It should be quite clear by now that DRM is a fantastic way for video game makers to keep people from playing their games. Not pirates, though. No, those folks can play games with DRM just fine, because DRM doesn't actually keep piracy from being a thing. No, I'm talking about legitimate buyers of games, who in example after example after example suddenly find that the games they bought are unplayable thanks to DRM tools that work about as well as the American political system. And yet DRM still exists for some reason, as game makers look for some kind of holy grail piece of software that will turn every past pirate into a future dollar sign.
This search for the perfect DRM continues, as we have just the latest story of DRM gone wrong. This story of the Street Fighter V DRM, though, is a special kind of stupid because it was put in place via a software update release, meaning that a game that worked perfectly one day was bricked the next.
The doodad was announced on Thursday shortly before the update rolled out. Capcom called it “an updated anti-crack solution (note: not DRM) that prevents certain users from hacking the executable.”
They continued, “The solution also prevents memory address hack that are commonly used for cheating and illicitly obtaining in-game currency and other entitlements that haven’t been purchased yet.”
This DRM that Capcom insisted wasn't DRM apparently set off anti-virus software for a ton of legitimate customers, triggered warnings from Windows security software, caused PC crashes for others, and even killed one person's new puppy. Okay, that last one didn't actually happen, but the rest did, and it's the exact sort of thing that DRM shouldn't do: screw those who actually bought the game. On top of that, it seems the update gave the game a rather deep level of access into any PC it was installed on, leading some to warn others off from buying it entirely.
As a result of the backlash, Capcom rolled back the DRM via another update pretty quickly, but one has to wonder just how many potential customers were lost in the meantime and how that number compares with the number of potential pirates that were turned into paying customers during that same time period. It would take more imagination than I have to dream up a version of reality in which the latter outnumbered the former, making this attempt at DRM a complete bust.
But, then again, they're all busts, really. So why are we wasting our time with DRM still?
As a lifelong Cubs fan with a resume that includes going to my first game at Wrigley when I was four months old and living in Wrigleyville for several years, I can at the very least claim some expertise on the culture around the team and the stadium. For those that have not been lucky enough to visit baseball's Mecca, the walk about up to the park consists of bar-laden streets on either Addison or Clark, with the sidewalks spilling over with fans, bar-patrons, and street vendors. Those street vendors offer innumerable wares, including t-shirts, memorabillia, and food. It's part of the experience.
An experience suddenly under fire by the team and Major League Baseball, which have jointly filed a federal lawsuit against some forty street vendors for trademark and counterfeit violations.
The Cubs and Major League Baseball filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against a vendors hawking allegedly counterfeit and trademark-infringing merchandise.
"Defendants are a group of vendors who are deliberately free riding on the success of the Cubs and trading — without a license or permission — on the substantial goodwill associated with the Cubs' trademarks and trade dress," the team and the league claimed in the lawsuit, alleging the vendors "flooded Wrigleyville and the Internet with all manner of unlicensed products."
They're not wrong, of course. These vendors are everywhere. As I said, it's part of the experience. And it got to be that way because it's gone on forever. That the team is suddenly taking this action on the eve of a playoff run is within its rights, certainly, but doesn't otherwise make a great deal of sense. Were this the problem the filing appears to claim it is, it should have been a problem during last year's playoff run, or in 2007 and 2008 when the team also made postseason appearances.
While much is made in the Tribune post about how the internet has exacerbated this problem, the vendors targeted here sell solely on the street around the ballpark. Something they have surely done for years now. The team must surely have considered the question of whether forty street vendors posed a true threat to its trademark rights and the insane merchandise revenue it collects from its own sales, and whether or not that threat was of greater importance than an ambiance and culture that has always been central to the team's commercial success.
The Cubs clearly think the threat is real, but it's tough to see how that makes sense. Other avenues besides a federal lawsuit could have been pursued in order to protect the team's trademark rights, but the Cubs didn't go that route. Instead, street vendors will be brought into court, even as the team makes its run. The friendly confines feel a little less friendly all of a sudden.
We were just talking about Bahnhof, the Swedish ISP with a reputation for protecting its customers privacy, and its script-flipping battle with a copyright troll called Spridningskollen. At issue is that Bahnhof has for some time operated a website, Spridningskollen.org, and has applied for a trademark registration for it more recently. The copyright troll is new in town, so to speak, and Bahnhoff is relying on common law trademark rights while its application goes through the process, but that isn't keeping the ISP from continuing to give Spridningskollen a taste of its own medicine.
Previously they accused Spridningskollen of trademark infringement and this week they followed up this threat with a more concrete warning. Giving the “trolls” a taste of their own medicine, Bahnhof sent them an invoice for the exact amount they also ask from accused pirates, to settle the alleged trademark infringement.
“You’re infringing our trademark ‘Spridningskollen.’ Bahnhof filed for the trademark on 2016-08-31, with the launch of the website Spridningskollen.org,” the settlement invoice reads.
Now, Spridningskollen will almost certainly not take Bahnhof up on its offer, but that isn't really the point. The point is that a copyright troll that wraps itself in the flag of anti-piracy, but which actually simply looks to bully settlement money out of the public, couldn't be bothered to come up with a name for itself that wasn't already in use and has now been served with the exact sort of settlement letter it itself wants to send to others. It's response to the letter is going to look bad either way. Bowing to its demands will be a public acknowledgement that the "anti-piracy" group violated another group's intellectual property. Not a good look. Fighting back against the letter, as it surely will, casts doubt on the legitimacy of its own threat-settlement letters and provides the public with a role-model example for what to do if they receive such a settlement notice.
