Tag Archives: China

media annoyances part 2: Tom Ashbrook “On Point”

So Adam Nagourney certainly was annoying me today, but yesterday, I was way more irate at someone I don’t usually hate, Tom Ashbrook, in his radio show “On Point”. Granted, I was driving around in Boston traffic, trying to find parking in the over-crowded Longwood Medical Area, and did I mention that I was driving around in Boston traffic? with Boston drivers? or perhaps I should say “people in Boston who drive cars but really should never have been given licenses to do so”.

Still even though I had massive external provocations (why is it that people in Boston do not seem to have learned how to make left turns in an intersection?) Tom Ashbrook was far more annoying. “On Point”, hosting an hour-long discussion on the earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. At one point a caller made the eminently reasonable point that US resources were committed to Iraq, leaving us vulnerable to natural disasters; he brought up the US national response to Hurricane Katrina.

Now, there are sooo many reasonable responses to this point. But Tom Ashbrook totally ran this one off the rails onto his own bizarre tangent. Which apparently was an interest in discussing how authoritarian governments stack up against democratic governments in responding to natural disasters.

Continue reading

mostly information law news round-up

* Judge White withdrew his order requiring the shutdown of wikileaks.org. See also 3/1 bits blog. (NYT 3/1)

* The music industry has yet to pay artists any of the money it has received in settlements and lawsuits; the artists are pissed. NY Post 2/27)

* The owners of the game scrabble are pissed off at Scrabulous. (NYT 3/2)

* Daniel Solove’s new book, The Future of Reputation, is available online with a creative commons license, thanks to Yale University Press. Annoyingly it’s chapter-by-chapter. badgerbag read it and promises a scathing review, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to say.

* Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody, has a hold list at least 3-deep at the Boston Public Library. )-8

* Paul Cash, the principal of Burleson High School in Burleson, Texas, is censoring the school yearbook’s article about students who are also parents, in part because it conflicts with the school’s “abstinence-only” education program. A program that was, umm, manifestly not successful. As illustrated by the kind of head-in-the-sand attitude that seems to think that if only the principal can censor the yearbook, he can change reality, or lie to the community about it. “I believe that as principal of the school it is my obligation to make sure that whatever our students put into press accurately reflects the ideals and values of the community.” Apparently the students think that the press should reflect reality. I guess the teachers have been doing their jobs. Student Press Law Center has the scoop (2/13). (link from pharyngula, 3/2)

* Schwarzenegger’s administration is defending California’s gay marriage ban before the California Supreme Court; a ruling is due by June. There’s a certain gross irony in this: A couple of years ago, Schwarzenegger vetoed a gay marriage act passed by California’s legislature, saying that this was something that should be left to the courts. That was itself yet another proof that the so-called federalist style of conservatism is really just window-dressing outcome-based politicking as principled ideological opposition to particular forms of government. (SJ Mercury, 3/2)

* Some people in Namibia are worried that schools and libraries are getting away with too much using information, so they’re starting a new copyright enforcement body just to go after the lucrative school and library market. Watch out for the Namibian Reproduction Rights Organization (NamRRO), which isn’t enforcing any rights to reproduce that I’d like to see enforced: The rights to reproduce for fair use, the rights to reproduce or not to reproduce biologically …. The organization is being started by “Moses Moses”, whose name seems a little reproductive itself. Good idea, Moses; way to start killing creativity at the most upstream possible place. (All Africa, 2/29)

* In Illinois, reproductive rights are being upheld: A very silly law that attempts to mandate good parent-child relationships and communications, specifically requiring that pregnant minors must tell their parents if they are having an abortion, continues to be enjoined. A “pro-life” group described the decision as, “a major defeat for the people of Illinois,” apparently forgetting that teenagers are people too. (AP 3/1)

* Heather Morrison at her awesome blog “Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics” has pointed out that plagiarists should avoid open access like the, ah, plague, since it’s so much harder to catch them without open access. Peter Suber at Open Access News gathered several of her related posts in one excellent introduction to Morrison’s concept, “aiming for obscurity”. Read it or wish you had.

* Rebecca MacKinnon reviews the latest round of lawsuits against Yahoo! by Chinese dissidents who, among other things, got screwed over by Yahoo!’s release of their information. (RConversation, 3/3)

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.

shaolin trademarks and copyright as generic for IP

In an SFgate story about conflicts between folks trying to take Shaolin practice in different directions, I spotted this:

In recent years, the main temple’s abbot, Shi YongXin, has tried to copyright the Shaolin name. He’s also been criticized for commercializing the faith. YongXin gave his approval to Ho’s venture in San Francisco.

