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Movie Theater Security Guards Assault Women, Claim They Were Pirating Movie (Copyright)

by Mike Masnick

from the has-it-really-come-to-this? dept on Monday, September 26th, 2016 @ 11:43AM
It's well-known that the big studios and the MPAA like to indoctrinate movie theater employees into believing that there's a horrible menace of people trying to pirate movies in the theaters, and that in some cases, they even hand out money to employees who "catch" pirates in the act. In general, all this really does is make it less enjoyable to go to the movies -- and sometimes leads to elderly patrons being ejected from theaters because some kid is totally sure she's pirating the film she's watching.

And the latest example is even more extreme, where private security forces apparently decided to assault a couple of Toronto women they falsely accused of pirating a showing of The Magnificent 7. One of the women, Jean Telfer, says she actually decided to leave the film early because she found it too violent. Apparently the idea that a pirate probably wouldn't be leaving in the middle of a film didn't occur to the geniuses Sony Pictures had specifically hired to "guard" the showing. So they tackled Telfer. Really.
Halfway through the film, Telfer decided to leave because she found the movie to be too violent.

“When I left the theatre I heard someone yelling behind me, ‘Sir! Sir!’ I didn’t think much of it,” said Telfer.

“Out of nowhere I felt someone grab me from behind. My reaction [was] to get this person off of me. Unfortunately it did escalate and he did somehow get on top of me.”
Bizarrely, despite all of that, the guy who tackled her never told her why and then just let her go. But when her friend, Elaine Wong, also went to leave, the experience was a bit different.
Wong, unaware of what had happened to her friend, left the theatre shortly after to find Telfer.

Wong said a guard approached her and little explanation was given except that the security guards had been watching them all night and that something on the guards’ heat sensor guns had gone off. She added that they attempted to search her bag.
Wong noted that they left right before the action really started, and if they were trying to pirate a movie, you'd think they'd "wait until a lot of people start dying." Eventually both Telfer and Wong were told to remain with security until the police arrived -- though after a while when no police arrived, they were apparently let go. The two did decide to file a police report of their own, arguing that they had been illegally assaulted by security at the theater.

In some tweets, Wong notes that they demanded to search her bag, and also demanded to know why they were leaving early -- as if that were some sort of "sign" of piracy in action (though she refers to the guy as being from Disney, the news reports say he was hired by Sony).
Once again, I fail to see how treating regular customers as criminals helps Hollywood convince more people to pay to see movies. It likely has the reverse effect.
9 Comments

New California Law Attempts To Fight Hollywood Ageism By Censoring Third-Party Websites (Legal Issues)

by Tim Cushing

from the way-to-solve-the-problem,-jackasses dept on Monday, September 26th, 2016 @ 10:40AM

Actress Junie Hoang may have lost her legal battle against IMDb for revealing her age, but the California Assembly is ensuring she'll win the war. Hoang sued IMDb for $1 million, claiming the publication of facts without her permission had resulted in her being a victim of Hollywood ageism. IMDb won the lawsuit, but Governor Jerry Brown has just signed a bill into law that will prevent sites like IMDb from publishing actors' ages.

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed legislation that requires certain entertainment sites, such as IMDb, to remove – or not post in the first place – an actor’s age or birthday upon request.

The law, which becomes effective January 1, applies to database sites that allow paid subscribers to post resumes, headshots or other information for prospective employers. Only a paying subscriber can make a removal or non-publication request. Although the legislation may be most critical for actors, it applies to all entertainment job categories.

Quotes from actors' guild representatives and "industry leaders" present this as a positive change. Supposedly the removal of this information will result in fewer actors and actresses from being passed over for roles because they're "too old." Ageism may be an industry-wide problem but the correct solution would be to change Hollywood culture, not tap dance across the First Amendment.

“We are disappointed that AB 1687 was signed into law today,” said Internet Association spokesman Noah Theran. “We remain concerned with the bill and the precedent it will set of suppressing factual information on the internet.”

Michael Beckerman, the association’s president and CEO, also wrote in August for THR, about his opposition to the law.

“Requiring the removal of factually accurate age information across websites suppresses free speech,” Beckerman wrote. “This is not a question of preventing salacious rumors; rather it is about the right to present basic facts that live in the public domain. Displaying such information isn’t a form of discrimination, and internet companies should not be punished for how people use public data.”