It's a checkmate move, in other words. That Bahnhoff is asking for the exact amount that Spridningskollen plans to ask for in its own letters simply layers on a bit of snark to all of this. Which makes Bahnhoff an early favorite for the ISP doing the most to protect its customers from copyright bullies while entertaining the rest of us.
This is a strange one, for sure. Often times when we discuss disputes from copyright licensing or collection groups, which will universally complain that they are not collecting enough money when given any opportunity, some will comment that the artists should just pull their music from all broadcasts if they're not happy with the arrangement. This kind of nuclear option is rarely, if ever, invoked for a whole host of reasons that include compulsory licensing arrangements and rules, the sincerity of the complaints from the licensing groups, and the simple business interests behind the benefits of having music heard on the radio.
But in Macedonia, one such licensing group has quite literally taken its musical ball and stomped home. This whole spat has been initiated by ZAMP, previously the sole music copyright collection organization in all of Macedonia, all because a second collection group has been started in the country, alongside more strict rules governing how much money ZAMP can collect for the artists it represents. As a result, ZAMP has informed Macedonia's broadcasters that they are henceforth banned from playing any music created by Macedonian artists, whom ZAMP claims to represent.
The ban came after the culture ministry gave a licence to the newly-formed SOKOM MAP association to collect songwriters’ and performers’ fees from TV and radio broadcasters.
“Their goal is to divide the authors and to put a hand on the money collected by ZAMP. Thus the new association, SOKOM MAP, has become an instrument in the culture ministry’s hands,” ZAMP said in a statement.
SOKOM MAP, the new collection group, has insisted that it is not in fact an arm of the Macedonian government, but another collection group representing artists. Based on a frustrating Google translation of SOKOM MAP's website, it appears to have nothing to do with the government at all, instead being a non-profit group representing songwriters.
Complicating all of this is a law in Macedonia that requires broadcasters to include 40% Macedonian-made music within their music broadcasts. Thus, broadcasters are currently screwed either way: they risk fines from ZAMP if they play Macedonian music, or risk fines from the government if they don't. To give you an idea of just who the broadcasters are afraid of most in this equation, they've pretty much universally bent to the demands of ZAMP.
“As of today, we decided to stop playing Macedonian music. Either way, we risk legal repercussions and steep fines,” one editor-in-chief of a regional radio station told BIRN under condition of anonymity.
And so, if you happen to be reading this in Macedonia at the time of this writing, you apparently can't hear any music made within that country on the radio. ZAMP took a dispute over how much money it got to collect as the only collection group in the country and managed to reduce that amount of money to absolutely zero by banning that music from broadcasts entirely. Seems like a recipe for new legislation that will further neuter ZAMP, as one imagines the artists it represents will be screaming bloody murder any moment now.
But, yeah, copyright doesn't hinder culture at all.
When we talk about young people filing lawsuits over "oversharing" of information and/or media on social media sites, schools are typically the targets of the suits. Inevitably, whether school personnel originally sought access to a student's social media accounts for good intentions or simply to be a slut-shaming dick, the contents within the accounts are then weaponized for humiliation purposes.
But a recent lawsuit filed by an eighteen year old woman in Austria must have parents the world over wincing. At issue wasn't some random person or school official attempting to shame the girl. It was just her parents' sharing photos of a family member and now they face a lawsuit.
A 18-year-old woman from Carinthia is suing her parents for posting photos of her on Facebook without her consent. She claims that since 2009 they have made her life a misery by constantly posting hundreds of photos of her, including embarrassing and intimate images from her childhood.
Legal expert Michael Rami was quoted by Austrian media as saying he believes she has a good chance of winning in court. The shared images include baby pictures of her having her nappy changed and later potty training pictures.
As a relatively new parent myself, I can assure you I'm paying attention. I haven't shared anything so intimate as potty-training photos of my two boys on social media, mind you, but who is to say what pictures my grown-up son might eventually come to feel is embarrassing? In the age of social media, I would think it's only pictures of our children that out-mass pictures of our food among those we share with our followers and friends. Well-meaning as we all might be, what happens if courts ill-prepared to tackle these kinds of disputes suddenly render this family sharing tortious?
To be fair to the young lady in question, it appears that her parents turned something of a deaf ear to her non-litigious complaints.
Despite her requests, they have refused to delete the photos - prompting her to sue them. "I'm tired of not being taken seriously by my parents", she said. Her father believes that since he took the photos he has the right to publish the images.
Because of our writing topics here at Techdirt, I'm basically thinking about intellectual property roughly all the time, but even I am having trouble imagining myself asserting this kind of defense as a father. I can imagine how frustrated the young lady must be at the callous attitude her parents have taken. But does it amount to something worthy of a lawsuit?
Well, Austrian law isn't as strict on matters of privacy and social media as other nations. As the article notes, the French government has gone so far as to warn parents against sharing photos of their children for fear of the social repercussions for them later in life. There's way too much hand-wringing in that kind of stance for my taste, but I can also see their point. I would hope, however, that the question comes down to delineating what qualifies as embarrassing content and what doesn't, rather than relying on any individual's interpretation. Otherwise, the courts could be a mess for a long time coming.
