Archive for August 3rd, 2007

03
Aug
07

A SLAPP in the face of a fair legal system…

I read an interesting article about the MPAA and RIAA strategy for dealing with copyright infringment and, in particular, file sharing:

Going up against big guns
For insight into how tough it is to oppose the entertainment sector, consider the conclusions of some long-shot copyright cases Rothken worked on: RecordTV and ReplayTV ran out of funds before their cases were heard, and MP3Board.com settled.

There’s no telling whether the start-ups would have survived had their cases gone to trial, but Rothken argues that shouldering legal fees and bad press didn’t help.

Applying financial pressure is only part of Hollywood’s strategy, Rothken said. Another tactic is to sue founders as well as their companies. In 2000, the RIAA filed a copyright suit against MP3Board.com, a music-file search engine, as well as the company’s founders.

Instead of risking their own income, the operators of MP3Board.com settled the case and decided to stop linking to MP3 files, Rothken said.

“I can’t say what the MPAA’s strategy is,” said Gary Fung, founder of IsoHunt, a TorrentSpy rival and Rothken client who also is being sued by the MPAA for copyright infringement. “But they do know they have more time and money than we do.” – [C/Net News]

There is no doubt that file sharing technologies have contributed to the illegal piracy of music and video. I also cannot argue that the MPAA and the RIAA have a right to file suits against those who decide to share copyrighted works illegally. That being said, this is decidedly not what they are doing. They have taken the decidedly unrealistic approach of attacking the technologies rather than the people doing the file sharing.

The various entertainment associations have sued numerous torrent tracker sites, on the basis that they are helping promote illegal file sharing. Now it may just be me but this seems to me no better than suing the gun industry for the common use of firearms in the commission of crime, or automobile makers for the high incidence of drinking and driving. And as usual, those who use the technology for legitimate purposes are always the ones to suffer.

What is even more distressing to me is not simply the fact that these suits are brought at all, but rather the strategies being used to win these suits. Rather than relying on the strength of the case, the RIAA and MPAA have begun a the methodical practice of SLAPPing defendants into submission. The SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, is designed to ensure a settlement not by virtue of any legal argument, but by wearing down the defendants financial resources until they are unable to afford to continue their defense.

This to me, is the ultimate abuse of the legal system. The fact that this type of activity is legally allowed to happen should be a cause of great concern, even for law abiding American businesses and citizens, because it means that the outcome of future suit brought against you may not be determined by the validity or legal strength of the suit, but rather by who has the most money. And that situation is fundamentally anathema to the concept of a fair and equitable legal system.

TorrentSpy lawyer battling ‘copyright extremism’ – [C/Net News]

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03
Aug
07

Is fair use still legal?

Given what the big entertainment companies are being allowed to do nowadays, as well as the actions of US government agencies, it makes me wonder. Consider this article:

U.S. customs agents raided 32 homes and businesses early Wednesday, searching for hardware that allows pirated video games to play on the popular PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Wii consoles.

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, the search warrants were served in 16 states, including California, Illinois, New York, and Texas as agents looked for evidence of the importation, sale, and distribution of the modification devices made overseas and smuggled into the country.

The so-called “mod chips” and “swap discs” targeted by the searches let gamers play pirated titles or counterfeit copies on Sony’s PlayStation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360, and Nintendo’s Wii video game machines. – [InfoWorld]

Now there is another possible reason to have a modded console system that the big entertainment companies, (and apparently, U.S. Customs officials) have conveniently (or intentionally) ignored. The ability to play backup copies of games you already own on your modded console station.

I find it irritating that if we legally and legitimately buy, say, a game for a console system. we cannot copy it store the original and play the backup in order to protect the original from wear, tear and other miscellaneous abuse. In other words, if the disc becomes scratched or damaged beyond repair, we are forced to buy a new copy of the game in order to play. I’m sure this works out great for game and console manufacturers, but the consumers are getting the shaft.

Why have the big entertainment industries been allowed to deny the consumers the right to engage in a common sense action that allow the consumer to protect their investment? Because of piracy? Why must the consumers be the one to bear the cost of piracy? The business is the one that is supposed to bear the risks of being in business, not the consumers.

Instead, they have become ever more restrictive and inflexible and blame piracy for their rigidity when any thinking human being can easily ascertain that there is no simple objective correlation between piracy and business losses. Piracy (even of the rampant variety) does not equate to lost sales. Pirates are not guaranteed to (and in many cases cannot afford to) buy the products they pirate, and to stipulate otherwise is simply faulty logic and wishful thinking.

And yet they get away with more and more infringements upon the fair use of their products by their legitimate consumers in the name of piracy. Where does their tyranny end, and the rights of legitimate consumers begin? That’s what I’d like to know.

Feds raid video-game ‘modders’ in 16 states – [InfoWorld]

03
Aug
07

Yet another excuse to V-parent…

Technology is great, but is not the answer to everything. Especially not parenting. So I am always skeptical when I see things like this:

The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation Thursday asking the Federal Communications Commission to oversee the development of a super V-chip that could screen content on everything from cell phones to the Internet.