Really? I thought. Tried to copyright the name? Surely they mean trademark …. A little googling found this China Daily article from a couple of years ago (2004/9/28). I quote in its entirety because virtually every single paragraph illustrates the wacky confusion:

Shaolin monks in hand-to-hand copyright battle
Updated: 2004-09-28 09:53

The monks of China’s Shaolin temple are not just good at kung fu but also increasingly agile at using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs, state media reported.

The 1,500 year-old temple, known as the cradle of China’s martial arts, recently set up the Henan Shaolin Temple Industrial Development Co., whose main purpose is to protect the temple’s intellectual property rights, Xinhua news agency said.

“Everyone just wants to make some profits from the name, totally regardless of the integral image of Shaolin Temple,” Shaolin abbot Shi Yongxin told the agency.

More than 1,000 brands containing “Shaolin” have been registered without the approval of the temple in the United States, Japan and Europe, Shi said.

Since its start, the new company has been engaged in feverish activity, registering nearly 100 Shaolin-related brands in China and has applied to register “Shaolin” brands in over 100 countries, Xinhua said.

A survey by the China Trademark and Patent Law Office found that many countries were competing to register their own trademarks of Shaolin or Shaolin temple, state media reported previously.

On the west coast of the United States alone, there are three Shaolin temples. In Europe, Shaolin temples can be found in Vienna and Budapest.

with a photo captioned:

A young monk of China’s Shaolin temple demonstrating his skills. The monks have increasingly been using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs. [AFP]

Further reading–it looks like this story has flurried every couple of years, 2002, 2004, 2006:
* The People’s Daily from 2002/9/25 had more information about the beginning of the trademark wars.
* The USA Today picked up the story around the same time.
* The BBC News on 2004/6/29
* 2004/6/2 a story at p2pnet.net
* Another 2006 piece from China Shaolin Temple itself gives their perspective.
* China Daily, 2006/10/19 had this insightful history:

Back in 1993, Shi Yongxin took a ham manufacturer to court for promoting the ham under the brand “Shaolin,” which he claimed constituted a trademark infringement. It was the first case on brand rights in China’s religious circles.

Recalling the lawsuit, Shi said, “a long time ago, communication and transportation were not as convenient as today, and products were circulated in a limited area, so trademark registration was not required. With globalization comes infringement. To protect the trademark, we have to register the brand ‘Shaolin.’ The registration is totally protective. ”

However, the Shaolin Temple brand is being taken advantage of by other businessmen. About 200 meters north of the temple, the local tourist bureau has built the Shaolin Temple Martial Arts School, and right across from that is a Zen institute that is backed by a salt company.

Many suspect such commercial aspirations will disturb the tranquility of the temple. Shi, however, believed such establishment is a result of the interplay between business and brand, likening Shaolin Temple to the American Disneyland, which is a brand as well as a business.

* Kung Fu Magazine had an interview with Shi Yongxin, Abbot of Shaolin temple:

GC: How is trademarking the name of Shaolin going?
Abbot: Recently, some businessmen and companies had been engaging in using the Shaolin name to further their product. This influenced the image of Shaolin culture in a negative way. Now Shaolin Temple is attending to this matter. Abuse of the Shaolin trademark will diminish the influence of Shaolin Temple and create misunderstandings of Shaolin in the public eye. Shaolin represents the best of traditional Chinese art in kung fu and Chan Buddhism. As we know, some products and services provided by these companies were outlawed by the rules of Buddhism. So we have begun to administrate the trademark of Shaolin, not for the sake of profit, just for the sake of preserving our culture and religion.

… This was an interesting search in its own right, but a couple of observations:
* You know, it’s not so easy to google for something + copyright, because every frickin’ thing on the Internet says “blah blah blah COPYRIGHT date by yadda yadda yadda”.
* This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed “copyright” being used synonymously for “intellectual property”. It’s as if the copyright trademark is itself being diluted.