More alcohol industry trademark news for you folks, except this time the ridiculous party in the story is not in the alcohol industry. This particular dispute revolves around a new liquor from Bacardi called "Tang," and if you thought the most likely party to object to Bacardi's trademark application for the new brand was from a soda company, you aren't alone. Unfortunately, the Texas Rangers, who I'm fairly certain are still in the baseball business, beat everyone else to the punch.
Bacardi’s Tang is a liquor distilled from fermented Chinese green tea. It’s applied to the Patent and Trademark Office to register its “Tang” logo for a tea distilled spirit and alcoholic beverages except beer. The ball club is fighting Bacardi’s registration because, it says, the “T” in Bacardi’s Tang logo looks too much like the “T” in the Texas Rangers logo.
And here are the logos in question, side by side.
Now, while the letters "T" in both logos do look kinda-sorta similar, there's a slight chance that's because it's a single freaking letter in the English language and there are only so many ways to depict a capital "T" in a recognizable way. The only real stylistical similarity in the two "T"s is the outjuts in the mid-section of the stem in each letter — known as "median spurs" and found on lots and lots of typefaces. Other than that, the letters are actually fairly distinct in style. And, of course, the rest of each logo has a shit-ton of other components which all severely demonstrate the source of each logo. This makes customer confusion laughably unlikely, particularly given that the Texas Rangers are known by the public to be in the sporting industry, even though the team claims it holds trademarks on its logo for use on beverages and food services.
Still, the Rangers have claimed that the public might think Tang is affiliated with the team. Which is ridiculous. And yet... it looks like settlement talks are already in the works.
So far, not much has happened in the cancellation proceedings. But one item on the case docket indicates that the matter has been suspended while the parties engage in settlement negotiations.
I'm a bit surprised that Bacardi, a company with the resources to defend itself, is even bothering with the settlement talks. The only way it would make sense to me is if the "settlement" was light on any monetary exchange, because the Rangers don't have much of a chance on this one.
You might be forgiven if you were under the impression that the Russian government is a bit behind the times when it comes to modern technology and its never ending desire to stifle every last bit of dissent possible. Between the bouts its had with internet censorship and some strange claims about how binge-watching streaming services are a form of United States mind-control, it would be quite easy to be left with the notion that this is all for comedy. Alas, blunders and conspiracy theories aside, much of this technological blundering is mere cover for the very real iron grip the Russians place upon free speech, with all manner of examples in technology used as excuses to silence its critics.
And now it's no longer just human beings that need fear the Russian government, it seems. Just this past week, a robot was arrested at a political rally. And, yes, I really do mean a robot, and, yes, I really do mean arrested.
A robot has been detained by police at a political rally in Moscow, with authorities attempting to handcuff the machine. The rally was for Valery Kalachev, a candidate for the Russian Parliament, who had rented the robot for his campaign.
Police have not confirmed why they detained the machine named Promobot, but local media was reporting the company behind the robot said police were called because it was "recording voters' opinions on [a] variety of topics for further processing and analysis by the candidate's team".
In other words, it sounds like the robot was acting as something of an automated pollster at a political rally. Given how much pollster data is fed directly into computers and machines upon its gathering, a robotic pollster is probably something of a natural next step. But not if the Russian government has its way, apparently. Yes, the same government that is busy happily hacking into all the things outside its country is busy keeping a robot from doing a menial task within it.
Based on my quick research, I'm not absolutely certain that this is the first formal arrest of a robot in history, but I can't seem to find any others. In which case it seems perfectly on point for that historic moment to be achieved by the Russian government and the fact that they tried to slap handcuffs on iRobot is absolutely perfect. Free Promobot!
In recent days, megalith digital games platform Steam found itself making headlines with a tweak to its game reviews system. At issue was Steam's prioritizing reviews from customers who bought a game on Steam over anyone else. Asked for an explanation for the move, Valve suggested that some game developers were attempting to game the reviews system by exchanging download codes for positive reviews. While this explanation omitted the prevalence of crowdsource funding of games, such as Kickstarter funding, Valve at least was putting on a public face of trying to treat its gaming customers well.
And now we have the second such story of Valve looking out for its gaming customers, as the platform has chosen to entirely drop a game developer known for its anti-consumer behavior off of the Steam store. You may recall that Digital Homicide is a game developer that has been featured on these pages before, having decided that the best way to deal with some mildly scathing reviews of its games was to sue the reviewer for ten million dollars, alleging emotional, reputational and financial distress. It seems that lawsuit wasn't a one-off, as Digital Homicide has now apparently filed suit against a whole bank of Steam users (at least 100), who reviewed Digital Homicide games, to the tune of $18 million, with a court recently granting a subpoena requesting that Steam turn over identification data for those users.
By Friday evening twitter user "lashman" discovered Valve had removed all of Digital Homicide's games from Steam. Games like Wyatt Derp, Temper Tantrum, and The Slaughtering Grounds (the first game Sterling reviewed)—are all gone along with their community pages, reviews, and associated downloads as if they'd never been there. You needn't worry if you've already bought the games in the past. They're still there, accessible through your account's library. But if you have a pressing desire to play Wyatt Derp in the coming days, you'll have to look somewhere else besides Steam.
"Valve has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam customers," Valve VP of marketing Doug Lombardi told Motherboard in a brief email. He didn't say how Valve plans to handle the subpoena or if "being hostile" even directly refers to the lawsuits.
Valve went as far as to allow community groups and past purchases to remain up on Steam, but everything else is gone. No more games for sale. No more reviews of any kind. No promo videos or early access projects. It's gone.
