We recently wrote about how Aaron Swartz's legal team was arguing with MIT and the DOJ about publicly releasing some of the documents in the case against him. MIT and the DOJ want to keep the names of key people at MIT and JSTOR secret, while Swartz's family says the info should be public. In response, among other things, the US Attorneys' Office has said that, since Swartz's death, they've been bullied and hacked. From the filing:
In my capacity as First Assistant United States Attorney, I have been shown various harassing and potentially threatening email messages directed at United States Attorney Ortiz and the United States Attorney’s Office following Mr. Swartz’s suicide.
Attached at Tab E are copies of the following articles:
a. Swartz case protest at Boston US Attorney’s Home, The Boston Globe, March 12, 2013; and
b. Swartz protesters go to prosecutor’s home, The Boston Globe, March 17, 2013.
In my capacity as First Assistant, I have been shown various harassing and threatening messages directed at AUSA Heymann. One such email I have seen states, among other things:
ROFLMAO just saw you were totally dox’d over the weekend by Anonymous. How does it feel to become an enemy of the state? FYI, you might want to move out of the country and change your name . . .
That same email copies personal information of AUSA Heymann, including his home address and personal telephone number, among other things. AUSA Heymann has also reported to me that his personal information (including his home address, personal telephone number, and the names of family member and friends) were posted online, and that his Facebook page was hacked.
Attached at Tab F is a redacted copy of a postcard that AUSA Heymann has informed me he received at his home.
Attached at Tab G is a copy of a postcard that Professor Philip Heymann has informed me he received.
This is the first postcard they're talking about:
The picture in the center is of Philip Heymann, father of Steven Heymann. Steve Heymann led the prosecution of Swartz. His father, Philip is a former deputy attorney general and a professor at Harvard.
Once again, as we've stated numerous times in the past, these kinds of activities, while they may feel like a way to make a statement against those who have done wrong, are incredibly counterproductive and stupid. Rather than making any sort of realistic or helpful point, they just give more ammo to the DOJ to block a full, fair and thorough exploration into what went wrong. Making them into victims is a really pointless move that helps the DOJ continue to cover up the details of what happened by giving them cover.
I recognize that there's tremendous anger towards the US Attorneys' office over this case, and much of that anger is likely justified. But channeling that anger into childish threats doesn't help anyone, least of all Swartz's memory and family. Yes, the prosecution of Swartz was unfair, and I would support a legitimate investigation into what happened and ways to keep the DOJ from such overzealous prosecution in the future (though, I agree with others that this sort of thing is endemic to the DOJ, and wasn't unique to Swartz's situation). But these actions turn the DOJ into victims and give them an excuse to hide behind. These kinds of attacks may make some kids feel better, but they don't help at all.
Fresh off of explaining why the President can use drones to kill Americans on American soil, Attorney General Eric Holder apparently feels emboldened to say just about anything to justify ridiculous government actions. The latest? Defending the Aaron Swartz prosecution at a Congressional hearing called by Sen. John Cornyn, who has already expressed his concerns over the prosecution.
As you might expect, Holder stuck with the official line that what the DOJ did in the Swartz case was perfectly reasonable. The key to his argument, as we've been hearing from others who defended the government's actions: the DOJ never intended to put Swartz in jail for 35 years. Also, apparently it was unfair of the media to use that 35 year number.
As I've talked to the people who have looked into this matter, these news reports about what he was actually facing is not consistent with what the interaction was between the government and Mr. Swartz. A plea offer was made to him of 3 months, before the indictment. This case could have been resolved with a plea of 3 months. After the indictment, an offer was made and he could plead and serve 4 months. Even after that, a plea offer was made, of a range of zero to 6 months, that he would be able to argue for a probationary sentence. The government would be able to argue for up to a period of 6 months. There was never any intention for him to go to jail for a period longer than 3, 4, potentially 5 month range.
These claims are not only misleading, but also total and complete bullshit. First off, if you never intended for him to spend more than 6 months in jail, and you're upset at the "media" for using the 35 year number... why is it that the DOJ's own press release on the arrest played up the 35 years:
AARON SWARTZ, 24, was charged in an indictment with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. If convicted on these charges, SWARTZ faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million.
I'm sorry, but you don't get to push that number around in your own damn press release and then whine and complain about how "unfair" it is that the media uses the number you gave them.