That's the problem with this law: it shoots the messenger rather than addresses the underlying problem. The government as a whole has passed many laws aimed at reducing discrimination, but in this case, the California assembly decided the onus should be on data aggregators that have absolutely nothing to do with the process of casting films.

It's unlikely this law will survive a Constitutional challenge, seeing as it prohibits the publication of facts. While any website can voluntarily choose to withhold this information, adding the government into the equation makes it a form of censorship.

The crafters of this law are claiming this speech suppression will benefit the little guy (and girl) the most:

[California Assemblyman Ian] Calderon said the law was more for actors and actresses not as well known as big stars.

“While age information for Hollywood’s biggest stars is readily available from other online sources, this bill is aimed at protecting lesser known actors and actresses competing for smaller roles,” Calderon said in the release. “These actors should not be excluded from auditioning simply based on their age.”

Calderon is correct. Actors should not be excluded simply because of their age. But that's a problem studios need to solve. And if they can't and legislators like himself still feel compelled to step in, the law should target discriminatory hiring practices, not IMDb and other sites like it.

14 Comments

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by Daily Deal

from the good-deals-on-cool-stuff dept on Monday, September 26th, 2016 @ 10:35AM
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Traffic Is Fake, Audience Numbers Are Garbage, And Nobody Knows How Many People See Anything (Overhype)

by Leigh Beadon

from the stabs-in-the-dark dept on Monday, September 26th, 2016 @ 9:36AM

How many living, breathing human beings really read Techdirt? The truth — the most basic, rarely-spoken truth — is that we have no earthly idea. With very few exceptions, no media property big or small, new or old, online or off, can truly tell you how big its audience is. They may have never thought about it that way — after all, we all get as close as we can to what we think is a reasonably accurate estimation, though we have no way of confirming that — but all these numbers are actually good for (maybe) is relative comparisons. What does it really mean when someone says "a million people" saw something? Or ten or a hundred million? I don't know, and neither do you. (Netflix might, but we'll get to that later.)

Where should we start? How about this: internet traffic is half-fake and everyone's known it for years, but there's no incentive to actually acknowledge it. The situation is technically improving: 2015 was hailed (quietly, among people who aren't in charge of selling advertising) as a banner year because humans took back the majority with a stunning 51.5% share of online traffic, so hurray for that I guess. All the analytics suites, the ad networks and the tracking pixels can try as they might to filter the rest out, and there's plenty of advice on the endless Sisyphean task of helping them do so, but considering at least half of all that bot traffic comes from bots that fall into the "malicious" or at least "unauthorized" category, and thus have every incentive to subvert the mostly-voluntary systems that are our first line of defence against bots... Well, good luck. We already know that Alexa rankings are garbage, but what does this say about even the internal numbers that sites use to sell ad space? Could they even be off by a factor of 10? I don't know, and neither do you. Hell, we don't even know how accurate the 51.5% figure is — it could be way off... in either direction.

Okay, so what about TV ratings? Well, there's a reason they've been made fun of on the shows themselves for as long as our culture has been able to handle "meta" jokes without getting a headache. Nielsen ratings in their classic form are built on monitoring such a tiny sample of households that the whole country's viewing profile can probably be swayed because someone forgot to turn off the TV before going on vacation. They sucked before DVRs and digital distribution began transforming the single household television into a quaint anachronism, and now it's just chaos. Nielsen was slow to catch up with DVRs, and now the TV industry juggles scattered measurements including three or seven days of viewing beyond live air, and constantly complains that the ratings are off — specifically, that they're too low. And they might be right, in the sense that they are too low by comparison to the garbage ratings from the pre-digital age that everyone eventually embraced as a standard for relative rankings. How big are these audiences really, in terms of real living breathing human beings? I don't know, and neither do you.

YouTube view counts? Subject to all the same fake internet traffic problems, plus the fact that there's an opaque system for supposedly ignoring too-short incomplete views according to the genre and nature of the video, but good luck finding out how accurate that is. Channel operators know their length-of-view statistics, but you don't see them bandying them about much. Plus, how often have you heard public view counts casually referred to as the number of "people" who watched something, even though (especially when it comes to short-and-cute viral animal hits and their ilk) the bulk of them probably come from obsessive re-watching? Yeah.