Digital Homicide, as is its wont, is attempting to wrap itself in the blanket of victimhood, throwing all kinds of accusations at its targets and doing everything it can to pretend that this legal action doesn't revolve around negative reviews of its products.
On Saturday night, Digital Homicide responded with a lengthy post on the studio's homepage, suggesting it targeted Steam reviewers who harassed them.
"The lawsuit recently filed is solely in regards to individuals where no resolution was able to be obtained from Steam to provide a safe environment for us to conduct business," Digital Homicide said. "We submitted numerous reports and sent multiple emails in regards to individuals making personal attacks, harassment, and more on not only us but on other Steam customers who were actually interested in our products."
The post then goes on to show screenshots of posts on the Steam community boards illustrating these personal attacks. Two of the biggest examples, in which one user says he wants "to murder every single person responsible for this [game]" and another that tells Digital Homicide chief James Romine he should "kill himself for making me waste 0.14 for your ****** game," don't appear in the leaked documents from a few days ago.
They don't appear there because these lawsuits have nothing to do with the kind of over-the-top vitriol that any game developer ought to have fashioned a thick enough skin to wave off in this digital era. This is all about the reviews and nothing but. Were the court to suddenly find itself burdened with lawsuits against every game review that included nasty language, the system would collapse on itself. Everyone knows this, everyone deals with this. It may not be pleasant, but it isn't a reason for a lawsuit.
Yet Digital Homicide's suit claims harassment, alongside -- swear to god -- disorderly conduct, stalking, criminal impersonation, tortious interference, libel, unjust enrichment, restitution, negligence, damages, and conspiracy to commit civil rights violations. In its response to being dropped from Steam, the developer goes on to claim that Valve's siding with its customers is an indication that Steam is not a "safe environment", before suggesting that some form of legislation is needed.
It better come quick, along with a win against every John Doe it is suing in court, because the prospects for Digital Homicide making any money from selling its games to a public now informed of these actions are bleak indeed. Valve meanwhile, and its Steam platform along side it, have built up just a little more goodwill with that same public in siding with customers over an abusive game developer.
In all of our coverage of copyright trolls, those rent-seeking underdwellers that fire off threat letters to those they suspect of copyright infringement with demands designed to extract cash without having to actually take anyone to court, it's quite easy to become somewhat numb to the underhanded tactics they employ. Between specifically targeting folks over pornography in order to minimize the chance that anyone might want to actually go to trial, to the privacy invading tactics occasionally used when a court case actually commences, it becomes easy to simply shrug at the depravity of it all.
But there is a special place in hell for copyright trolls who falsely inform students that failure to pay on receipt of threat letters, or who falsely inform foreign students that deportation could result from a failure to pay. According to at least one university in Canada, this is apparently a new favored tactic among some copyright trolls.
According to the copyright office at the University of Manitoba, mainly US-based rightsholders are writing on a regular basis to students demanding cash settlements for alleged infringement. Noting that the university forwards copyright infringement notices to students as they’re required to under the country’s ‘notice and notice‘ regime, the copyright office says some of the letters are “tantamount to extortion.”
In addition to cautioning over the potential for multi-million dollar lawsuits, some notice senders are stepping up their threats to suggest that students could lose their scholarships if fines aren’t paid. For visiting students, things become even more scary. According to the university’s copyright office, some porn producers have told foreign students that they could face deportation if an immediate cash settlement of hundreds of dollars is not forthcoming.
Just so everyone is clear, loss of scholarship and/or deportation is not a thing that can actually happen as a result of failure to pay a copyright threat letter. I'm unclear on the implications of these letters coming from the US to Canada, but it sure sounds a hell of a lot like wire fraud to me. The point of wire fraud laws is to prevent one entity from gaining another's possessions under false pretenses. Threats of consequences that will not occur sure seem to fit the description, and I would think the Canadian government would want to say something about the claim that a foreign company could influence its immigration oversight on the basis of downloaded pornography.
Fortunately, the school is not simply taking this without action. Joel Guenette is the Copyright Strategy Manager for the university and he regularly educates students on the true nature of these threats.
“None of these are real consequences that could ever happen in the Canadian scheme of things, but we hear from students all the time – especially international students – who are really freaked out by this,” Guenette says.
While being scared is understandable in such situations, Guenette’s department is keen to educate students on what these notices really mean. Particularly, they’re keen to stress that notice senders have no idea who notices have been delivered to, so students shouldn’t believe that copyright holders already know who they are.
Given how flimsy the evidence for any infringement tends to be in these cases, as well as how these accusations have been shown to be wrong in the past, the idea of subjecting this kind of terror to students, particularly foreign students, as purely a business tactic is about as slimy a thing as I can imagine. Hopefully more schools are doing as much as the University of Manitoba to educate their students on the pure BS of the majority of these troll letters.
It's football season again, which means some significant portion of America is routinely spending some significant chunk of its weekends watching some significant portion of male college students give some significant portion of each other irreparable brain damage. It's an American thing, I suppose. Also, an American thing is the acquisition of overly broad trademarks that border on the laughable. Intersecting these two bastions of American pride is Boise State, with a recent NY Times article discussing how the school managed to trademark athletic fields that include grass that is blue, with attorneys working with the school suggesting that any non-green colored field might result in trademark action.