Separately, concerning the insistence that they never wanted him to spend more than 6 months in jail, they leave out the fact that this was only if Swartz agreed to plead guilty to multiple felonies. According to various reports, the DOJ, via Assistant US Attorney Steve Heymann made it clear that if Swartz did not agree to the plea, then he would seek somewhere around seven years in jail.
Cornyn goes on to ask about why the DOJ pursued the case even after the supposed "victim," JSTOR said it didn't want to have anything to do with the case. Cornyn specifically asks if it makes sense to threaten someone with 35 years in prison when the victim doesn't even seem to feel harmed by the situation. Holder than tries to spin this around and, incredibly, argue that the fact that they didn't pursue the full 35 years is an example of good prosecutorial discretion. Seriously.
Cornyn: The subscription service didn't support the prosecution. Does it strike you as odd that the government would indict someone for crimes that would carry penalties of up to 35 years in prison and million dollar fines and then offer him a 3 or 4 month prison sentence?
Holder: Well I think that's a good use of prosecutorial discretion. To look at the conduct, regardless of what the statutory maximums were, and to fashion a sentence that was consistent with what the nature of the conduct was. And I think what those prosecutors did in offering 3, 4, 0 to 6 was consistent with that conduct.
In other words, the only thing Holder is really saying here is that there was perfectly reasonable prosecutorial discretion if and only if Swartz agreed to a plea bargain in which he plead guilty to all felony charges against him. Basically, it's a "good use of prosecutorial discretion" to bully someone into pleading guilty to a crime they don't believe they've committed, and as long as they accept that, go to jail, and be okay with being labelled a felon for life, then there's no problem.
How do we let these people into positions of power?
My apologies ahead of time for the length of this piece, but anything shorter wouldn't do the subject justice. I will, however, provide plenty of pictures and blockquotes. This post deals with a strange copyright troll, which bullies people into properly attributing a quoted poem. The troll runs across multiple social media platforms but does a bulk of its "work" at Twitter, where it can receive instantaneous feedback. Along the way, we'll deal with the poet himself, a company called On Press Inc. and some other connections which seem to indicate the poet himself is behind the trolling, along with a threatened lawsuit against me for copyright infringement, defamation and false claims.
It starts out simply enough. As a contributor to this site, I was doing the sort of thing we do in our downtime -- running a Twitter search for the term "infringement." The search results were dominated by tweets from an account that looked exactly like this one.
Only it wasn't this one. The account I saw had this name: @xsaonpress.
When I returned the next day, I was greeted with the message that the above account had been suspended. Odd. So, I searched again, only this time using the keywords "tongues" and "glass," -- two words in the title of the poem in question -- and found that On Press was still in business.
On Press Inc., supposedly a division of Knopf Publishing (according to its Twitter profiles), was running a search of its own and issuing tweet after threatening tweet to anyone who dared publish a short (really short -- under 140 characters) poem by reclusive poet, Shaun Shane, without attribution. The entire poem reads as follows:
"If only our tongues were made of glass, how much more careful we would be when we speak."
The Organization Invisible Children has plagiarized and thus committed copyright infringement ( which is illegal) on their website and on their Twitter account, a work by Shaun Shane. Exemplifying the criticism against them that they do not research their facts and have sloppy journalist methods. (Here is a link: http://www.invisiblechildren.com/) and to the Twitter post (https://twitter.com/#!/Invisible/status/196433854851055618/photo/1)
After sending out an ignored invitation (via direct message) to discuss these "tactics," I decided to throw out some bait.
Soon, I was receiving the same set of tweets I'd seen filling up my search results the night before. On Press, utilizing one of its many, many Twitter accounts, gave me its usual combination of Shaun Shane info and legal threats. On Press has a very shaky grasp on IP law, but it doesn't let its ignorance stop it from trotting out nearly every term (plagiarism, theft) imaginable in hopes of quick compliance.
The first false claim it makes is that Twitter will shut down an account for a single infringement violation. Not true. Twitter may shut down an account for multiple cases of infringement, but a single report won't result in the removal of an account, as is clearly stated in the Twitter terms of service. (On Press has also made claim that this process will shut down an account in 4 hours. You may laugh at this one.)
Twitter will also terminate a user's account if the user is determined to be a repeat infringer.
