by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 7:38am
by Tim Cushing
Wed, May 15th 2013 1:53pm
VP Joe Biden Believes There's 'No Legal Reason' The Government Can't Slap A Sin Tax On 'Violent Media'
from the brain-disengaged,-all-power-rerouted-to-mouth dept
I'm not sure where vice president Joe Biden is getting his information, but he seems rather confident that a tax can be levied against "violent media." He may want to check with the Supreme Court, which has ruled against regulating violent video games and found taxing certain varieties of speech differently to be a violation of the First Amendment.
Possibly Biden just got carried away with the jovial spirit of censorship pervading the post-Sandy Hook political climate. Or maybe he was just in an overly-agreeable mood and started making affirmative statements without considering what he was saying.
Or maybe he was just "playing to the crowd," which was entirely comprised of reps for various religious/community groups.
Those present for the Monday evening meeting included Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Barrett Duke, the vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm.This is not to say that all members (or even all representatives) of religious communities are censorious or prone to pushing their subjective morality on others. There are several exceptions. Franklin Graham, however, isn't one of the exceptions.
The meeting also included Bruce Reed, Biden’s chief of staff, and Melissa Rogers, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, according to people who attended.
Graham, two people in the meeting said, told Biden the government should consider taxing media companies that broadcast violent images and produce violent video games.Let's stop here for a moment and take a look at this proposal, possibly in the way that might befit a nation's Vice President.
He floated the idea that media and entertainment that portray violence should be subject to a special tax, with the proceeds going to help victims and their families," said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
First off, the idea is bad and Graham should feel bad. As was mentioned above, applying additional tax to certain forms of speech is a clear violation of free speech rights. The government would be applying this tax to whatever it arbitrarily deemed "violent" enough to qualify for the "sin tax." (This is really what this amounts to -- a tax on certain speech and, indirectly, certain consumer behavior.)
Secondly, the direct flow of tax revenue from "violent media" to "victims and their families" makes an implicit connection between the two principals. This links the two in the government's eyes and in the public's eyes. This also handily allows the government to dodge the fact that there is very little, if any, explicit connection between "violent media" and violence. In essence, this presumes guilt on violent media creators and punishes them for exceeding some arbitrarily acceptable "violence" threshold.
Then there's perhaps the most troubling aspect: who decides what amount of violence is non-taxable and where does that line get crossed? If it's a PG-13 film, does it go untaxed? Does any M-rated game immediately have the tax applied? Will game developers and filmmakers explore other paths, like explicit sexuality, simply because violence gets taxed and sex doesn't? Or will they, more likely, adapt to the new chilling effect and produce stunted, sanitized output?
There are other questions to consider as well. With the consumers footing the bill for violent movies and games, will this price hike affect purchases by attaching some sort of stigma to the products themselves? Would the government label these items with something like: "2% of this purchase goes to victims of violence," thus making consumers feel complicit in violent criminal activity simply by purchasing the media?
[Bonus: will the MPAA be involved? It is one of Biden's buddies and its rating system is built on one of the most bizarrely abitrary set of 'standards' in the entertainment industry.]
These are just a few aspects that should be considered before anyone even brings the subject up, much less offers Vice Presidential-backing for the idea. But Biden seems almost charmingly naive in his response:
Biden told Graham that there was “no restriction on the ability to do that, there’s no legal reason why they couldn’t” tax violent images, Clark added.I'm guessing at this point someone has gotten word to Biden that there's actually at least one legal reason the government can't tax "violent images," because there has been no further word from either proponent of this terrible idea.
Graham’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment. Biden’s office also did not respond to requests to comment about the meeting.Maybe Biden felt this conversation would never leave the room and therefore felt comfortable making ridiculous claims. He certainly appears to have tried to chill a little free speech himself.