“It’s an uphill battle for parents trying to protect their kids from viewing inappropriate programming,” Pryor said. “I believe there is a whole new generation of technology that can provide an additional layer of help for these parents.”

A third bill that aims to regulate violent content much the same as indecent speech is expected to be introduced soon. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has plans to introduce the anti-violence bill, but it was unclear when. – [Reuters]

OK. For me, the biggest issue here is not what is or is not showing on the radio, TV, internet or other electronic media. It is the fact that we seem to keep coming up with new ways to “help” parents control what their kids watch, when the truth of the matter is that, unless you keep your kids locked in an RF shielded concrete bunker with no electricity, and no communication lines in or out, they will be exposed to things that you may not want them to be.

All of these things, rating systems, censorship, content screening are, at best, crutches for what I feel the real problem is. Americans don’t know how to parent any more. When I was growing up, I saw all kinds of violence (of both the real-life and gratuitous movie variety), bad language, sexually explicit movies, etc. And yet I do not swear like a sailor, drink, smoke, do drugs, have 25 kids by 7 different women, and (to my knowledge) have not stabbed, shot, run over or otherwise maimed or killed anyone lately.

And I believe I know why. Because my parents taught me not to. It is that simple. When I was growing up, I learned, by example, observation and numerous conversations, what constituted good and bad behavior, what was right, what was wrong and why. Now I’m not saying that either I or my parents were/are perfect. Far from it. We were all flawed, as humans beings often are. In fact as I grew older and learned to think for myself, I found I disagreed with many of the things they taught me. But at least they taught me the basics.

Nowadays parenting seems to be a constant struggle between working long hours to make enough money to feed the kids, and either parking them in front of a computer, video game, or TV, so you can get at a measly few hours of sleep before going back to work, or handing them off to someone else to take care of them while you are gone. We are no longer parenting our kids, we are simply housing them until they are of age. The average American doesn’t spend enough time with their kids. Not enough transfer of knowledge occurs, and as a result they don’t properly learn the lessons of right and wrong.

But an even more disturbing trend is that, even when there is sufficient time to engage the children, they often learn the wrong lessons. I come across a video on YouTube the other day showing a father video taping himself insulting someone, with some rather salty language, in front of his kids. Now I recognize that everyones parenting style is different, but I can assure you that if we all adopt the “anything goes” approach in the parenting of our kids, and pay no regard to how we behave around them, then what they see on the TV will be the least of our problems as a nation. We cannot teach our kids tolerance, patience, kindness, generosity, love or any of the values we claim to hold dear, if we do not practice these values ourselves.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. School massacres, snipers, gang violence, kids killing kids, these things do not occur in a vacuum. It is the culture that we have created that is breeding these kids. And as much as I hate to say it, it is not the fault of the media. It is our society that is at fault. And the sooner we recognize that and stop wasting energy on trying to control the inconsequential byproducts of our warped society, like violence in the media, and focus on ourselves and our issues, the sooner we will properly be able to figure out, as a nation, how to handle this growing crises.

IMHO, these silly “V-chips” are yet another useless weapon in an endless battle that we will never win, because we have failed to properly identify our enemy: Ourselves.

It’s super V-chip to the rescue of kids – [Reuters]

03
Aug
07

China Regulates Reincarnation…

The following is an excerpt from a rather unusual article:

Tibetan living Buddhas are no longer allowed to be reincarnated without permission from the atheist Chinese government, state media reported Friday.

The new rules are “an important move to institutionalise the management of reincarnation of living Buddhas,” the Xinhua news agency said.

According to the regulations, which take effect on September 1, all reincarnation applications must be submitted to religious affairs officials for approval, Xinhua said.

China is ruled by the Communist Party, which, despite being officially atheist, maintains strict controls over Tibetan Buddhism and all other religions.

Now I know China is probably one of the most highly regulated countries in the world, but isn’t this going a little too far? And obviously they are willing to go to great lengths in order to maintain control. The second half of the article is probably the best evidence of exactly how far they are willing to go to keep it.

Living Buddhas are an important element in Tibetan Buddhism, forming a clergy of influential religious figures who are believed to be continuously reincarnated to take up their positions anew.

Often there is more than one candidate competing to be recognised as the actual reincarnation, and the authority to decide who is the true claimant carries significant power.

This is especially true in the case of the Panchen Lama, the second-most influential figure in Tibetan Buddhism behind the Dalai Lama.

Chinese authorities detained the Dalai Lama’s choice as the Panchen Lama in 1995 when the boy was six years old, and he has not been seen in public since.