If the proper steps are followed (via the DMCA form), the offending Tweet will simply be "withheld," with a notice replacing the original Tweet. Finally, On Press delivers this bizarre phrase:
For an entity so concerned with copyright infringement, it certainly doesn't seem to understand the terminology it's throwing around. "Libel" and "liable" are nowhere close to each other in definition, and you'd think an entity this concerned with infringement would know the difference (or at least be able to spell the one it actually means).
Then there's On Press Inc itself, which has its own issues. As you can see from its profile photo, On Press claims to be a division of Knopf Publishing. However, we contacted Knopf Publishing for comment and they said that there is no division of Knopf called On Press Inc. On Press has apparently decided an appearance of Shane's poem in a Poem-A-Day-Celebration hosted by Tumblr and Knopf allows it to add Knopf's name to its profile... and the large publisher's weight to its fight against unattributed use, despite no official connection to the company.
On Press also utilizes multiple simultaneous Twitter accounts, in violation of the Twitter Rules.
Serial Accounts: You may not create serial accounts for disruptive or abusive purposes, or with overlapping use cases. Mass account creation may result in suspension of all related accounts. Please note that any violation of the Twitter Rules is cause for permanent suspension of all accounts.
In one night, my interactions with On Press Inc. included input from the following accounts: @copyrightdept, @vesoaonpress, @vseawonpress, @wasweonpress, @xaswonpress and @xseionpress. All accounts sported the same On Press logo and spouted the same tweets. One could try to make a claim that these accounts are not "disruptive" or "abusive" (and I'd love to watch them make that claim), but there's little doubt On Press Inc's multiple accounts are "overlapping." (@vseawonpress is the only account not suspended at the time of this writing.)
Now, although I was receiving the same stream of misspellings and misinformation from On Press as the other users posting Shaun Shane's (unattributed) poem, I wasn't seeing any signs of life. I was pretty much convinced it was a bot running multiple accounts. To test that theory, I called out On Press on the false claims directed my way, specifically the assertion that Twitter would delete my account for a single violation. To my surprise, it provoked a very human reaction.
So, there was a human behind the account, one who handily provided a link to the terms of service that directly contradicted what he had just said. (I've shifted pronouns, but an explanation is on the way.)
Once I had his/its attention, I pointed out On Press' suspicious behavior -- namely, the multiple suspended accounts linked to its name.
On Press responded with this blast of angry tweets, stating that Twitter itself generated these accounts for it.
It shouldn't need to be said, but this claim is completely false. Mike contacted Twitter to ask about whether or not, as On Press claims, it creates thousands of automatically generated accounts for companies with which to harass infringers, and (no surprise) Twitter said there is no truth to this claim.
I attempted to gather more information, but my overtures were rejected. At one point, an On Press account mentioned it performed this "service" for "other authors" but refused to name any. It also failed to cough up a usable URL that might indicate On Press Inc exists outside of multiple Twitter accounts.
Shortly thereafter, the accounts went ballistic, showering me with a long list of legal threats.
This was prompted by its discovery of a tongue-in-cheek review of the only book On Press has for sale, one I had posted earlier that night. (You may notice a second review has suddenly appeared -- from the same person who showed up to criticize my review.)
Again, On Press made several dubious claims, including the ridiculous suggestion that Twitter would surrender my IP address to the police on the strength of a fake review posted on an entirely different site. It also seemed to feel that the Feds would be interested simply because I was using a computer.
However, he/it wasn't kidding about one thing: "legal prosecution." The morning following this bizarre conversation with On Press (Feb. 8th), Techdirt received a phone call seeking to confirm that I "worked for Techdirt," with the "lawyer" on the phone saying that he wished to serve me with a lawsuit (at Techdirt's headquarters) for "copyright infringement, defamation of character and making false claims."
To date, nothing has been filed, despite the voicemail implying the lawsuit was already filed. But here's the great thing about legal threats: nothing being served to this point doesn't mean nothing ever will. The possibility still exists and the potential plaintiff is free to file anytime before the statute of limitations expires. This is likely a bluff, but it carries enough weight to make any future direct interaction with On Press ill advised, to say the least. This leaves him/it free to aggressively pursue those posting the poem without attribution, without worrying that I might ruin the fun by pointing out its false claims.
With the threat of a lawsuit still hanging overhead, I'm simply going to present my findings, all backed up with screenshots and/or links, with a minimum of speculative commentary.
The On Press Inc. "Network"
First off, let's address the "him/it" issue. On Press Inc. seems to exist solely as multiple accounts spanning several social media platforms. Running a search will serve up a few hits on existing businesses with the same name, but I have confirmed that these are unrelated to this bizarre attribution trolling.
