim. That doesn’t stop the government from trying to stop imports from China of counterfeit goods, but is this really the best way to spend our money? Wouldn’t we all really rather our good-inspection dollars be spent on looking for lead in children’s toys and poisons in our cat food? (Or, hell, how about bombs and suitcase nukes?)

The bottom line is that companies treat their trademarks like property, and work very hard to get governments to do the same. Traditionally trademark enforcement has been handled by the trademark owners, as it should be. Trademark owners have cost/benefit analyses to apply to enforcement. So they take on only the serious threats, and make reasonable decisions about what to pursue and not to pursue.

Shifting those costs to the public — which is what trademark (and copyright) owners want to do — means that companies owners can be as persnickety as they want about their rights, regardless of the human cost. Hence the cost to taxpayers of, what, probably thousands of dollars in pressing criminal charges against a 19 year old girl for recording 20 seconds of a film in a movie theater. (She ended up pleading guilty, by the way, paying a $71 fine and having a criminal record for at least a year.) She was prosecuted under a new Virginia bootleg law, intended to beef up federal copyrights with state criminal law.

But the public benefit to putting public funds toward policing private trademarks is negligible, even less than the putative benefit of policing private copyrights. Again, trademarks are designed to protect the consumer against being defrauded. If consumers are happily and knowingly buying knock-offs and counterfeits, then no consumers are being defrauded. There is no public good to justify use of public funds and the full weight of the state’s mechanisms of criminal law against vendors or buyers. While to my knowledge no state has tried to criminalize the purchase of counterfeit trademark goods, I will be wholly unsurprised to see such legislation sometime in the next ten years. Combining the government’s ramping up of trademark & copyright enforcement with the trend in legislation to get at tertiary support of illegal activities is not much of a reach.

Consider this ominous quote, for instance:

Nonetheless, Joiner drew encouragement from another finding: Seventy-two percent of the respondents believed counterfeiting and piracy laws should be stricter, and 90% said they wouldn’t have acquired the fake products if they knew doing so supported organized crime.

So, can we now look to Hollywood to tell us that the mob is behind filesharing? They’ve already linked P2P to child porn and terrorism so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Suggesting that Americans “get” IP law but just aren’t that interested in following it, Justin Hughes at Cardozo opined that “Most Americans do understand copyright and trademark laws ….” Not if crappy news reporting is where they get their information, they don’t. And while the IP policy cognoscenti may argue back & forth about the benefits and costs of IP, the lobbyists for Hollywood are happy for Americans to not get the full picture. The US Chamber of Commerce (which commissioned this survey from Gallup) might like to consider asking Americans, not just whether or not they think stronger C/TM laws are in order, but to do some ranking of customs & law enforcement priorities: bootleg purses? or lead-paint on toys. crappy recordings of crappy movies? or mad cow disease-infected beef.

reading today: imprecatory prayer & native iphone apps

I’ve been following the news about Wiley Drake and if you haven’t, you should too. Drake endorsed a Republican candidate (Huckabee, whose campaign has distanced itself from Drake) using church stationery and resources, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State did what it does in such situations — call for an investigation of the church’s tax-exempt status. When Wiley found out he called for his followers to engage in “imprecatory prayer”, calling for the death of various Americans United officials. Sweet. Of course, AU officials might not take it so lightly, since AU is comprised not so much of the godless like myself, as of the god-ridden (albeit of the liberal or classically US founding fathers variety). I doubt AU folks are very worried that God(s) will take Drake seriously, but it’s gotta feel a little unnerving and upsetting. Like when you complain to your boss about a coworker and then the coworker one-ups you and complains to the boss’s boss about you, and asks that you be cursed, smited, and fired, and that your kids be cursed, too.

And, Eli Jacobwitz posted about native apps for the iphone. I confess that when I first clicked-through I thought it was going to be, I don’t know, a rolodex of tribal council members, or maybe a Cherokee-language something, or a — well, you get the idea. I surrender my geek creds for that but I haven’t been reading much geek news lately. Of course, the article was about an little-n native app, but it has some good links & opinion about the wisdom of Apple’s keeping the iPhone closed.

religious in Turkey block wordpress.com

Pharyngula said it well: “Turkish ass shuts down a slice of the Internet” (well, as far as Turkey is concerned, anyway). Muslim creationist was unhappy with some critical blog commentary so he got a judge to block the entire domain.

Best comment from Pharyngula thread:

Wonder Twin powers activate. Form of A Google Bomb

fannish media studies

A friend just sent me a link to this fan video about the TV series “Supernatural”. What an awesome demonstration of the power of technology to enable media criticism. A thousand feminists could comment about exploitative or graphic visual depictions of violence against women in a series or on TV generally, and it would never have the effect of this video. … And to conclude: this is why DRM and the DMCA suck. Because they prevent (or try to prevent) people from being able to do this.

Johnson & Johnson sues the Red Cross

give it up already. we all know that the red cross means the Red Cross.