Five people who attended the 2½-hour meeting told POLITICO that Biden made a specific plea to those present to keep his words off the record from reporters.Well, that's a nice out to have. I guess we'll see if the "I was misquoted/comment was off the record" excuse gets run up the flagpole sometime soon. If it doesn't, we might be safe in assuming that, no matter what conclusions the CDC reaches in its study of violence and violent media, Biden and like-minded supporters will be moving forward with their reinterpretations of the First Amendment.
“He basically just said in general that these stakeholder meetings that if you put words into the vice president’s mouth it sometimes comes out wrong and gets misquoted,” said Shantha Alonso, the director of the poverty program at the National Council of Churches.
(h/t to Techdirt reader Colin for sending this our way. Not sure which Colin it is as multiple Colins come up in the search, but he knows who he is and can certainly take credit for the tip in the comment section.)
by Glyn Moody
Wed, May 15th 2013 3:25am
from the maybe-they-won't-notice dept
It will hardly come as a surprise to anyone to learn that a popular writer and well-known critic of China's pervasive censorship system has run into trouble for his views. Fortunately, in this case that doesn't mean getting arrested, but nonetheless involves quite a dramatic slapdown:
The online Sina Weibo microblogging account of Murong Xuecun, one of China's most popular writers and one of the country's foremost critics of censorship, has been deleted from the site, suspected to be part of the government's efforts to crack down on online rumors by targeting high-profile users.
The Global Voices story quoted above goes on to describe the ways in which some of those 1.1 million followers have reacted, and how many feel that Sina Weibo is diminished by Murong's absence. It also points out that all of his posts have been preserved and are available -- but on the other side of the Great Firewall of China (GFW). Although only those with the requisite technical know-how to tunnel under the GFW using VPNs will be able to access the now-deleted messages, that doesn't mean the Chinese authorities have really won here. After all, using censorship to silence a critic of censorship means that his 1.1 million (ex-)followers now have definitive proof of what he was warning them about.
Murong's account, which had more than 1.1 million followers, was taken down from the Twitter-link website on May 11, 2013. His writing as well as his microblogging discusses social issues in contemporary China such as corruption and media censorship.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, May 14th 2013 2:51pm
from the yum! dept
* Also, please make your mean-spirited censorship pie before the trademark application on that name goes through and we all have to find another name.
After Muzzling Librarians And Scientists, Now Canada Starts Making It Difficult For Citizens To Express Their Views
from the coincidence?-I-don't-think-so dept
Last month, Techdirt wrote about the requirement for librarians employed by the Canadian government to self-censor their opinions, even in private. This came in the wake of similar restrictions being placed on government scientists. We pointed out that this kind of muzzling created a really bad precedent that might one day even be extended to the public. It seems that moment has come sooner than expected:
New undemocratic rules are creating a barrier to public participation in upcoming National Energy Board (NEB) hearings into the proposal for Enbridge's Line 9 oil pipeline. For the first time, members of the public who want to send a letter with comments to the NEB about a pipeline project must first apply for permission to participate -- by filling out a 10-page form that includes a request for a resume and references.
The National Energy Board reports to the Minister of Natural Resources Canada, and describes itself as follows:
an independent federal agency established in 1959 by the Parliament of Canada to regulate international and interprovincial aspects of the oil, gas and electric utility industries. The purpose of the NEB is to regulate pipelines, energy development and trade in the Canadian public interest.
Making permission to submit a letter conditional on filling in a 10-page form and sending a resume and references first is clearly an attempt to make the process so onerous that only lobbyists paid to do so will bother to go through with it. That's exactly the opposite of most consultations, which seek to encourage comments from as wide a range of people as possible by making the actual mechanics easy. It's particularly galling that these serious obstacles to participation should have been placed by a body tasked with working "in the Canadian public interest": if the public can't make their voices heard, how can the NEB claim to serve them?
Taken together with earlier moves, this latest ploy by a federal agency seems a part of an wider campaign to shut down public debate in Canada. Few politicians like to be criticized, or have the weaknesses of their plans exposed, but a country where people find it increasingly hard to express their views on government proposals is starting to take a dangerous road.