So what about Facebook stats? Everything from impressions to simultaneous live video viewers is padded out by the most transient of idly-scrolling-through-the-newsfeed interactions. Twitter followings and tweet stats? Dig into the bowels of any list of followers, or any trending link, and see how much of it is mindless bots. Print readerships? Don't even get me started. Did you know it's common practice for newspapers to calculate their readership by applying a multiplier to their actual circulation, to account for an imaginary surplus of "readers per copy"? Yes, that soggy "local" paper that's been sitting out in the rain on your porch for two days, and that only exists to give them an excuse to deliver flyers to your door, is not only being counted — it's probably being counted five times. So are all the free/cheap copies that big national papers give to hotels. Oh, and when these companies distribute multiple publications in different channels — with newspapers, magazines and paywalled websites all being given away with each other as free cross-subscriptions, in order to pad out all three subscriber numbers — they add them all up and then try to determine the actual number of individual people they are reaching. How? By applying an opaque "deduplication" formula. I once pressed a newspaper's stats person about what this formula could possibly entail, but details were not forthcoming — because I suspect they just knock off 20% and call it a day, despite the fact that the magazine is distributed inside the newspaper whose audience they are supposedly "deduplicating" it from, and half the website subscriptions were free add-ons with print delivery. That's awfully generous when the truth is they don't know, and neither do I, and neither do you.

So who does know how big of an audience they really have? Well, maybe Netflix, Amazon and other digital subscription services. Their paywalls insulate them from the bulk of random bot traffic, and their proprietary ecosystems give them the ability to closely monitor all activity. Netflix, of course, is famously secretive about viewer numbers and insists on the inaccuracy of those who claim to have worked them out. The most common assumption is that they do this to avoid giving content creators too much leverage, and because the data can be seen as a valuable commodity — but I propose another reason: Netflix's likely-more-accurate statistics, if made public, would have zero context in the topsy-turvy world of nonsense TV ratings. They would probably look exceptionally low, giving the legacy bosses who would like nothing more than to downplay the importance of digital distribution (and there are as many of those as there are record execs who can't spell mp3) a chance to project whatever narrative they wanted onto the numbers.

So why does any of this matter? Because advertising is a multibillion dollar industry, and whenever an industry is worth that much, you have to ask: is that because there are billions of dollars of worthwhile transactions happening, or because every bloodsucker in a ten-industry radius wanted in on the action? So, so much of the advertising industry is pure waste. How much exactly is as impossible to determine as the audience sizes themselves. This is hardly a new idea (in fact it's a century-old quote) but it's probably more true now than ever, despite the fact that in theory technology could have delivered us from uncertainty.

Finally, what can be done about this? There's no simple answer, and maybe no answer at all. Here at Techdirt, we've been working to come up with good advertising solutions by focusing almost entirely on what we know our community likes and might be interested in (as in, our real community of people who talk in our comments and we can say, with confidence, exist) and paying less attention to raw numbers — both a luxury and a necessity for a smaller publication, depending on how you look at it. That's not always easy though, as we face an advertising industry ruled by metrics, where there are often ten spreadsheet-wielding interns between us and someone who might actually care about our creativity. In our experiments with more traditional algorithmic display advertising to monetize the raw traffic numbers we do have, we keep running up against what appears to be a universal truth: the bulk of the global internet ad ecosystem runs on trash. Gigantic prestigious online media brands can sell display campaigns straight to the same people who buy Superbowl ads — everyone else receives a hundred pitches a week from new ad networks that claim to deliver great, relevant content but in fact litter your site with ads for fad diets and ambulance-chasers (at best). And this lowest-common-denominator filler appears to be the only reliably successful form of internet advertising! At least, it never goes away when the good stuff does, and the proud quality networks eventually embrace their roles as crap-peddlers. "Good" internet advertising is a rickety ship navigating an endless roiling ocean of spam, clickbait and outright fraud — but it couldn't float at all without it.

I realize I've painted a grim picture, but these are (more or less) the facts. I'm surely wrong in some of my guesses, but like everything discussed here, nobody knows how wrong or in which direction. We'll never even really know how many people read this — we'll just have a vague estimate that can be compared to other posts on Techdirt. But for now that's the reality, so maybe more people should stop worrying about the supposed size of their audience, and focus on making the content they want to make.

26 Comments

The Weird Psychology Of People Fighting Those Who Resell Their Products (Too Much Free Time)

by Mike Masnick

from the why-do-this? dept on Monday, September 26th, 2016 @ 8:34AM
Every so often, we hear a story about actions taken by someone who is just so upset about someone else doing something that it seems to border on obsessive. For example, when we hear about copyright holders who spend all their time sending DMCA takedowns -- while whining about how they're unable to produce new content and aren't making any money from sending all those takedowns. The obvious response is: maybe stop sending all those takedowns and focus on something that's actually productive, like creating new works and building a fan base willing to support you.