* Every article has its own copyright date and they’re apparently being put in almost at random as part of website templates in some cases, the article in other cases, etc. For instance the 2002 USA Today article, which I found on 2007/4/29, had a “Copyright 2005 the Associated Press”. The Kung Fu Magazine article didn’t have a date on the article or on its copyright statement, but had an automatically generated “today’s date” in the header — so one might mistakenly read the article and think it was today. This is a problem for citations, of course, but it’s also a problem for orphan works issues in the far future. So if the dates on the works themselves are practically meaningless, then how is the future historian going to be able to tell when the 95-year corporate copyright term has expired? If we’re all relying on the overworked Internet Archive as our de facto copyright database then someone needs to give them like a bajillion dollars in a hurry so they can capture the whole Internet and do it every day.

morning tea round-up

  • Yahoo!’s historically less-than-stellar track record of protecting user privacy is made much, much worse by this news: Yahoo! turned over a user’s identity information to the Chinese government, and now journalist Shi Tao has been sentenced to ten years for “e-mailing a government’s plan to restrict media coverage around the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre”. [SJ Merc 10/2 editorial; see also Xeni Jardin in the LAT 10/9; and Open Letter to Jerry Yang, Yahoo!, from Liu Xiaobo, 2005 Oct. 7. ] The Merc thinks it’s “hard to blame Yahoo!” for this but wants them to more aggressively lobby on behalf of human rights. Me, I don’t find it hard to “blame” Yahoo! for what they did. The individuals at Yahoo! who made the decision to hand over accurate information made a choice: company profits and business model over the freedom of a journalist. I guess they were just doing what they were told. [link from ping]

  • The Bush Admin. has never really had a sense of humor about parodies. The latest brouhaha is about The Onion’s use of the presidential seal. [cnn 10/26] White House spokesperson Trent Duffy:

    “When any official sign or seal is being used inappropriately the party is notified. … You cannot pick and choose where to enforce that rule. It’s important that the seal or any White House insignia not be used inappropriately.”

    The Onion editor-in-chief, Scott Dikkers:

    “I’ve been seeing the presidential seal used in comedy programs most of my life and to my knowledge none of them have been asked not to use it by the White House. … I would advise them to look for that other guy Osama … rather than comedians. I don’t think we pose much of a threat.”

  • George Takei - Live Queer and Prosper

    George Takei (“Mr.
    Sulu”) vamps it up.

    Mr. Sulu George Takei is gay! His new role in “Equus” apparently “inspire[d] him” to come out. I have to say, I am deeply gratified to finally have some queer representation on Star Trek. Although looking at this picture, it seems like the official coming out was, well, redundant. [Jason Schultz has a nice photo for Sulu fans, and SFGate 11/10 has a lot more details.]

    Between Mr. Sulu Takei and WNBA triple-MVP winner Sheryl Swoopes, National Coming Out Day came out a little late, but strong. [Women’s Hoops blog links to lots of Swoopes coverage.]

  • Research about five years ago showed that even as women athletes were setting records and breaking into new fields, sports photographers were increasingly minimizing and downplaying women’s athleticism. (Also at Women’s eNews. See also Womens Sports Foundation. That was in 2000, and a flurry of scholarship around that time evaluated that phenomena. A year or so later, the Smithsonian launched a traveling tour of sports photography of female athletes, Game Face (which I caught in DC at the time). Women’s ascendance in sports in the last five years has continued apace, and I wonder if there have been follow-up studies….

  • Chinese women bloggers are doing the sex blog thing. (This is at least the second or third such similar article on Asian women bloggers and sexuality that I’ve seen in the last year or so. News coverage about the Chinese government frowning or cracking down on this or that is fairly routine, I know. But I can’t help but wonder how much of the coverage is due to the starting! shocking! news that Asian women bloggers are blogging about sex, and how much of it is because white Western journalists are surprised to see such goings-on. Hey, I’m told that even in Boston, beans do it.)

  • Speaking of blogging, the NYT is trying to get “hip” to this newfangled “blogging” thing, and you can really see the results. In one article recently, the Times “jazzed up” their content with “hyperlinks”: the article included one link on the name of a state to NYT coverage about that state. And yesterday & today the coverage of the Scooter Libby resignation made me snigger with this bullet point: “Reactions: Bush. Cheney. Bloggers.” But I shouldn’t make fun, because the NYT also gave me a happy moment with its briefly-posted blurb for the Scooter Libby thing, which went something like this: “Scooter Libby indicted; steps down; Bush-Cheney no comment; Karl Rove not indicted.” The mere fact that Karl Rove’s non-indictment is news sends a warm glow all the way down to my toes, and I thank the NYT for that little moment of joy.

  • National science standards groups are registering their disapproval of Kansas’ new “science plus! religion” standards. Unfortunately, they’re using copyright to do so. [nyt 10/28]

  • The Washington Post trashes the E-Rate, the telecomm. tax-funded grant to schools & libraries for Internet access. [WPost 10/27]

artistic innovation & racism

The NYT ran two articles today on copies of art, both listed on the front page in the respective sections: One listed in the “arts” section and titled “Imitations That Transcend Flattery” by Roberta Smith, and the other breathlessly titled Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art! by Keith Bradsher, and listed in the business section. [By 245 this afternoon when I got back to this draft, I noted that the front page title of “Original Chinese Copies” had been changed, and “Imitations That Transcend” had been taken off the front page; both are listed in the arts page and “Original Chinese Copies” is still in the business section.]