A Poem Is Nothing
Shane's book is print-on-demand. Amazon doesn't list it this way, but other booksellers do. So, there's no pile of unsold paperbacks sitting in an On Press warehouse. This may explain why there's so little effort made to provide infringers with a "buy" link during the barrage of tweets and comments.
The On Press Twitter horde usually presents two links. One of them leads to this video displaying "proof" that someone (d/b/a On Press, Inc., with no address displayed) holds the copyright to "Tongues Made of Glass." (The other links to the Invisible Children photo.)
Now, a video like this could be made by literally anyone (with hands) and hardly presents a solid case for On Press' claim to Shaun Shane's poem. None of his work has been registered at the US Copyright office, either by himself or by On Press (or by anyone, actually). This limits any legal liability for infringement to actual proven damages, making the threat of a lawsuit slightly more tolerable. Also, the claims made at the end of the video, which appear to be a bastardization of the typical "copyright policies" found on sporting events, saying no copies can be made "without written consent of the publisher," overstates the powers given under copyright law in ignoring the possibility of fair use or other exceptions to copyright law.
Interestingly, the voice on the "copyright" video sounds nearly identical to Shaun Shane himself. Shane has a very distinctive cadence and tone to his voice, as evidenced by this live performance.
[Shane's voice also bears heavy, heavy resemblance to that of James Roth ("representing On Press Incorporated"), the caller who contacted Techdirt about serving me with the lawsuit.]
So, is On Press simply Shaun Shane, reclusive poet and attribution seeker? He'd certainly be the person most interested in enforcing this. His impossibly glowing bio at PoemHunter puts Shane in Schrodinger's Box, theorizing that he's dead ("...had become terminally ill and his re-emergence was to reinforce the ethic of Pure Poetry or Truly Modernist Poetry before his death..."), before theorizing in the opposite direction a few sentences later ("though it is believed, if he is still alive, he lives on the West Coast...") One of the On Press Twitter accounts I dealt with claimed Shane was dead and had willed that his work be used to raise money for various children's charities. (Too bad no one's trying to sell that book...) This claim is echoed at Pinterest, where the same sort of attribution-badgering occurs.
Whether Mr. Miche is real or simply Shaun using another name remains to be proven. (It does share a Shaun Shane-like bit of alliteration.) Miche patrols Pinterest, sending users who re-pin this photo the same sort of messages as the Twitter accounts do, only without the character limit.
Miche also sports the same shaky legal grasp and penchant for baseless threats.
Here Miche chases down a user (who deleted her tweet) and continues harassing her at her Pinterest account, claiming that people like her using an unattributed quote can "cause untold billions of dollars of lost [sic] for companies who support and publisher [sic] Authors [sic... again] works." Miche also seems to make the claim that she's legally responsible for any retweets (a claim echoed in return by the On Press Twitter accounts).
Hopewell has sent out similar messages to Facebook users, again seeking attribution and using identical wording.
There are a few differences that might indicate she was just "pitching in" with the attribution push ("This Poem is our copyrighted property your use of it uncredited to him constitutes thief."), but by and large, it resembles missives issued at other platforms.
A user named "Sean Seans" refers to himself as "Shaun" and tells her he loves and misses her. And that Sean Seans/Shaun is also busy chasing down wrongdoers posting unattributed poems.
Anne Murphy has also made posts on Facebook concerning Shane's poem and seems to be located in Texas (at least judging from the locations of most of her Friends). The wording is almost identical to the Facebook posts by Alexandria Hopewell, suggesting the same author wrote them. She has also uploaded a few videos of Shaun Shane performances to YouTube. (Interestingly, the phone number on the caller ID from the call by "James Roth" to contact Techdirt is registered to Anne Murphy and also to a vegetable farm, the O.P. Murphy Produce Company -- both in Texas. Also worth noting: there does not appear to be a "James Roth" listed on the Texas state bar. If whoever called is not, in fact, a lawyer, they might want to familiarize themselves with Texas law 38.122 which makes it a felony to impersonate a lawyer.)
But that's not all. Shane/On Press also stalks Tumblr with multiple accounts (some of which are filled with work-from-home scam posts), issuing the now-familiar statements demanding attribution. A search for the terms "Shaun Shane" and "On Press" also brings up hits on several other platforms. On Press/Shane is very busy, though (as far as I can see) never seems to direct anyone towards buying the actual book.