Recently, the Planet Money podcast had an episode with a similar story but in a different realm -- but it was just as stupid and wasteful. It was about this entrepreneurial couple who had created a cat toy product, which was becoming fairly successful through selling it on Amazon. And yet, they were completely freaked out by arbitrageurs. These weren't pirates or counterfeiters. Rather, they discovered that people were posting their cat toy to eBay (for a lot more money), and if someone bought, they'd just order it from Amazon, and have it ship directly to the buyer. I've heard of people having this happen to them -- where they'd order from one place and receive a shipment from Amazon instead (sometimes with the actual invoice price included...).

This is all perfectly legal. There's no law against reselling products. It's just arbitrage. But the couple, Fred and Natasha Ruckel, freaked out about this and spent a ton of time every day sending cease-and-desist letters to these eBay sellers.
First thing in the morning, check for arbitrageurs. Last thing at night, check for arbitrageurs, send out any cease and desists before or after. It was taking up an inordinate amount of time, and it was super stressful.
Ruckel does make a few valid points: the eBay arbitrageurs provide a less satisfying experience -- their sales pages don't look great and Ruckel wishes to have a better experience for the customers to boost brand loyalty. On top of that, the even more valid concern is that when people order via eBay for $60 and receive a box from Amazon showing the price was $40... they get pissed off. And often they return the product, and that leads to restocking fees that Ruckel has to pay -- plus just general hassle. That part is a valid concern, but from all indications this was still making them money.

And if it was really taking up so much time to send out these cease and desist letters -- and it was "super stressful" why not just drop it altogether? Why bother? Just focus on selling your products. Or, hell, just put your own product up on eBay. To be fair, while this is not mentioned in the podcast, in an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about this same story, it does note that he tried, briefly, to put the product up on eBay too, but whines that people still copied him:
This summer, Ruckel tried a new approach: He put his own product on eBay and titled it “All other eBay sellers are fake.” A few weeks later, he stumbled upon an eBay listing with a familiar title. “All other eBay sellers are fake,” it said. It wasn’t his, of course.

Someone had copied that, too.
But, uh, so what? Assuming that he posted them to eBay with the same price as his Amazon sales, then there shouldn't be a problem. All the arbitrageurs should be driven out of business, since his would be priced lower than the arbitrageurs. So who cares if they claim to be the legit provider, when people would likely flock to the cheapest one anyway? Nothing in this story makes sense.

Especially this last part. Ruckel apparently got so frustrated with the "stress" of dealing with arbitrageurs, that he yanked his stuff off of Amazon entirely... and saw his sales drop drastically.
We pulled out of the whole Prime shipping thing in May. And at that point, we were over 60,000 a month in sales. And in a blink, 60,000 went down to 25,000.
Planet Money asks them if it was worth it -- and they said that it was. Because "integrity."
F RUCKEL: Integrity is important to us.

N RUCKEL: And the stress factor...

F RUCKEL: And the stress...

N RUCKEL: ...Was completely removed.

F RUCKEL: So we removed all the stress.
Yeah, and you also removed more than half your business. Again, this reminds me of the person who claimed they were "wasting" half of their royalties sending DMCA takedown notices that weren't effective. Why do that? Why kill your sales just because someone else figured out a way to resell your product better than you have?

There's some weird psychology going on here. It reminds me of the classic economics class game, whereby two students (Student A and Student B) are selected by the professor, and Student A is given $10 and told to share some of it with Student B -- but if Student B rejects Student A's offer, then no one gets any money. Under such conditions, even if Student A offers Student B just $1 (keeping $9), Student B should take it. Both of them are better off than getting nothing. And yet, time and time again, Student B rejects offers that are seen as "too small." Basically, they feel insulted, cheated or ripped off -- even though that's ridiculous. It's a weird attempt to insert a "fairness standard" where it doesn't make any sense, and where "punishing" Student A is more "valuable" to Student B than the small payout.

It feels like something similar must be happening here. People like the Ruckels would prefer to punish others, making their own product harder to find and more difficult to buy, than to allow anyone else to possibly benefit from it. I get that it happens, but it still confuses me to no end why anyone could possibly think it's a good result.
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