I’m sure this is an NYT editorial accident, left hand, right hand, lack of knowledge, etc., but reading the two articles together gave me a queasy feeling, like when you’re watching a movie and suddenly realize you need 3D glasses. The color information is shifted just slightly, creating two different accounts of the world. Once I put on my special 3D Glasses of Power*, everything righted itself: in fact, I got a whole different picture, and a lot of new information poppped out.

OK, the metaphor can’t go on forever. For one thing, these are not exactly the same two articles. The two articles are on different issues and consequently take different tones: “Original Chinese Copies!” is a standard business section article about the cheap oil painting (aka ‘mass art’ or ‘hotel art’) industry: China has gotten into the industry & the American industry is (or may be) suffering from the competition. “Imitations That Transcend”, on the other hand, is a standard artist/exhibition article: it focuses on one artist, Richard Pettibone, who does “appropriation art”, and discusses him and his current show, which consists of miniatures of famous paintings.

But perspectives are indeed shifted across these two articles, and noticing that, you notice a few other things. First, obviously, race: “Original Chinese Copies!” feeds into a racist stereotype of Asian people that was much in evidence during the 70s & 80s, when many US newspapers ran stories about the Japan-US trade deficit and Japanese businesspeople (well, let’s be honest: businessmen) buying up American landmarks, property, etc. At the same time there was a lot of fairly blatant racism in US media, e.g., pundits talking about how the Japanese imitated US innovations but didn’t come up with their own ideas. The idea was that the Japanese are just so good & efficient at copying that they beat ‘us’, despite our brilliance, and as a result of our good nature & the post-WW2 reconstruction. I’m sure the racism in that media coverage has been analyzed half to death elsewhere. And I don’t want to have to point it out, but the same themes popped up in this article: the Chinese are doing mass production, they’re very good at copying, etc. And they’re a threat: “China is creating a fast-growing army of trained artists”. (An army of artists. … Hmm. Sounds pretty good, to me, and probably a hell of a lot cheaper, not to mention safer, than an army of, err, armed soldiers.)

Questions of originality, authenticity, quality, the definition and value of art, aesthetics, ethnically identifiable schools of art, etc., are elided through smirky punctuation with an unpleasant racial undertone: The author politely refrains from discussing the ‘quality’ of the Chinese copies, while making his opinion known through the scare quotes around ‘quality’. This is a perfect entree to a point about one person’s art being another person’s garbage liner, and might have been useful in an article about mass art oil paintings. Instead the ‘quality’ line gets dropped into a section to further contrast between Chinese art (industrial-style, copied) and American art (original). No mention here of the ‘quality’ of the American hotel-art industry’s output. And check out the headline: Someone, the author or the editor, entitled the article “Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art!”. ‘Real’? ‘Western Art’? Where to begin. I don’t mind a business article not getting into the fine points of what makes art Art, but don’t furtively raise the issues in a racist context through the use of snide punctuation.

And then there’s the discussion of copyright, which plays into a new wine, old bottles theme in the business press: “Oh these Asian countries are so bad! They don’t respect our copyrights!”

Exporters of Chinese paintings say that even though the paintings often imitate well-known works of art, the copies are inherently different because they are handmade, and so do not violate copyrights.

Robert Panzer, the executive director of the Visual Artists and Galleries Association, a trade group based in New York, disagreed. He said that the vast majority of paintings produced before the 20th century were in the public domain and could be freely copied and sold. But it is not legal to sell a painting that appears to a reasonable person like a copy of a more recent, copyrighted work, he said.

The old bottles for this new w(h)ine? Still the same old racism-tinged stories from the 70s & 80s: Asian countries are bad! bad! and they’re hurting our business interests. What’s so sad about this particular whine is that it’s just sort of tossed in the mix to further taint the Chinese mass-art industry with Badness; the copyright material is almost completely gratuitous to the article. Nowhere in the article, for instance, does it describe any instances of a Western painting, still under copyright, that was actually duplicated. Nor are the copyright concerns ever discussed in the context of the US mass-art industry: if the US mass-art industry used to be such hot shit, then how did they deal with copyright issues attaching to not-very-original hotel art? China might like to know! But no — the copyright issue isn’t seriously discussed; it’s just tossed in, perhaps by order of editor, to lengthen a too-short piece.