Wed, Apr 24th 2013 5:15am
from the fapping-on-the-job dept
As someone who looks to humor to get through news items I don't like, it's been difficult to find much laughter in China's use of it's so-called "Great Firewall". Censorship being as awful as it is, the resulting stories about it tend to be sober attempts by American companies to nudge the country towards the right side of history, or the hypocrisy of those committing the censorship. It's difficult to find much humor there.
But then, as it always seems to happen, those committing the bad acts come to the rescue. Censorship via automation can only go so far, after all, a fact which gives us what is quite possibly the greatest open job listing of all time. The listing identifies the role to be filled as the "Chief Pornographic Identification Officer" for the "League of Security."
Job Title: Chief Pornographic Identification Officer
Work Location: Beijing
Compensation: 200,000 RMB (US$32,300) yearly
Job Description: Rapid Determination of Adult Sites
Requirements:Read it, learn it, love it: the Chinese want to pay someone $32k a year to surf for porn on the internet and have the greatest job title in the history of labor. Even better are the benefits, which include full insurance, communication expenses, daily fruit and yogurt, and bonuses on birthdays and weddings. That last one immediately poses the question of who could possibly have time for love with all that porn to be surfed? Regardless, interest in the job post has been...severe.
1) Must be familiar with the standard of adult content from around the world
2) Must be familiar with China’s law standards regarding adult content, familiar with documented regulations
3) Must be familiar with the standards for adult content on China’s internet and it’s service providers
4) Regardless of gender, must be college graduate from 25-35 years old
5) Must have a strong sense of responsibility and work well in a team
The security company who put this job advert out, Anquan Lianmeng (League of Security) said that they received thousands of applications within two days of posting. Many of which had come in from outside of the country. It’s no surprise considering the description.Shocking indeed. Or China could, you know, just pocket their $32k and all that yogurt and start treating their citizens like adults.
by Tim Cushing
Mon, Apr 22nd 2013 11:59am
from the considering-the-Bostonian-'spirit,'-it's-amazing-it-was-just-the-one dept
At times, there's no one in a more unenviable position than the chairman of the FCC. When not dealing with larger issues like net neutrality and wireless competition, you're at the beck and call of every member of an Overly Concerned Citizens' Group that feels the need to start a letter-writing campaign any time an expletive hits the airwaves.
Bono fired off an f-bomb at the Grammys and someone let Nicole Richie make the most of her what-am-I-for fame by giving her a microphone and allowing her to explain how difficult removing cow shit from a Prada purse is. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has twice found the FCC's rules on so-called "fleeting expletives" to be a violation of the First Amendment. That, of course, matters little to angry letter writers who somehow believe The Children will be encouraged to swear by potty-mouthed celebs.
(As if every 8-year-old in the nation wasn't using these words already. I don't remember exactly when I started swearing but I do remember the first time I got busted for it: 4th grade. This may seem precocious [or developmentally-challenged -- YMMV], but keep in mind that Tim Geigner fired off his first expletive sometime during his second trimester.)
Do-gooders on one side, real people on the other. In between, the FCC stands as a porous bulwark against inadvertent live sweariness. It can't stop it. It can't even hope to contain it. And when someone hits the airwaves during a celebratory event following a horrible tragedy, chances are they're going to speak freely. And by "freely," I mean they'll be using the sort of language that most Americans use when emotionally charged.
It was, in five words, the encapsulation of a city's defiance – bowed, but never broken. Not even close. It also happened to be NSFW (not safe for work). Or children. Or anyone in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.Normally, this sort of casual swearing would net the offending network a $1 million fine (which would then be thrown out by the court). Not this time. Instead, FCC head Julius Genachowski took to the new face of journalism -- Twitter -- and declared his (and his office's) solidarity with the people of Boston.