It’ll be interesting to see a major company actually litigate such a completely jury-unfriendly case. It will also be interesting to see if how licenses for intellectual “property” survive when the property — in this case, consumer identification of a mark — no longer exists. Or, at least, when consumer identification of the mark is much stronger with the “licensee” than the “licensor”.

bad bookstore business decisions

The large Australian book chain Angus & Robertson has apparently decided it would be a good idea to send invoices to small presses for the lower profit that A&R received from their books (described as a “profit gap”). Not only is this extortionate, clueless, and bad business management, it’s also hilarious reading.

(and of course boing boing covered it)

best NYT on sex differences EVER

Some mathematicians have finally pointed out the really, really obvious problem behind a popular theory of sex differences: Men are purported to have more sex partners than women … but the math doesn’t add up. Folks loving the idea that men and women are intrinsically, inherently, biologically, different have long loved to cite things like the fact that men have more sex partners than women, which shows up in virtually any survey. It’s not logically possible, but people still cite the numbers as if they mean something. (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) Gee, I wonder if people studying and proclaiming numerous sex differences could be infected by any other forms of biased thinking?

update: broadsheet had the best headline: Chaste women + promiscuous men = impossible and some good commentary too in the article and one or two helpful points in the comments. Unfortunately, most of the commenters are stuck on arguing about the differences between median and mean (average), quibbling about the math professor’s take, and failing to understand that (a) the NYT article just did a sloppy representation of what the math professor said; and (b) at least some part of what the math professor is really getting at is the popular understanding and use of such studies (including frequent media stories). (Many of the commenters have fallen into the trap of never going back to the source to try to figure out what they’re talking about, so they’re arguing about misquotes and misunderstandings of third-generation reports about data. No wonder there’s confusion about median and mean.)

The NYT article of course didn’t help clarify anything about median or mean (that is after all part of the problem that leads to the necessity of the math professor speaking up) but they did, to their credit, get the lede implication right: The thing this really casts doubt on is the big, all-encompassing theories of human nature that argue that men are inclined to X, and women inclined to Y, because of their y and x genes respectively. So, the numbers in the surveys could be right or wrong, but the conclusions about “women’s nature” and “men’s nature” are not well-supported by relying on the median. It would have been cool if they had talked about the implications of mean and median for social sciences behavior: Are averages or medians more susceptible to social pressures, for instance? Seems plausible that those numbers would have different artifacts but I don’t know, and the NYT didn’t help.

Anyway, as the professor suggested, the numbers have to be off somewhere, because while, yes, mean and median are different, you’ve still gotta make those numbers reconcile somehow. In other words, if median and mean are different, then there have to be differences in mean among subgroups that generate the median. In other words, if most women are more chaste than most men, then some women have to be having a lot more sex than either most women or men.

The most recent survey (NCHS 2007 survey of sex & drug behavior of US adults) that precipitated this discussion showed that 29% of US men report having 15 or more female partners, and 9% of women report having 15 or more male partners. It’s a little difficult to imagine that the 9% of women have so many more partners than the 29% of men, on average, that they make up for the 91% of women who had fewer … My guess is that there is greater variability among female sex habits, that there is some real, intentional fudging in the self-reported data, and that there is some methodological and definitional problems in how men and women define sex (I’m thinking of rape: I know that some people forced to have sex nonconsensually would not “count” that person as a sex partner, whereas it seems plausible that the rapist might well count their victim as a sex partner, especially if the rapist didn’t so self-define).

The greater variability point, if true, is itself interesting: Since “greater variability” shows up so frequently in sociobiological arguments about there being more male geniuses and idiots, you’d think the “greater variability” argument would be of interest to them in the realm of sexual behavior, too.
update: slate covered it too, with the mean/median point. while focusing on the trees, slate managed to notice the forest in a single paragraph toward the end.

good news in SCO case

The District Court of Utah has issued a decision and order finding that SCO does not own parts of Linux (D.Utah 2007/8/10). The lengthy litigation (funded in part with Microsoft’s investments in SCO) was the only serious shadow hanging over Linux, although the claims seemed bogus when examined closely. (I also liked this chart that geekly picked over the possible harms to linux.) It’s good to see Judge Dale Kimball come to the same conclusion.

The D. Court of Utah website was down yesterday and for some reason has labeled all SCO filings and orders as available only through PACER (a fee-based access service to public court filings). However, groklaw posted the decision.

positive about civil unions

In last night’s Democratic candidate debate about The Gays, Clinton explained that she’s not anti-gay marriage: “I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions.”

As Michele (my Massachusetts spouse) said: “If she’s so positive, why doesn’t *she* get one.”

freshwater dolphin extinction

Yangtze River freshwater dolphin
One of the last Yangtze River
freshwater dolphins.
Photo from CNN/Reuters.