So when writing a business story about mass art, why not just throw in some gratuitous discussion of the Bad Bad Chinese Communist Copiers? Everyone else does. Coverage of international copyright markets and issues is subtly infused with a significant racial dynamic. It’s not like I came up with this half-baked idea on my own — I came up with it after years of reading the same stories over and over and over again. Eventually, after reading yet one more article about how a developing nation is thumbing its nose at US copyright imperialism (ahem), I cottoned to the fact that I had read a lot more articles about Asian copyright infringement than any other kind.

I bet anyone else following these issues in the US has too. Consider how often we hear about the thriving Asian & South/Central American markets for illegally copied works (usually videos and recorded music). Those brown people sure are bad, disrespecting our copyrights and hurting our native copyright industries! Contrast the badness of people of color with the similarly thriving market in Russia & Poland, nations peopled with people of pallor. The only significant media coverage these markets got in recent memory was when the entertainment industry decided to drop its prices in Russia to compete with the ‘black’ market. ** Or what about Norway? It just doesn’t get any whiter than Norway, which not only has ‘black’ markets in copyrighted goods, but whose court system declared that Jon Lech Johansen, teen auteur of DeCSS, was A-okay. Finland is a veritable outlaw nation! Surely the press ‘tars’ the Finnish with the brush of piracy? Not.

The MPAA, god bless its tiny little nonracist copyright maximalist heart, wants to target all ‘pirate’ nations, including “Brazil, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Thailand.” (2003/Feb/16) The MPAA was particularly concerned with Russia and South Africa. But a LexisNexis Academic search for “(copyright w/5 (piracy or pirate)) AND (china or asia or korea)” in the business & finance section of the news returned 831 hits; whereas the same search, replacing the countries with (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway) produced 66 articles; adding in africa (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway or africa) doubled the results to bring us to 130. (4 of the first 25 articles of this set headline only Asian countries!) Alas, I couldn’t really do a full-Asian search, which would have also included India, Pakistan, etc.; the Academic LexisNexis subscription I am using rejected search sets with over a thousand results. Media coverage of international copyright infringement and international markets in copyright infringed works seems to focus disproportionately on Asian nations.

It’s a convenient story for the American business press, after all. The Asian copyright violation story fits the larger narrative of an Asian threat to US industries, and simultaneously reinforces the image of unoriginal but but frighteningly efficient Asian copyists.

… So, okay, another bad article in a series of largely bad business articles about the entertainment industry and copyright infringement over the years. But the NYT ran this particular bad article simultaneously with another article, profiling an artist who truly is outright copying art, and not just public domain or arguably barely original works, but works that are famous, recognizable, and still under copyright restrictions. (Okay, possibly still barely original.)

From the copyright critical perspective, “Imitations That Transcend” was certainly better than “Original Chinese Copies”. “Imitations That Transcend” profiled Richard Pettibone, an artist who is grappling with questions of originality and the definition of art. By contrast, “Original Chinese Copies” alludes to copyright infringement as a means of villification of a competitive industry.

Of course, “Imitations That Transcend” is not without its problems. It mentions numerous male artists but neglects to mention virtually any female artists. Not surprising, perhaps: as the Guerilla Girls have long documented, even in the 21st century sexism flourishes within the art world. And as so much of the NYT’s writing, article describes the artistic ambitions of the art without actually engaging the ambition or analyzing them. I found that particularly ironic in an Arts article about an artist who deconstructs Art.

But it was the juxtaposition of “Imitations That Transcend” with “Original Chinese Copies” that really caught my eye, as a real-time demonstration of everything that was wrong with these articles, and, for that matter, a real-time demonstration also of Richard Pettibone’s alleged concerns with the definition of art and ideas, too. It’s too perfect. In the Arts section, we get a self-important article describing Real Art, but completely neglecting to actually connect the issues within the Art to any real world concerns or indeed any actual engagement with the issues the subject Artist purports to raise. And in the Business section, we get cheap villification of people of color (mere copiests in an ‘army’ warring against Fine American Art and artists’ colonies), softened by some gentle condescension of the Chinese artists’ individual human ambitions. Top it all off by the polite use of punctuation to allude to commentary without actually giving any: the ‘quality’ of the art is scare quoted, in lieu of actual discussion. And the ultimate irony, ‘Real Western Art!’ is given pride of place in the headline.

Hey, who needs artists to create irony, when you have the NYT editors.


* 3D Glasses of Power! Get them today! Feminism! Antiracism! Copyright Criticism! Knowledge is power, and with the 3D Glasses of Power!, you will have all the knowledge you can handle!

** Arrggh! [Tearing my hair out in frustration.] ‘Black’ market, indeed.