It was the declaration by legendary Red Sox slugger David Ortiz in pregame ceremonies Saturday, which were broadcast nationwide.
"This is our f------ city, and nobody's going to dictate our freedom."
David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today's Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston - Julius— The FCC (@FCC) April 20, 2013
Perhaps Genachowski, with one foot out the door, preferred to leave on a high note and with his (and Boston's) dignity intact. An incoming FCC head may reverse Genachowski's Twittered decision, but that person would need a heart of stone and a lobotomy to pursue any action against the network for airing a triumphant, cathartic speech unedited. Perhaps the classiest thing to do would be to let it ride and maybe throw JG a Boston-style parting gift.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Apr 16th 2013 3:12pm
from the talk-about-inconvenience dept
While Med Express did express regret (while noting that some other customers had seen the same problem) and offered to reimburse the postage due, it also asked her to remove the negative review. However, as she noted, it wasn't the money issue, but the inconvenience, so she decided to leave her feedback up. At this point, Med Express and its lawyer, James Amodio, apparently decided that if she didn't like "inconvenience" it would subject her to more inconvenience and sued her for defamation in state court in Ohio and sought a temporary restraining order against eBay to block the review. While that failed, apparently the judge is allowing a hearing to happen for a preliminary injunction even though (as Levy points out) the same reason the TRO was rejected should apply to any preliminary injunction.
Amazingly, the complaint directly lays out the pretty clear fact that it's suing her for not removing a truthful review. They don't even attempt to argue that she said anything false or defamatory. Just that they feel she shouldn't have complained since they offered to reimburse.
This is where Levy, a former colleague of a relative of the customer in this case, Amy Nicholls, reached out to Amodio to point out that the lawsuit was a complete joke. Amodio's response is somewhat stunning, in that, according to Levy, he more or less admitted that he was filing a nuisance lawsuit:
I contacted James Amodio, Med Express’s lawyer, to explain to him the many ways in which his lawsuit is untenable. He readily admitted that, as the complaint admits, everything that the customer had posted in her feedback was true; he did not deny that a statement has to be false to be actionable as defamation; but he just plain didn’t care. To the contrary, he told me that I could come up to Medina, Ohio, and argue whatever I might like, but that the case was going to continue unless the feedback was taken down or changed to positive. And he explained why his client was insisting on this change — he said that it sells exclusively over eBay, where a sufficient level of negative feedback can increase the cost of such sales as well as possibly driving away customersYet another case of felony interference with a business model, apparently, except in this case the company and the lawyer seem to be fine with abusing defamation law to stop a truthful review from appearing online because it might hurt them. Of course, suing a customer seems like the sort of thing likely to lead to significantly more negative feedback and fewer people willing to buy from them. Yes, a negative review can suck, but suing over it, while admitting that you don't really care about all the reasons that the lawsuit is censorious crap, is taking things to another level entirely.
As Levy notes, if a "public spirited lawyer in that part of Ohio" wants to take up a case to stand up for free speech and against censorious attacks, here's an opening.
Wed, Apr 10th 2013 8:02pm
from the tibet-or-not-tibet dept
It isn't news that Apple's app store is a garden with some mighty high, awfully arbitrary walls. Whether Apple is rejecting developer's apps on the grounds of profanity or subject matter, the fact is that the reasoning for these takedowns is a thinly veiled form of what I call "Apple morality". Swearing is bad for kids, or kids shouldn't have access to games about war. Definitely no nudity. These, business practices or not, are all moral claims. We might disagree with their version of morality, but that's what it is.
Which is why I'd be curious to hear Apple's reasoning for taking down an app in China that allowed users to read books about Tibet. The company claimed that they did so because that content is illegal in China, of course.