He has also ramped up the aggression, perhaps as a result of his "successful" legal threat. The On Press Twitter interactions were never pleasant, but the latest ones have a decidedly malevolent tone that's undercut slightly by the sheer number of false claims they contain. It doesn't help that the poem is most frequently tweeted by teens -- a demographic On Press/Shane seems to enjoy hurling threats towards.
"know that you can be track by your ip address and that your parents will be the one's who are sued since you are a minor..."
"know that the average cost is $4000.00 per instance but that is times the number of follwers you have, or the number people who are exposed to your illegal post..."
"...but if you were bright you wouldn't have been stupid enought to tweet the poem in the first place..."
"WE don't care if you care. Your account will be terminated that is all that matters to us. We are indifferent to your feelings about it. your just some dumb kid."
There are some interesting legal theories mixed up in there that we have not seen before. I particularly like the idea that infringement is multiplied by the number of followers you have. This would appear to be an entirely novel interpretation (by which I mean "wrong") of 17 USC 504, which has always been clear that the amount of statutory damages paid is per work infringed, not by the number of people who saw the work.
So, what's the point? Why should we care? On Press/Shane is just seeking attribution. It's not like he's sending out settlement letters. Well, for starters, this is not how the system is supposed to work. Those concerned about infringement are directed to Twitter's DMCA form, which to date, On Press has used only once. Apparently, this method is much less satisfying than the instant feedback one gets while hounding Twitter users (even going so far as to follow them to other platforms, as Mike Miche [above] did).
I'm not pissed off that On Press circumvents a system many rights holders find inefficient. I'm pissed off that On Press deceives people about its relationship with a major publisher, using that as leverage to harass users with a variety of baseless threats. It doesn't help that the users receiving the most abuse are teenagers who did nothing more than post a quote they liked, who are then threatened with arrest and lawsuits against their parents in return.
I'm pissed off that On Press is fighting a battle it can't win utilizing bullying tactics. It seems to want respect, but keeps forgetting respect is something you earn -- not something you beat into people. People may start to respect the stick, but they'll never respect the entity wielding it.
Furthermore, if I was a rights holder hoping to protect my creations, I'd be pissed off that someone out there is doing serious damage to copyright itself with a scorched earth policy of baseless threats and vindictive bullying. It makes it that much harder to fight infringement when any existing level of respect has been torn down by another's overly aggressive tactics.
Finally, if I'm Shaun Shane, and I'm not behind this? I'm fucking furious. Any potential legacy or possibility of expanding my audience has been absolutely destroyed by someone who has used my name to harangue internet users across multiple platforms, utilizing angry missives filled with misspellings, deception, baseless legal threats and a very dangerous misunderstanding of IP law in general.
And Shaun, if this is actually you? You're only hurting yourself and your reputation by hammering unwitting Twitter users (among others) for this act of omission. There's nothing wrong with seeking proper attribution. But there are so many methods that work better than this. You can't stop unattributed quotes from flying around the internet. You can't even slow it down.
Do you seriously think anyone's going to Google a tweet to make sure it doesn't belong to someone else before retweeting it? Do you really think people are going to Google "Shaun Shane" unless you bring it up first? Pinterest users, right or wrong, aren't going to do a reverse image search before repinning. Sure, it sucks that stuff strays so far from the original creators, but that's the price you pay for unprecedented access to millions of creative works.
But the benefits outweigh the negatives. Unprecedented access works both ways. You can connect with potential fans and customers in ways that simply weren't possible 10 years ago. If you're only going to see the worst aspects, you'll never be anything more than a set of empty words and threats, spat endlessly into a void, covered in vitriol and self-righteousness. You've crafted a poem with viral possibilities but you're only interested in slamming every door shut as soon as it opens. This final perspective doesn't make me angry. It just makes me sad. There's so much potential but you're too angry to see it. You, and only you, can turn this around.
Additional/supportive links and info.