The Chinese government’s choice as the Panchen Lama has meanwhile been paraded around the country in recent years to promote China’s rule over his homeland. – [Yahoo/AFP]

When an atheist state decides to sequester religious icons, and elect their own, you know they are seriously hell bent on control by any means necessary. And China knows how to do it better than anyone. Government regulation at it’s finest…

China tells Tibet’s living Buddhas to apply for reincarnation– [Yahoo/AFP]

03
Aug
07

Corporate America is breeding bad Americans…

The dog-eat-dog world of Corporate America is a typical example of what happens when you create an establishment whose only goal is to make money. This article seems to underline the problem with business employee evaluations based purely on a persons ability to make money:

 How do people get ahead in the workplace? One way seems to be by making their subordinates miserable, according to a study released Friday.

In the study to be presented at a conference on management this weekend, almost two-thirds of the 240 participants in an online survey said the local workplace tyrant was either never censured or was promoted for domineering ways.

“The fact that 64.2 percent of the respondents indicated that either nothing at all or something positive happened to the bad leader is rather remarkable — remarkably disturbing,” wrote the study’s authors, Anthony Don Erickson, Ben Shaw and Zha Agabe of Bond University in Australia. -[Reuters]

It would appear that business entities appear to be held to a much looser standard of humanity that are individual human beings. As a business entity, they are often allowed to indulge in actions that would have been considered unethical, hostile, or downright violent had the same actions been taken by one person against another. All in the name of the Almighty Dollar.

The problem is that businesses are not lifeless entities. They are not run by automatons. They are run by living, breathing people. Every unethical or inhumane corporate decision is made by human beings, and allowing businesses to operate without regard for the needs of other human beings is the same as allowing the individuals running the company to operate above the laws of humanity.

It is no surprise then, that people who make money, even at the cost of others, are often rewarded and rise up in the ranks of corporate America, while those who try to act with the well being of others in mind are penalized. But we really need to consider the long term social cost of this way of thinking. If we create employees whose only goal is the acquisition of wealth, with no regard to the health and well being of their fellow man, will we not eventually end up with communities of these very same kind of people?

Is that the kind of America we really want to create?

Bad bosses get promoted, not punished? – [Reuters]

03
Aug
07

Forget OLPC! Wealthy mexican man does OSPV…

OK so OSPV is my made up acronym for “One School Per village.” But this article, I think, demonstrates the right way to help developing or impoverished nations learn to stand on thier own. And interestingly, it does not involve every child getting a laptop…

Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim, who is estimated by some calculations to be wealthier than Microsoft founder Bill Gates, said Thursday he did not care if he was the world’s richest person.

“It’s water off a duck’s back to me,” the cigar-smoking Slim told foreign correspondents. “I don’t know if I’m No. 1, No. 20, or No. 2,000. It doesn’t matter.”

 Slim, 67, told foreign journalists at a luncheon on Thursday that making sure his job was compatible with his family or personal life was more important than his wealth.

 Slim said Thursday his charitable foundations planned to invest $300 million in the next few years to build 100 schools in poor regions of Mexico that will focus on digital education. The plan would later be expanded throughout Latin America. – [Reuters]

Mr. Slim appears to be a man who is in touch with the people he is trying to help and has  a good understanding of what is truly needed. No gimmicks, no fancy schmancy technological baubles, nothing that is not self sustainable. Just straight-up education. That’s is what is really needed. A tip of the hat to you sir, a tip of the hat…

I don’t care if I’m richest in world… – [Reuters]

03
Aug
07

U.S. Patents “Out of Bounds” or “Sheer lunacy”?

A recent article attempted to describe the procedural war zone that the patent process has become:

 The U.S. patent system has veered off course and is being abused, executives of three top technology companies said Wednesday.

The problems include damages that are too great, patents for insignificant innovations and poor quality patents that haven’t been researched enough, participants said in a panel discussion at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit in Palo Alto, California.

“The patent system, right now, is tilting out of bounds,” said Chip Lutton, chief patent counsel at Apple Inc. He compared the situation to a bubble market, as companies buy up patents just to use them to get overinflated awards. Courts have failed to rein in these speculators, he said. – [Yahoo/PCWorld]

The patent process in the US has simply failed to keep up with the technology. More importantly, it has failed to properly address the specifics of what defines new technology, and what criteria needs to be met in order for a company to be able to patent these new technologies. As a result, the patent system has been the target of unbelievable levels of abuse.

As I pointed out in a recent post. There are some companies whose only purpose is to patent as many ideas as possible, wait for another company to invest the time, energy and funds to make the idea work, then make a healthy payday by filing patent infringement suits.

The entire patent system needs an overhaul. I believe there is a use and place for patents, but as it currently stands, the patent system no longer functions, and no longer protects the risk takers and true industry innovators. It has been turned into an easy way for those who can’t to make money of the backs of those who do.

I don’t think the phrase “tilting out of bounds” properly captures what is going on. I think the patent process is far beyond bounds. I think it as crossed over to the realm of lunacy, and been completely out of control and for at least a decade and half now…

U.S. Patent System ‘Tilting Out of Bounds’ – [Yahoo/PCWorld]




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