from the and-we-look-forward-to-the-eventual-copyright-fight dept
Yesterday evening I saw a tweet zip by in which some very smart people I know and respect appeared to be arguing about the color of a dress. It seemed like a weird thing, so I went and looked and saw what appeared to be a white and gold dress. No big deal. But, other people insisted that it was blue and black. Vehemently. At first I thought it was a joke. Or an optical illusion. Or maybe it depended on your monitor. But I called over a colleague here in the office, and she swore that it was blue and black. And I was 100% sure that it was white and gold. If you somehow live under a rock, here's the image:
We now know the "truth" (sort of) -- which is that the dress itself really is blue and black, but thanks to the lighting and some odd visual tricks it appears white and gold to a large part of the population. For what it's worth, many people report that after a period of time it switches, and that's true for me too. Late last night I took one last look (after everyone else in my family swore that it was blue and black) and I saw it blue and black. Amusingly, at almost exactly the same time, my wife suddenly saw it as white and gold. My mother-in-law suggested we both need to seek mental help. There are fights like this going on all over the internet, with lots of people trying to decipher why this image seems to work this way. So why are we writing about it here? Because it's Fair Use Week, and what a great fair use story.
This image isn't just being showed everywhere, it's being modified, flipped, adjusted, poked and prodded as people discuss it in all sorts of ways (comment and criticism). And it's all fair use. Take, for example, our own Leigh Beadon, who put forth on Twitter a theory about why different people see it in different ways:
Vice has an amazing story in which they present the image to a color vision expert who is so stumped he admits he may give up trying to cure blindness to devote the rest of his life to understanding the dress. The folks over at Vox both insist that the color changing can't be explained and that it can be (journalism!). The folks at Deadspin say you're all wrong and the dress is actually blue and brown. Almost all of these are using not just versions of the image, but modified ones as well, to try to demonstrate what they're talking about.
And there's been no talk about copyright. Because we don't need to be discussing copyright, because this is all fair use. Last night, some were pointing out that this was such an "internet" story that it's great that it came out on the same day the FCC voted for net neutrality, but I say it's an even better way to close out fair use week, with a great demonstration of why fair use matters.
from the the-last-time-we-reformed-our-privacy-laws... dept
For many, many years, we've been talking about the need for ECPA reform. ECPA -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act -- is an incredibly outdated piece of legislation from the 1980s that governs law enforcement's ability to access email and other electronic communications. This was the era before the internet was anywhere close to the mainstream (though it did exist). Among the various weird parts of the law, it says that any communication that is over 180 days old and still on a server is considered "abandoned" so that the government can access it without a warrant. Think about that in this era when you keep all your communications online. It was written when lawmakers thought people would "download" the messages off a server. That's just the most noteworthy problem -- there are all sorts of different definitions based on messages that have been opened or not opened and other oddities as well, almost none of which make sense.
Last year we noted that more than half of the House was co-sponsoring a bill put forth by Reps. Kevin Yoder and Jared Polis to reform ECPA in a big way. But even with so many supporting the law, it failed to move. A big hurdle? Both the IRS and SEC (note: not your standard law enforcement agencies) like the fact that they can use ECPA to snoop through electronic communications (without a warrant -- which those agencies can't get on their own anyway).
Yoder and Polis are back again with another attempt, and it's matched by a similar legislation in the Senate from Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee. To get attention for the bill, Yoder, Polis and some other supporters took to Twitter in a bit of a meme fest, highlighting some historical facts to demonstrate just how long it's been since ECPA became law. It's worth scrolling through them all (though, there are a lot), because some are pretty funny:
At this point, it's a complete travesty that such a bill hasn't become law. People have explained the need for it for well over a decade, and more than half of Congress was signed on to co-sponsor it in the last Congressional term. Already this new bill has 228 additional co-sponsors in the House and another 6 co-sponsors in the Senate. The IRS and SEC's objections are simply ridiculous. Having more convenient access to someone's emails is no excuse for not better protecting the privacy of our online communications.
Of course, this isn't the only effort going on to protect privacy. Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Ted Poe and Suzan DelBene have also introduced a bill to update ECPA. It's pretty clear that Congress knows that the law needs to be updated, and it's time to get past whatever objections there are and actually start protecting our privacy.
It can be annoying when you can't get a song out of your head, but there are some strategies for doing so. Apparently, working on some puzzles can help by engaging your working memory and shutting out the "Shake It Off" lyrics. These earworms have a tendency to come back (and even invade our visual memes), but if you recognize that these songs are all constructed in a similar way, maybe you can fend them off. Here are just some examples.
All too often it seems as though companies take themselves entirely too seriously these days. With branding being seen as all important, too often the concept of actually behaving in a human and awesome way is lost, leading to a total lack of personality. Chevy, on the other hand, showed everyone else exactly how to handle the internet's cruel mockery.