My Storify account, where I will continue to collect interactions between On Press Inc. and Twitter users.
from the best-of-the-internet,-worst-of-the-internet dept
A few years ago, I noted the seeming irony in the fact that there appeared to be a decent amount of overlap between groups of people doing amazing altruistic things on sites like Reddit, while also doing amazingly troll-tastic things in places like /b/. Groups getting together to "do something" are a powerful force, and often are a powerful force for good. But they can also get out of hand, and turn into questionable mob-like vigilante-ism. However, it's not often that you see both such forces come together in the same story. However, that appears to be the case with the amazing story concerning upstate NY school bus monitor, Karen Klein. If you've been buried under a rock somewhere, Klein, a 68-year-old grandmother, has a low-paying job as a school bus monitor for a middle school in upstate NY (Greece, near Rochester). Middle school kids can be incredibly cruel, and a group of kids spent a bus ride mercilessly mocking Klein and filming the interaction. Someone else saw the video being passed around on Facebook and posted it to YouTube, where it quickly racked up millions of views, with tons of downvotes. The video is heart-wrenching for the cruelty from the boys in question. Just horrifying:
It also appears this was not a one-incident either. There are at least twoother such videos.
However, in response to this, someone set up an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for Karen to go on vacation. And, wow, did the internet ever come through in a massive outpouring of altruism, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars in a day. As of this writing, it's already around half a million and there's still nearly a month to go. That's going to be quite a vacation.
Cue tons of great stories about how wonderful the internet can be.
The names of some of the alleged perpetrators — all juveniles who have yet to be charged with any crimes — and their parents and details about where they live ended up online. And since Wednesday, they’ve been barraged by death threats and harassing phone calls.
Greece police Capt. Steve Chatterton said Thursday that someone even made a false 911 call claiming there were people being held hostage inside one of the students’ homes. He said officers have been assigned to run special patrols down the youths’ streets to ensure their safety.
“We have a cellphone of one of the boys and he’s received more than 1,000 missed calls and more than 1,000 text messages threatening him,” he said. “Threats to overcome threats do no good.”
Karen herself has come out to say:
“This is going too far,” she said. “This is no better than the kids who did that on the bus.”
Exactly. If you're so upset by people acting totally obnoxiously to someone, there are a lot better ways to express yourself than to call them with a death threat.
Back in 2009, we wrote about how anti-piracy organization FACT worked closely with UK law enforcement to have the guy who operated Filesoup arrested. At the time, we noted that it wasn't at all clear what he was doing that was illegal, as the site was merely a forum. Though some people did, in fact, use that forum for the sake of infringement, that shouldn't implicate the forum host. And, in fact, after about a year and a half, the courts dropped the case, realizing that the arguments the industry kept feeding law enforcement didn't add up to anything illegal. The court noted that the charges never should have been brought in the first place. Of course, that's small comfort to the folks who ran the site and had to go through this ordeal. The site has announced that it's shutting down, and the arrests and lawsuits were a big part of what killed it.
There's been lots of talk about what to do about online bullying -- even if the amount and impact of online bullying is often massively exaggerated. There have even been some attempts to outlaw online bullying or "cyberbullying" that seem to try to make it illegal to be a jerk online. These laws are of dubious legitimacy under the First Amendment.
However, it appears that one family has taken a different path to go after some online bullies. After discovering that some classmates in school set up a fake Facebook profile for a girl, they sued the kids who set up the page and their parents for libel. The student had apparently asked both the school and the police to do something about the fake page -- and in both cases they were (correctly) told that they couldn't do anything. The school couldn't get involved with off-campus speech (correct) and the police noted that no criminal laws appeared to have been broken (also correct). They also asked Facebook to take down the page, which didn't happen. That's the one that surprises me a bit. Considering Facebook's insistence on "real names" and such, you would think the company would respond relatively quickly to accusations of a fake page.
That said, is libel really the most reasonable response? It does appear that some of the statements made on the page were pretty obnoxious, and could potentially meet the bar for libel, but it's difficult to see how such a lawsuit helps anything. It did get Facebook to delete the page, so perhaps that accomplished the goal. But I can't imagine that filing lawsuits against other students helps make one more accepted in school. The fact is that kids can be obnoxious brats -- and it sounds like the kids who set up this fake Facebook page fit that description. But does that really need to be settled in court? Furthermore, suing the parents of the bullies because they paid for the internet access the kids used seems like a particularly ridiculous claim. Bullying sucks, but taking kids and their parents to court over a stupid fake Facebook profile seems like overkill in response.
from the they-only-have-as-much-power-as-we-give-them dept
There's been a bit of a kerfuffle in Hollywood lately surrounding the documentary Bully, which has drawn attention to the ridiculousness of the MPAA's movie ratings system—and may even indicate the first real erosion of the organization's power in that area. The documentary—which has been well-received as an accurate depiction of real problems, and a potentially important film for parents, teachers and kids to see—was rated R by the MPAA for harsh language, which would stop kids under 17 from seeing it in theatres alone. This sparked a massive push-back from the studio and the anti-bullying activist community, but the MPAA refused to budge, so the studio announced that it would release the film as unrated by the MPAA (though they do include the much more reasonable "Pause 13+" rating it received from Common Sense Media, a non-profit children's advocacy group).