One of only four species of river dolphin is officially extinct; the last member of the species probably died sometime in the last few months. Just thirteen were found in the last survey a few years ago, and the 2006 survey found none. The last member in captivity died in 2002. [Turvey et al, Journal of the Royal Society Biology Letters (2007/8/7); media coverage in CNN;
channel 4
; allheadlinenews
]

Douglas Adams wrote movingly about the Yangtze River dolphin in Last Chance to See, excerpts of which are posted at flying squid blog. The dolphins — which are extinct as a result of human activity, including the Three Gorges Dam — had a hard life over the last decades. They navigated by echolocation, and all the human activity in the Yangtze created constant white noise. It’s unspeakably sad to imagine the experiences of the last Yangtze River dolphins.

The Yangtze River dolphin is the first large mammalian species to go extinct in fifty years, and the first cetacean species to die from human causes in modern history. The other three river dolphin species are also endangered.

Incredibly fucked up.

on insanely stupid, homophobic, racist, white Republican legislators

Bloggers & media have been all over the latest in a long, long series (at least as long as i have been reading the news, which is 20+ years now*) of sexcapades by Republicans and religious right leaders: Florida state legislator Bob Allen (R), who solicited an undercover cop for a blowjob in Titusville, FL, and is consequently being charged with soliciting prostitution. The cop was black, and Allen said that there were black men loitering about the park so he offered the blowjob + cash to avoid becoming “a statistic.”

Where to begin.

1 – It’s a relief that it’s charged with soliciting prostitution; not too many years ago he could have been charged with violating Florida’s sodomy law. (Not that I’m happy he was charged, at all. Once it was clear it was a gay thang, the officer seems to have been only too happy to bust the guy for solicitation. Bob Allen is pathetic, but is this what we need to spend public funds doing? The cop was plain clothes investigating a burglary. I’d rather have had him finish that job than bust Allen for a BJ.)

2 – Some people seem surprised that when Republicans ostensibly straight men solicit sex from other men they often (usually?) offer to give rather than to receive. It’s pretty obvious: See, receiving they can get at home, with their eyes closed. Giving, for Republicans ostensibly straight men, is best done in parks, bathrooms, park bathrooms, etc.

3 – It’s a shame that there is still so much homophobia that Republicans gay men resort to paying strangers when there are lots and lots of men having gay sex for free. In Florida. Even (or especially) in Cape Canaveral.

4 – What’s worse: That racism is apparently so acceptable for this “straight” white Republican man that he thinks it’s an excuse (albeit a really, really implausible one) for being gay, or that he thinks being gay is worse than racism? What a sad and tangled mess that man’s mind is. (John Scalzi has the best comment:

The only real bit of news out of all of this is that Allen would rather be seen as a terrified racist than as someone willing to solicit strangers in a public restroom to get some man-on-man action. Well, here’s the thing, Mr. Allen: Clearly, you can be both.

5 – Gotta love the last line of the Orlando Sentinel story:

When Allen was being placed in a marked patrol car, he asked whether “it would help” if he was a state legislator, according to a police report. The officer replied, “No.”

6 – Allen’s political positions: Cosponsor of an anti-public lewdness bill that would have prohibited park sex. CFNews 13. He got a 92% rating from the Christian Coalition prior to his 2006 election.OS 7/12 He supported amending Florida’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and opposed a bill to curb harassment of gay students.365gay


* There must be a blog somewhere dedicated to charting the sexcapades of moralizers. If there’s not, I would love to start it, but it would be apparently a full-time job, so some independently wealthy person needs to start it. Or pay me to start it. Seriously.

hello kitty shamebands

The Thai police are requiring delinquent or troublemaking cops to wear “hello kitty” armbands as a badge of shame. [nyt 8/7] i wonder if that would work here in the US ….

arrested for 20-second recording

Some poor kid took a short clip of the Transformers movie, and was hauled out and arrested. The theater (Regal Cinemas Ballston Common 12, in Arlington, Virginia) is pressing charges that could land this 19yo in prison for a year for the 20-second film clip. She recorded the clip to show her little brother, because she thought it would get him excited to go see the movie, too.

I think the only good outcome of this is that the theater has lost years of revenue from this young woman because in addition to trying to put her in prison for a year, they have banned her from their theater for life. Hopefully her friends will boycott the theater on her behalf too.

If you have any thoughts about the ludicrous nature of this prosecution, feel free to share them with the theater at (703) 527-9730; Regal Cinemas at 877-TELLREGAL (1-877-835-5734); or the Arlington, VA, Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney at (703) 228-4410.

Her trial date is set for August 21. She’s being prosecuted under a new Virginia statute that criminalizes using cameras in movie theaters.

Further reading:

  • Washington Post 8/2
  • USA9.com
  • excess copyright
  • Two commenters on slashfilm note that “Regal offers employees, most of whom make minimum wage, $10,000 for catching a ‘pirate’. I’ve never heard of anyone getting it.”1 and “the MPAA gives a cash reward (Around $500 last time I checked) to whoever reports someone for using any kind of recording device in a move theater”2

cross-posted at sivacracy

update 8/9:

  • free culture NYU calls for a boycott.
  • a commenter posted the email address for the VP of investor relations: ddelaria at regalcinemas.com
  • a commenter at sivacracy suggests that people at arlington do a mass protest and everybody record 20-second video clips.