If you're even a casual baseball fan, you probably watched some part of the game 7 World Series final the other night. If you stuck around for the presentation of the MVP trophy to pitcher Madison Bamgarner, you witnessed local Chevy guy, Rikk Wilde, attempt to give the sponsored trophy away. It did not go well.
While it is certainly understandable how a local guy with probably limited experience with speaking publicly before a national audience might fall victim to nerves in this scenario, the internet is a cruel observer and it went nuts with this video. In particular, Wilde's attempt to sell the world on the sweetness of Chevy vehicles due to the inclusion of "technology...and stuff" was instantly transformed into the meme du jour. Twitter blew up with #technologyandstuff tags, and some enterprising memesters came up with stuff like this.
All this was inevitable of course, because the internet loves to take a mistake and multiply it into a cultural thing for poops and giggles. It can't help itself. And, of course, Chevy just wouldn't be able to help from completely freaking out that what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated sponsorship marketing opportunity had turned into a massive joke. They'd simply have to go into damage control. Except they didn't. Nope, not even a little bit.
That's right. Instead of freaking out, Chevy decided to full on embrace the whole thing. Many commentators have suggested that Chevy should be thanking Wilde for his less-than-perfect pitch of the Chevy line and it seems that the company agrees.
Chevrolet spokesman Mike Albano, in an email, confirmed that Brian Sweeney, U.S. vice president of sales and service for Chevrolet, called Wilde on Thursday to tell him the Chevy team was behind him. Chevrolet spokeswoman Cristi Vazquez said the company saw a "large spike in hits" at Chevrolet.com on Wednesday night, with visits seven times higher than normal.
No kidding. Embracing the meme, even as it mocked the company, was exactly the right thing to do. That said, it isn't always the easiest move to make. Good on Chevy for embracing the meme to its own advantage when using technology and stuff.
If you're going to allow the corporate finger to rest heavily on the "Release the Lawyers" button, you need to be braced for the backlash. As backlashes go, this particular incident is light on one-star reviews and widespread excoriation. But it is dripping with sarcasm masquerading as wide-eyed innocence and shows just how quickly a handful of internet denizens can make someone wish they'd never bothered trying to "right" a "wrong."
A redditor registered the domain slutsofinstagram.com, as one does when presented with the available tools and the inclination to make snap judgements for the amusement of one's self and (hopefully) others. Shortly after that, the legal department of Instagram got involved, as one does when elbowing others for trademark breathing space and possessing the inclination to host photos without worrying about third-party hecklers.
The letter notes that slutsofinstagram.com "contains" the trademarked word "Instagram." It then talks about its 30 million users and being a "worldwide leader" in photo uploading and justifiably famous for doing so.
It also points out that it must police the internet for uses/abuses of its trademark, ensuring that consumers aren't confused and its mark remains tarnish-free. Finally, the letter notes that the registrant may not be familiar with trademark law, but that's the registrant's fault and he should immediately cease all use of the Instagram trademark, disable any site at that address and not attempt to trade/sell the domain name to another party.
That bit of officiousness prompted this completely ridiculous (but in the more positive sense) response:
Wow that sounds like you guys have a cool videogame. 30 million members. Holy moly! I was confused at first but you must be referring to my online fantasy series Slütsof in Stâgram. It's a really cool project I'm working on, you should check it out. It's about a magical goat and a duck princess who journey across the enchanted land of Stagram, many adventures are had…
I'm sorry if it sounds close to your company name but I don't think you own the alphabet, that would be funny imagine? Have a good day.
Two pages from slutsofinstagram were attached (completely SFW):
As the site owner notes, he has yet to hear back from Instagram. Some questions have been raised, like what kind of legal rep only signs her first name on a C&D and who the hell actually posts funny content to r/Funny? There's also a lack of clarity on the chicken-and-egg problem. Did this redditor create the site with artwork in place simply to troll Instagram, or did he actually have a more unsavory destination in mind before Instagram stepped in?
Either way, the resulting silence (if legit) is growing rather loud. The redditor apparently posted this in early August, even though it was only in the past few days that any attention has been paid to it. Instagram's purported actions have pretty much ensured this site will remain filled with hand-drawn ducks and goats (and Stâgram maps), rather than the more titillating content unwary surfers (and "Edith") may be expecting. So, in a way, it's still a win for Instagram, which won't have its name associated with the word "sluts." On the other hand, the content swiftly filling up slutsofinstagram.com definitely makes it a bit harder to legally claim this redditor should have to abandon his registered domain.