For those not inclined towards watching college football, a quick piece of background. Several decades ago, the folks that run Boise State University didn't want to pay to resod their football field. So, instead, the school laid down blue turf in its stadium. Now real-life football players play on this:
Oy, it looks like the field has been cleansed with the blood of a hundred thousand smurfs. And, admittedly, the pure ugly of the field of play has become something of an icon for Boise State, gaining it national attention it might otherwise not receive, which translates into a recruiting tool for the school to lure players to its team. The school became so enamored with this attention that it sought to trademark simply having a field of athletic play that is blue, and was successful. To do this, the school hired an attorney that previously specialized in music licensing, because of course. That attorney's name is Rachael Bickerton, who both acquired the trademarks in question and now goes about enforcing them.
Her first priority was to register Boise State's trademarks, including the one for the blue turf. To do that, the staff had to prove to the USPTO that when consumers thought "blue field", they thought of Boise State. To make the University's case, Bickerton submitted articles, travel guides and marketing materials -- 141 pieces of evidence in all. The trademark office rejected the application in 2008, citing a "lack of distinctiveness", but approved the second attempt one year later after Bickerton argued that the previous year, Boise State had spent $2.2 million on advertising that singled out the field.
Now, we could sit around and argue whether or not having a blue football field was a thing fit to be trademarked. Personally, considering the specific color the school used, I could buy an argument that fans that see the field do indeed think of Boise State. I certainly do. But the school expanded the trademark in 2010 to fields not just blue, but fields that are "non-green." And that's crazy. Bradlee Frazer, an IP attorney working with the school, has stated that any non-green athletic field carries with it the risk of confusion pertaining to Boise State. He can say that all he wants, but such a stance likely wouldn't survive a challenge from another school.
But those challenges have never come, mostly because Boise State is quite liberal with freely licensing the ability to have non-green fields to other schools.
Boise State approves most requests "as long as it doesn't prevent Boise State from getting the best students and the best student-athletes that we're looking for," Bickerton said. Those schools that are approved receive the licenses at no cost. The only stipulation is that they cannot in any way liken themselves to Boise State.
So, to be fair, the school isn't behaving particularly badly as far as these trademark stories tend to go. Which doesn't change the fact that such an overly broad trademark on non-green athletic fields is pure crazy-pants. So if you're watching college football this weekend and see a colored football field, just know that even in your weekend escape, intellectual property law haunts you.
When it comes to the digital distribtion of video games, there are many animals in the ecosystem but only one real eight-hundred-pound gorilla. That, of course, is Steam, Valve's platform for a digital games marketplace. The fact that some insane percentage of online game purchases go through Steam is great news for Valve, of course, but it comes with challenges as well. There's a balancing act Steam must do, as it must ingratiate itself to both buyers of games and those who develop the games.
One recent attempt to, according to Valve, make Steam game reviews more useful to the gaming community has developers concerned, however. And, even if we take Steam's claims to its reasoning for the change, the concern by game developers is entirely understandable and warranted. This whole thing has to do with how Steam is prioritizing game reviews that come from reviewers who bought the game directly from Steam, as opposed to applying download keys acquired elsewhere.
Valve have again shaken up how the Steam store presents player reviews, this time adding new filtering options which, by default, don’t include reviews from people who got the game by activating a Steam key rather than buying direct from Steam. Valve say this is to prevent score inflation from devs throwing out free keys in exchange for reviews. That’s a noble goal, but the change also means discounting reviews from players who backed Kickstarters or bought the game direct from devs – groups likely to have genuine strong opinions – not to mention from other stores like Humble and Itch. Some devs are not best pleased.
Now, Valve's claim that there is a problem with reviews that come from these other sources isn't completely wrong. Particularly in talking about reviews of games bought straight from a developer. Some in the games industry have brought this kind of skepticism on themselves by engaging in practices such as requiring positive game reviews from YouTubers to get access to the game, or having employees within a developer astroturf game reviews themselves. It's not particularly far-fetched to think that there are game developers out there handing out Steam keys to their games in exchange for positive reviews, whereas a purchase directly from Steam doesn't carry that kind of suspicion.
But the problem with Steam's plan to tackle all of this is that the way gamers buy games is changing. Sources like Kickstarter and HumbleBundle can make up significant portions of a game's marketplace, and those buying through those sources are likely to have strong opinions on the games they backed. That's exactly the kind of review you want on a game's Steam page, but the new filters default to ignoring them.
The new Steam Review policy will hurt. As a kickstarter dev, your most passionate fans are now silenced.
And, of course, some are already claiming that Valve has instituted all of this in order to encourage more people to buy games directly from Steam if they ever want their reviews to be noticed. Or for more developers to push people to buy from Steam for the same reason. I doubt that's the case, actually, because a game that shows fewer reviews utlimately looks less popular and may turn off potential buyers, which would be the opposite of what Steam wants. Still, this look like another case of Valve taking a heavy-handed approach where more deft touch is required.
While Nintendo has been making waves for some time with its overly aggressive DMCA takedowns of any fan-work that includes its intellectual property, the company has really ramped things up lately. Recent actions include the takedown of a Mario fan game, a remake of a 25-year-old Metroid title, and engaging in all kinds of craziness over its Pokemon Go title. It was enough that one of Nintendo's biggest rivals couldn't help but take a subtle potshot at it, while simultaneously treating Sega fans like human beings.