This can confuse people, because it's a common assumption that movie ratings are required by the government. In fact, the MPAA's rating system is unregulated and entirely voluntary, and was created as a way to avoid government intervention. The rating from CSM carries no more or less legal weight than an MPAA rating—but participation by studios, cinemas and retailers in the MPAA system has been so widespread for so long that their ratings are the de facto standard, and essentially mandatory. Any film can be released without a rating, but traditionally that has been commercial suicide, since theatres would treat it as NC17, a rating under which success is nearly impossible since most theatres won't show such films at all. But that's where things with Bully get interesting: AMC has announced that its theatres will show the movie and make it easy for kids to see it. In a unique move, they are providing a parental permission slip on their website for kids to print, get signed, and bring to the theatre:
“AMC will be presenting Bully…as not rated,” said the theater-chain in a statement. “Guests younger than 17 can see the film if they are accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, or if they present a signed parental permission slip.”
That permission slip will be available on Wednesday at this link on AMC’s website. ... (A rep for the company declined to comment on the Parent’s Television Council’s statement that screening Bully at AMC’s theaters “threatens to derail the entire ratings system.”)
That last bit is interesting, because it shows that the Parents Television Council (notorious moralist meddlers in the free speech rights of others) knows exactly what's happening. The power of the MPAA and groups like PTC relies entirely on momentum and force of habit. Nobody is beholden to them, but for a long time it seemed like everyone forgot that. That let the MPAA warp the rating system and use it for their own purposes such as playing politics, screwing over indie filmmakers, and even punishing a documentary that criticized the rating system itself. But now people are remembering that they don't have to play by the MPAA's self-serving rules. In their statement, PTC neatly predicts the future, though they rail against it:
"This move, regardless of intentions, sets a precedent that threatens to derail the entire ratings system," said PTC head Tim Winter in a statement."If a distribution company can simply decide to operate outside of the ratings system in a case like Bully, nothing would prevent future filmmakers from doing precisely the same thing, with potentially much more problematic material."
As with most of the disruption happening in the entertainment industry, this has a lot to do with the internet. In the past, if everyone played by the rules, there was basically no such thing as "unmet demand" for a film with a bad rating. Once the MPAA handed down its death sentence, nobody would touch the project, and it would receive no promotion or screen time, so nobody outside film circles even knew about it. Now lots of people are plugged into the festival circuit and the inside world of film, so a movie like Bully can generate plenty of buzz before it even hits Hollywood. The demand for the film was there, the studios were able to gamble on that demand, and AMC could see the advantage in breaking the rules to meet it. If the film is a success (which seems likely) it will deal a powerful and much-needed blow to the MPAA's ratings regime.
Some people continue to insist that intellectual property and censorship are two totally separate issues, but that's ridiculous. Yet another example is in the ongoing case concerning software company Jenzabar, which we've covered before. If you're just picking this up now, one of Jenzabar's founders, Chai Ling, many years ago, was one of the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square uprising -- a point that the company regularly used in its PR efforts. A documentary film from Long Bow Productions showed Ling making some comments years ago about how she hoped the uprising would lead to bloodshed, in order to incentivize a wider uprising. Most people might write off such comments as extreme comments in the heat of the moment from a young, immature activist, and let it go. If Ling had just said that she regretted the comments, the whole thing would have probably blown over.
Instead, Ling appears to have decided to use trademark law to try to silence the filmmakers. They first tried a defamation lawsuit, and that didn't work (seeing as Ling apparently actually said what's shown in the film), and everything else was nonactionable opinion statements. So then they shifted to a clearly bogus trademark claim. The filmmakers had put up a website about the film, including one page about Jenzabar. So the company sued the filmmakers, claiming trademark infringement. This is pretty absurd of course. There's no trademark issue here. No likelihood of confusion. Even though Ling/Jenzabar claim that the page in question presents "lies," the defamation lawsuit didn't work -- this is entirely about trademark law. It seems pretty clear that Ling (and others at Jenzabar) just don't like that this info is getting out, and are trying to use trademark law to stop this form of speech.