You will remember the nation of Tunisia for being a flash point of the Arab Spring revolution, in which social media and the internet played a massive role, as well as for the post-revolution government's subsequent crackdown on those tools that brought them into power. There seems to be something of an ongoing problem within Middle East governments, in that they simply don't recognize how to handle popular dissent, often taking on the very characteristics of the dissenter's complaints to an almost caricature level. In that respect, while it may sound silly, any government learning to deal with the open communication system of the net is going to have to come to terms with memes and the manner in which they spread.
Which brings us back to Tunisia. They seem to have a problem with this Gangam Style, Harlem Shake combo-video produced by some apparently fun-loving Tunisian students (the original was taken down due to a highly questionable copyright claim, by the way, because while even the Tunisian government wasn't evil enough to block the video, a bogus DMCA claim had no such qualms).
They danced en masse to the song and posted their exploits on YouTube. That prompted a quarter of a million hits and reports of an investigation by the country's minister of education and that prompted a backlash. Video after video after video of Tunisians proudly doing the Harlem shake in defiance.
Dear Tunisian people: congratulations! You've officially been made full members of the internet community now that you've engaged in trolling your own government as a form of protest. It's only a matter of time before you'll be naming soft drinks after fluid-expelling geriatrics.
Over in Egypt, the government didn't stop at a simple investigation, however. Four students were arrested for taking part in this Harlem Shake video shot in front of the Giza pyramids.
The response? A massive protest Harlem Shake performed directly in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters.
Sorry, Middle East governments, but the people have spoken, and they want their damned memes. And, actually, that brings to mind the obvious question: how the hell are memes a threat to you to begin with?
For those of you who have managed to avoid the viral sensation of February, known as "The Harlem Shake," consider yourselves lucky. People still seem at a total loss how this became "a thing," but it involves the opening 30 seconds of a song released nearly a year ago, called The Harlem Shake, by Baauer, with the first half involving someone in a wacky costume (often involving a helmet) dancing while others around them ignore it, followed by a bass drop and suddenly everyone around is dancing crazily, often involving costumes, stuffed animals (or real animals), people in sleeping bags and much much more. It's gone quite insane (and, yes, we know it's not "the real Harlem Shake" but so what?) with way, way, way, way too many people, companies and organizations all doing their own versions. There were reports of 4,000 Harlem Shake videos being uploaded to YouTube every single day, and over 60,000 being on YouTube already. If you want (and I warn you to be careful), you can spend hours going through video after video. The KnowYourMeme link up top has collected some of the most popular ones. I cannot vouch for how many such videos it takes before you are driven insane, so be forewarned.
Over the weekend Baauer's song hit number one on the charts and it appears to be doing fairly well around the globe. Also, the song has resulted in a sold out show in NY for Baauer and what is likely to be a fair bit of money. That's because, rather than freak out about others using "his" song (which includes a bunch of samples), Baauer and his label Mad Decent have a deal with INDmusic, which helps indie labels/musicians claim YouTube videos via ContentID and place ads on them. So, combine a top selling song on iTunes, plus allowing the free use of it on YouTube (and monetizing it via ads) and it seems like a tidy profit is being made.
So, for a bit, this was looking like yet another story of how letting people build something on your music was enabling a nice way for one artist to make money, without flipping out about "copyright infringement." But... then we learned that it wasn't quite that simple. As highlighted by The Verge, while Mad Decent and Baauer have mostly let people do what they want with the song, they did send a takedown to Soundcloud over Azelia Banks posting her lyrics over the entire Baauer track, and also posting a video:
That quickly turned into a bit of a Twitter fight, with Banks calling out Baauer:
And, from there we get the following exchange:
Of course, it seemed like there absolutely had to be more to this, as it was unlikely that Banks put together that song and video so quickly after the meme took off (especially since the video doesn't reference the meme at all). Indeed, in an interview with the Daily Beast Baauer (real name: Harry Rodrigues) explains:
“I’m not happy about it,” says Baauer. “She had a version that we were going to release because I’m a big fan of hers. We knew she likes to beef with producers. So she laid something on ‘Harlem Shake’ and it was so/so. Didn’t love it. And that was a little while ago, and since all this video stuff happened, our plans all changed. Because of that, we decided to just release the song on it’s own with no vocal version. So we told her, ‘Please don’t release your version.’ And she said, ‘Well, I’m going to put it online anyway.’ And we said, ‘Please don’t. We’d really like it if you didn’t.’ And she did.”
Still, while lots of folks are defending Baauer here (in part because Banks does have a reputation for getting into arguments with people, and in part because she also went on a homophobic rant), she did have a point when she tweeted this:
Art is supposed to be inspiring, and you should be happy when someone is inspired by your art. In fact, one might argue that Baauer's statement to Banks that "its not ur song" could potentially come back to bite him as well. In that same Daily Beast interview, he talks about how he created the song:
“I just had the idea of taking a Dutch house squeaky-high synth and putting it over a hip-hop track,” he says. “And then I tried to just make it the most stand-out, flashy track that would get anyone’s attention, so put as many sounds and weird shit in there as I could. The dude in the beginning I got somewhere off the Internet, I don’t even know where, and the lion roar just makes no sense.” He laughs. “There’s the sound of flames in there, too, it’s just really low.”