The app, "jingdian shucheng", offered access to ten books via the iPhone and iPad. Mr Hao said he believed three titles by Wang Lixiong, a political writer and activist, had prompted the ban, according to The Financial Times. Mr Wang is a prominent critic of Chinese policy in Tibet.Here's the problem: if you're going to take a moral stance in the rest of the world, you need to take one in China as well. Bowing to pressures to censor speech in China would not square with any flavor of morality. On the other hand, were Apple to stick to their "it's illegal" reason for taking the app down, then they need to come out and explain the other examples of takedowns above, since those are not illegal. It seems to me that Apple wants to apply their "Apple morality" everywhere...until a dollar is introduced.
Concern over Apple’s weakness in the booming Chinese smartphone market has been seen by investors as a potential problem for its continued growth. It has been a major cause of a share price slump in recent months that has forced Mr Cook to repeatedly defend his strategy. The firm has been repeatedly rumoured to be developing a cheaper iPhone designed to court Chinese consumers but it has not yet revealed its plans.In other words, rather than try to push the Chinese to stop censoring, as others have, Apple is selling their convictions down the Huang He river in favor of money. Nice going, guys.
by Glyn Moody
Mon, Apr 8th 2013 5:39am
French Intelligence Agency Forces Wikipedia Volunteer to Delete Article; Re-Instated, It Becomes Most-Read Page On French Wikipedia
from the not-so-clever dept
Last week, we wrote about an organization that was unhappy that a Wikipedia article no longer existed. Now we have the opposite problem: an organization unhappy because a Wikipedia article does exist. And not just any organization, but the
"Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intéieur" (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, DCRI), a French intelligence agency, which suddenly decided that an article about a military base contained classified information, and wanted it deleted. As the English-language Wikipedia article on the subject explains:
The Wikimedia Foundation asked the intelligence agency what precise part(s) of the article were a problem in the eyes of the intelligence agency, noting that the article closely reflected information in a freely available television broadcast. The DCRI refused to give these details, and repeated its demand for deletion of the article.
Wikipedia refused to delete it, and then things took a nasty turn, as a press release from the Wikimedia Foundation explains:
Unhappy with the Foundation's answer, the DCRI summoned a Wikipedia volunteer in their offices on April 4th. This volunteer, which was one of those having access to the tools that allow the deletion of pages, was forced to delete the article while in the DCRI offices, on the understanding that he would have been held in custody and prosecuted if he did not comply. Under pressure, he had no other choice than to delete the article, despite explaining to the DCRI this is not how Wikipedia works.
As the Wikimedia Foundation goes on to note:
This volunteer had no link with that article, having never edited it and not even knowing of its existence before entering the DCRI offices. He was chosen and summoned because he was easily identifiable, given his regular promotional actions of Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in France.
This is very similar to the situation discussed last week, where Benjamin Mako Hill seems to have been targeted because he, too, was easily identifiable. As we noted then, putting pressure on Wikipedia volunteers in this way is extremely problematic, since it naturally discourages others from helping out. As Wikimedia wrote in its press release:
Wikimedia France cannot understand how bullying and coercitive methods can be used against a person dedicated to promote the freedom and knowledge. As Wikimedia France supports free knowledge, it is its duty to denounce such acts of censorship against a French citizen and Wikipedia editor.
There is also the interesting question of how a national intelligence service only found out about the article now, several years after it was first added: this hardly suggests a firm grasp of what's happening in the online world. That's confirmed by the fact that the deleted article is, of course, back on line, in French and a dozen other languages. Moreover, the DCRI's ham-fisted attempt to censor an extremely obscure Wikipedia page that hardly anyone ever visited, has achieved exactly the opposite effect: in the last few days, the page has been viewed over 45,000 times. This is how the article about the not-so-secret military installation now concludes:
Has editing Wikipedia officially become risky behaviour in France? Is the DCRI unable to enforce military secrecy through legal, less brutal methods
As a result of the controversy, the article became the most-read page on the French Wikipedia. It was translated into multiple other languages. The French newspaper 20 minutes noted it as an example of the Streisand effect in action.
Will they never learn?