Daniel Coyle, on Twitter as SuperSonic68, headed up a team of Sonic the Hedgehog fans in the development of a fan-made 3D Sonic game. Their work has been received rather well as of late, including on gaming blogs and YouTube channels. When one YouTube channel, GameGrumps, did a "let's play" of the fan game, it appears that Sega noticed and reached out in the comments section with a poke at Nintendo's aggressive nature and some encouragement.
This is the kind of thing we talk about a great deal around here: being human and awesome to your fans, while also understanding that not every use of your intellectual property is a threat. In fact, it can be a boon instead. This case is doubly so, with the fan-created work propelling more attention to the Sonic franchise as a whole by getting the brand into the gaming news bloodstream, while embracing fan creations builds up all kinds of goodwill towards Sega in general. This is how you do it.
Where Nintendo is in the news for treating its fans poorly, Sega makes news for treating them well, which will encourage other Sega fans to create more fan-works, which will keep Sega's properties moving around the wider internet as a result.
Sega’s latest dunk on their litigious competition shows a massive difference in how fan content is approached and I think they’ve got it right. Games Green Hill Paradise Act 2 like generate interest in properties and encourage passionate engagement with their franchise. They’ve even brought fans in to work on projects. Christian Whitehead, a long time fan, is now a programmer on Sonic Mania.
This is how you build loyalty, instead of anger, amongst a fan-base.
On the list of countries I've always wanted to visit but would be somewhat scared if I did, Russia is probably near the top. While there are certainly more dangerous parts of the world for any variety of reasons, I've found that the thing that gets me in the most trouble is my big mouth -- and the Russian government has made a habit of coming down on any kind of speech it doesn't like with a hand heavier than a Russian bear. This government uses its own laws in perverse ways to accomplish this, notably its laws that make it illegal to offend others on religious grounds, as seen chiefly in its treatment of punk band Pussy Riot.
On Saturday, Russian officials announced that atheist vlogger Ruslan Sokolovsky has been detained for two months for “inciting hatred” and “insulting religious feelings” after posting a video of himself playing Pokémon Go inside a historic cathedral. He reportedly faces up to five years in jail if convicted.
Now, the sensible amongst you are surely wondering how simply playing a mobile game in a church rises to the level of inciting hatred or insulting religious feelings. It doesn't, generally, and even those benefiting from the actions of the Russian government admit as much in their forward justification of the Russian government's heavy-handed action.
According to Meduza, police began investigating Sokolovsky soon after, finally detaining the 22-year-old vlogger this weekend. In a statement, Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoyda claimed it was the provocative nature of Sokolovsky’s video—and not playing the game itself—that led to his arrest.
“It is clear that Mr. Sokolovsky was not a casual passerby, who in a fit of gaming passion went into the temple, but rather a well-known young blogger in the city, who works in the style of Charlie Hebdo,” wrote Vladimir Legoyda on Facebook.
In other words, it wasn't the game that made Sokolovsky a target; it was who he was and what he's said. Not content to keep its religious citizenry from having to endure direct confrontational speech, instead the government has decided that indirect speech that it doesn't like, in this case posted on social media, is fair game under the law as well. And, while Sokolovsky knowingly flouted the law as a protest, that should be terrifying to anyone who holds free speech as an ideal, because now this government is suggesting that it can jail people for speech it decides is offensive, even when the speech wasn't directed at the supposedly offended.
And that's an open license for a government to simply lock up anyone it wants. While we rightly point out when western governments get questions of free speech incorrect, and they do, it's helpful to remember there are places where it's much, much worse.
When we talk password security here at Techdirt, those conversations tend to revolve around stories a bit above and beyond the old "people don't use strong enough passwords" trope. While that certainly is the case, we tend to talk more about how major corporations aren't able to learn their lessons about storing customer passwords in plain text, or about how major media outlets are occasionally dumb enough to ask readers to submit their own passwords in an unsecure fashion.
But for the truly silly, we obviously need to travel away from the world of private corporations and directly into the world of politicians, who often times are tasked with legislating on matters of data security and privacy, but who cannot help but show their own ineptness on the matter themselves. Take Owen Smith, for example. Smith is currently attempting to become the head of the UK's Labour Party, with his campaign working the phones as one would expect. And, because this is the age of social media engagement, one of his campaign staffers tweeted out the following photo of the crew hard at work.
Yes, a staffer for the campaign managed to tweet out the full login and password to the phone banks for the campaign's phone jam. That password was also declared weak by the same internet that had managed to suss it out from the photo as well, leading some to complain that politicians that cannot bother to run organizations that adhere to basic security practices shouldn't be trusted to legislate on those matters in government.
The tweet has since been deleted and the credentials altered, but password security practices probably start with a first step of: don't send out your l/p to the entire known internet-connected world.
In the world of video games, it's always useful to remember one thing: Nintendo hates you. More specifically, Nintendo hates its fans that go about expressing their fandom in ways that Nintendo does not specifically approve of. And Nintendo doesn't approve of much it seems, whether its fan-remakes of games made 25 years previously, fan videos of fan-created Mario Bros. levels, or fan-made movies featuring Nintendo game characters. Nintendo is not on board when it comes to its customers' desire to be creative and express their love for the games the company makes or the characters within them.
That stance continues to present, with Nintendo shutting down all kinds of fan-made creations. Those creators typically walk away from their projects in defeat. But when Nintendo decided to send a DMCA complaint to the creators of No Mario's Sky, those creators didn't just walk away. The game itself came out of a coding competition.