He doesn't know where the "dude in the beginning" comes from -- though, the folks at Reddit have figured it out (because Reddit knows everything). You have to imagine that wasn't licensed, though, if he didn't know where it was from. Who knows about all of the other samples. Personally, I think it's great that he created something by building on the works of others, and was inspired to create something that has become such a huge hit. But you'd think that someone who made the song by pulling bits and pieces from others wouldn't be so fast to sling claims of "ownership" back at someone else who built off of his work. Yes, there's more to it than that and, for the most part, Baauer seems reasonably giddy with all the insanity (and he definitely seemed to do a nice job with his Reddit AMA thanks in particular to this exchange).
It would just be nice if artists who really build on the works of others didn't jump to claiming ownership when others build on their works as well.
You may have heard that, over the weekend, President Obama released a photo taken late last week with him and Olympic medal winning gymnast McKayla Maroney, doing the "not impressed" pose:
If you're not up on your memes, you can catch up on the "McKayla Maroney is not impressed meme" here and here. The photo of the President doing the meme-tastic pose generated a ton of buzz, with the apparent story being that during her visit to the White House, the President pulled her aside and said "I pretty much do that face at least once a day."
Cute. And, of course, nice to have a President not so out of touch that he's unaware of internet memes.
Except... as lawyer Venkat Balasubramani quickly noted, the restrictions on use are somewhat questionable. Beneath the photo on the Flickr account, it states:
This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
This is, of course, not a new thing. In fact, we reported on this exact phrase on the White House Flickr feeds three years ago. As we noted at the time, there had been some controversy when the White House first started using Flickr in the early days of the Obama administration, as any Federal US government created work is automatically public domain. Yet, Flickr did not have a "public domain" license option. In response, Flickr actually created a special license to indicate that the work was a US government work. That license explicitly states that "anyone may, without restriction under U.S. copyright laws... create derivative works."
And yet, the White House is ignoring what that license says in claiming that the photograph "may not be manipulated in any way." That's clearly untrue under the law and a form of copyfraud, in that they are overclaiming rights.
But, in this case, it's especially ridiculous, since the entire reason the "McKayla is not impressed" meme became so popular was the memegeneration of putting her displeased face into various other images.
With more and more internet adoption worldwide, collaboration and sharing as a genesis for creativity is becoming the norm. The marquis example is Wikipedia, of course, although we've noted a general theory that great ideas can spring from sharing and collaboration, often leading to unexpected (but fun) results. That's one of the reasons it's so fun to see things like the following emerge (completely NSFW, unless you're employed by Dark Helmet Inc.):
Yes, that's the trailer for a new video game to be released shortly, and it was inspired almost entirely by an online group and the resulting internet meme the group produced. Included amongst this list of video games resulting from internet memes, the entire premise of the game began with what was essentially a bitch-session online over how awful shooter game sequels are.
It all started with a joke on a forum. One NeoGAF forum user, annoyed with how lazy shooters had become, complained that he was tired of games like 'Dudebro 2: It's Straight-Up Dawg Time.' It grew from there.
The phrase became a byline for tired, me-too games, but it was so absurd that it got people thinking. Soon, it had mock cover art and a storyline. Before long, a team of fans were working on an entire game, a 2D platformer, and it's on the way soon. It even stars Jon St. John, the actor famous for voicing Duke Nukem.
Apparently, somehow, the entire premise for what looks like a hysterical game was generated spontaneously online in a collaborative format, as was the trailer, cover art, and storyline. Now, it may quickly be pointed out by some that the end product of this creativity is subject to copyright by default, but that misses the point entirely. This is simply another example of how creation occurs and how sharing and exchanging ideas freely can produce an interesting project as well as a great deal of fun. As collaboration of this nature expands due to the ability of people to connect on the internet, the overall need to lock up ideas relative to creative output is going to weaken. There may still be some "artists" who create simply for monetary gain, but their ranks are lessening.
According to a story pointed out to us by @sinkdeep, that sweet octogenarian lady is back, accompanied now by her lawyers, claiming copyright on her work and demanding a cut of the takings from the collection box that the church authorities have placed near the fresco (original in Spanish.)
It would be fascinating to know where the idea came from: whether somebody suggested to her that she had a "right" to some of the church's money, or whether the sense of entitlement -- in this case for more or less ruining an admittedly minor work of art -- is now so widespread that everyone, everywhere, naturally assumes they ought to get their cut as soon as money is involved. Either way, it's a sad commentary on our times -- and on what a belief in copyright can do to otherwise generous people.