The court sided with the producers, granting summary judgment and tossing out the case, but Jenzabar is appealing the ruling. Part of the original argument for the trademark claim was that Long Bow used the company's name in its metatags. This is silly for a variety of reasons. First, the page actually does talk about Jenzabar. Second putting a trademarked company name in metatags isn't a violation of trademark law. Third, and most importantly, metatags are almost entirely ignored by search engines -- so the claim that this impacted Google's search results seems misguided. Of course, somehow Jenzabar found an "expert witness" to insist that Google does use metatags (in combination with title tags) in determining rankings, and tried to dismiss claims from actual Google employees to the contrary as hearsay.
Now, in the appeal, Jenzabar is apparently arguing that because the Google snippet that shows with the page mentions that Jenzabar tried to censor the site, it's proof of infringement. As Paul Levy notes in talking about the case, "Will its lawyer be able to argue that with a straight face?" As is noted in Levy's filing (on behalf of Long Bow), the fact that Long Bow has made it even clearer that Jenzabar has no association with the page -- by publicly stating that the company tried to censor the page -- actually works against Jenzabar's trademark claim. It's even more evidence that there is unlikely to be any confusion by users finding Long Bow's page. Any moron in a hurry can tell that the page is not endorsed by Jenzabar. But, rather than recognizing how this hurts its own case, Jenzabar is claiming that this new tidbit of info on the page is somehow new evidence of infringement.
In theory, this new listing should have met Jenzabar’s
purported concern that the original search listing could
confuse potential customers using Jenzabar’s name as a
search term. But Jenzabar argued below, and apparently
still contends on appeal, that this is an “infringing” use
of its marks.... Nothing could show more clearly
that this case is about suppressing public access to
truthful criticism, not protecting against deception of
Either way, all the facts of the case seem to suggest that this lawsuit (and further appeal) are simply about trying to silence the filmmakers by burdening them with an expensive and distracting lawsuit. That seems like a pretty clear abuse of the purpose and meaning of trademark law.
This one is a little bizarre. David Seaman, a contributor to Business Insider, claims that he lost his contributor status at the site following a dispute he had with an NBCUniversal employee, Anthony Quintano, concerning NBC's coverage of both SOPA/PIPA and NDAA. The details are a bit complex, but I've emailed with David a few times. It appears he posted some comments on NBC Universal's Google+ page, complaining about their lack of coverage on both issues:
The comment seems perfectly reasonable, but NBCUniversal deleted it, and later claimed that it was spam:
It's pretty difficult to see how that's spam, and David said so:
Following this, Quintano told David that he had contacted Business Insider to complain about David's statements.
This is the part that seems the most troubling. Why would NBCUniversal employees decide that contacting someone else's employer, because they don't like his comments, makes any sense at all. That's just outright bullying.
Either way, David then alerted his editor at Business Insider, who said:
I think it might be best if we revoked your account for now. We've drastically cut back on our contributors recently and while we really appreciate your posts there have been far too many of these types of contentious issues lately.
Now, there are all sorts of ways to look at this, and I'd almost be more inclined to question how Business Insider handled this, rather than NBCUniversal. The second one of your writers gets into a little bit of controversy, you cut them loose? Way to look out for your writers, BI.
So I'm not sure I buy the story that NBCUniversal is the reason Seaman is no longer a contributor to BI, but it is a fact that Quintano directly threatened to contact Business Insider to complain about David's statements. It's downright slimy for NBCUniversal employees to threaten people to contact their employers because NBCUniversal doesn't agree with their statements online. Disagree, fine. Hell, I don't even have a huge problem if NBCUniversal wants to be anti-internet and block comments it doesn't like (as it was doing here). But to then threaten to impact someone's livelihood because you don't like their comments? That's just bullying.
We recently wrote about expanding efforts to make almost anything people don't like considered bullying -- including rolling your eyes at someone or excluding them from a group. Meanwhile, there's this bizarre story, sent in by Aaron DeOliveira about a seven-year-old first grader who's being investigated for sexual harassment after kicking a bully in the testicle. Yes, the other kid bullied him first -- choking him -- and he responded. It's the choice of where the kick landed that seems to be the issue. The principal doesn't seem to care, noting that all that matters is that since one kid hit the other in the groin, "that's assault. That's sexual assault." Is common sense dead?