Ludum Dare (Latin “to give a game”) is a triannual game coding competition that was first held in 2002. In recent years it has become more popular after Minecraft designer Markus Persson became a semi-regular entrant. Its unique feature is that competitors are given a theme and then expected to produce a finished game in 48 to 72 hours.
One of the team entrants to Ludum Dare 36 (theme ‘Ancient Tech’) were ASMB Games (Alex McDonald, Sam Izzo, Max Cahill, Ben Porter) with their creation No Mario’s Sky, a game featuring “exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated universe.” While the game’s title clearly plays on Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky, it was the Nintendo element that got ASMB in hot water with the gaming giant.
The developers complied with the DMCA request sent by Nintendo. This also voided their entry into the competition. The team put out an announcement that detailed the DMCA request and thanked their fans for playing the game while it had been available. And that would normally be the end of this story, with another fan-created project torpedoed by the always-aggressive Nintendo.
In this case, however, the story continues.
While it’s disappointing that the game had to be taken down, ASMB weren’t quite done. After addressing the issues highlighted by Nintendo of America, the team went back to work and removed all ‘infringing’ content from No Mario’s Sky. The end result is a new game cheekily titled DMCA’s Sky.
And so the game Nintendo tried to kill off lives on and has even been renamed so as to increase the awareness of Nintendo's aggressive and bullying ways. Meanwhile, because of the controversy, a heck of a lot more people are being exposed to DMCA's Sky than would have been otherwise. Bang up job, Nintendo.
Copyright trolls still plague the world, unfortunately. While many are the group and individuals that advocate against this form of legal extortion, nearly always built upon shaky evidence at best, too silent have been the ISPs that copyright trolls utilize to send out their settlement letters. For whatever reason, ISPs en masse have decided that it isn't prudent to advocate for their clients. But not all ISPs behave this way. In Sweden, ISP Bahnhof, which we have written about previously for its client-friendly practices, is fighting back against one copyright troll on behalf of its customers in the best way possible: by turning the intellectual property tables back upon them.
Sweden has recently become something of a target for copyright trolls, with Spridningskollen leading the charge. This group, the name of which translates into English as "Distribution Check," uses data gathered by anti-piracy groups to send out the typical threat letters and settlement requests to people who have IP addresses accused of infringing on copyrighted material. A spokesman for Spridningskollen, Gordon Odenbark, insisted that his group's work was necessary for both providing revenue to rights holders and, more importantly, to deter the general public from violating the intellectual property rights of others.
There's just one problem: Bahnhof has a valid trademark for the term "spridningskollen."
“Bahnhof was the first to apply for the Spridningskollen trademark rights at the Swedish Patent and Registration Office,” the ISP announced.
Earlier this year Bahnhof was the first ISP to warn the public about the looming flood of settlement requests. To help the public understand the severity of the issue the ISP launched the site Spridningskollen.org, which they say maps the “spread of extortion letters” from copyright holders.
It's somewhat poetic that a consumer-friendly ISP started a website and got a trademark on a term that a copyright troll then chose to adopt as its name. Bahnhof appears to have started this website in April or so of this year, while the copyright troll's operations appear to have started more recently, which means that this isn't a case of Bahnhof squatting. Instead, it appears that the copyright troll, so concerned in appearance with piracy, didn't bother to do its homework in the trademark arena. And Bahnhof, seeing an opportunity to strike back legitimately in its customers' interests, isn't going to let this chance go by quietly.
Now that the anti-piracy group has ‘stolen’ their name, Bahnhof plans to take action over the apparent trademark infringement.
“It is surprising that those who claim to defend intellectual property rights don’t track it better themselves. It says a lot about the quality level of their so-called initiative,” Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung says.
The ISP is demanding that the website of the anti-piracy group, Spridningskollen.se, is shut down.
“Our lawyers are looking into it. We see the many different ways that interfere with their operation. Extortion letters are unethical, anachronistic and counter-productive,” Karlung says.
The rest of the world needs ISPs like this to assist in the stamping out of disease-fire that is copyright trolls. One can only hope that Sweden will successfully export the concept of an ISP that actually looks out for its customers.
We've spent some time and energy in these pages poking at Bethesda and its parent company, Zenimax, over each's overtly ridiculous stances on protecting what it views as its intellectual property in the past. But even a bad actor in the IP arena can get things right in other ways and Bethesda has shown itself to be fairly good in the past in the area of connecting with its fans. This is one of the more underappreciated aspects involved in digital business models, in which the digital realms where we operate open up content producers to direct interaction with their customers. Done right, this will ingratiate a business with its community, fostering a loyalty it might otherwise not have. Done really right, it gets a company all of that plus a PR bonus that can only come from these organic interactions.
Which brings us back to Bethesda, makers of Fallout 4. The company recently heard from one fan showing his appreciation for its work on the game and the game's help in getting him through some fairly rough times.
“I have spent over 500 [hours] in this game,” NoohjXLVII wrote on theFallout 4 Reddit (via Eurogamer). “Partly due to the fun gameplay, the new survival mode, and just the game in general. My dad passed away last year (age 56)... I didn’t take it well.”
To deal with the pain, he made a bipedal sentry bot and named it after his father. “The name of the bot was GR-36, as his name was Greg.” Then, this summer, when NoohjXLVII finished Fallout 4, he got a call that his 24-year-old brother was in the ICU. Sadly, his brother passed away. (His friends started a GoFundMe, which goes into more detail about his medical condition.)
“Thank you Bethesda for providing me with this wonderful game and distraction for everything I’m going through,” NoohjXLVII wrote.
Entertainment has always worked this way, whether it's professional sports, books, movies or music, an artistic medium's capacity to whisk us away from the troubles of life has always been a primary motivator. Those troubles can be mundane, or they can be of the more extreme variety. The ability to lose oneself is no different in the art of video games.
Still, stories and feedback like this are not especially rare. I've seen them all over the place. More rare is Bethesda's decision to thank NoohjXLVII not only by sending him a very nice care package, but by writing his late brother into the game as a character.
Bethesda not only sent NoohjXLVII a care package, but added his brother to the game’s Nuka World DLC.
“The words they use sound exactly like him, however he was also a pretty funny guy, full of puns,” NoohjXLVII wrote yesterday, thanking Bethesda and saying he would forever be in their debt.
The character is overtly kind and caring to the player, mirroring what NoohjXLVII says of his real life sibling. It's touching for the public, but must have been a deeper kind of experience for this one person who lost two family members. Whatever we might say about the company's stance on intellectual property protectionism, this is connecting with fans done very, very well.
Hopefully you will recall that Take Two Interactive had been facing down two lawsuits brought by Lindsay Lohan and Karen Gravano over character depictions in the company's opus, Grand Theft Auto V. Both filed suit over publicity rights and likeness concerns in New York. Lohan claimed that a character in the game that evaded paparazzi after having sex in public and made some oblique references to similar-sounding movies that Lohan had acted in, along with a female character on the game's cover art, were both ripping off her personage. Gravano, meanwhile, claimed that a different character, one which made references to starring in a reality show about mobster wives and evading mob retribution, was ripping off her personage. While both suits failed to address the fictional differences in the characters, which were both composite characters parodying their celebrity archetypes, Take Two attempted to defend itself with those facts and tried to get the case dismissed. Strangely, the court at the time allowed the case to move forward...
On Thursday, New York's appellate division first department took a look at both this case as well as one involving ex-Mob Wives star Karen Gravano, who brought a similar lawsuit against Take-Two over Grand Theft Auto V. Gravano had filed a $40 million complaint over the character of "Andrea Bottino," who allegedly used the same phrases the plaintiff did, had a father who was a government informant and had a mutual connection with reality television. Gravano's suit was given a green light by the same trial judge in the Lohan lawsuit.
The court's decision makes it clear that both lawsuits, brought for publicity rights reasons, don't stand up to New York's law. First and foremost, this is because the characters in the game aren't a direct composite of either plaintiff.
Both Gravano's and Lohan's respective causes of action under Civil Rights Law § 51 "must fail because defendants did not use [plaintiffs'] name, portrait, or picture'" (see Costanza v Seinfeld , 279 AD2d 255, 255 [1st Dept 2001], citing Wojtowicz v Delacorte Press , 43 NY2d 858, 860 ). Despite Gravano's contention that the video game depicts her, defendants never referred to Gravano by name or used her actual name in the video game, never used Gravano herself as an actor for the video game, and never used a photograph of her (see Costanza at 255; see generally Wojtowicz at 860). As to Lohan's claim that an avatar in the video game is she and that her image is used in various images, defendants also never referred to Lohan by name or used her actual name in the video game, never used Lohan herself as an actor for the video game, and never used a photograph of Lohan (see Costanza at 255).
And, second, because the kind of depiction being discussed in these cases is protected First Amendment speech, as should have been obvious from the outset.
Even if we accept plaintiffs' contentions that the video game depictions are close enough to be considered representations of the respective plaintiffs, plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed because this video game does not fall under the statutory definitions of "advertising" or "trade" (see Costanza at 255, citing Hampton v Guare , 195 AD2d 366, 366 [1st Dept 1993], lv denied 82 NY2d 659  [stating that "works of fiction and satire do not fall within the narrow scope of the statutory phrases advertising' and trade'"]; see generally Brown v Entertainment Merchants Assn. , 564 US 786, 790  ["(l)ike the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas . . ." and deserve First Amendment protection]). This video game's unique story, characters, dialogue, and environment, combined with the player's ability to choose how to proceed in the game, render it a work of fiction and satire.
Meanwhile, one imagines that the legal teams for both women have been handsomely paid for not informing their respective clients of the futility of these lawsuits from the outset. I mentioned early on in these posts that the legal team for Take Two ought to have been able to stroll into court in their underwear, scream "Parody! First Amendment!" and immediately walk out of the courtroom victorious. That it had to go to much more trouble than that is unfortunate, but it's still good to see the court get this right.
Some terrestrial TV stations and cable stations are better at internet-ing than others. While Netflix has built an empire upon streaming ad-free shows, for instance, other services like Hulu have gone the route of a tiered structure, with a price point for streaming with ads and one for streaming without ads. One of the interesting things is seeing other traditional broadcast networks watch how these models play out and then go about offering their own. Take CBS, for instance. It's very clear that CBS is enamored with the idea of streaming its content advertising free, but likes Hulu's tiered structure better than that of Netflix.
At CBS' site, you can see that it is now offering two tiers of its "All Access" platform. The existing service is offered with "Limited Commercials", while a service that costs $4 more is labeled "Commercial Free." I'd like to focus on the commercial free offering for a moment, because it's a bold step that includes giving viewers a way to stream CBS shows "commercial free", except where there are both commercials and where CBS is choosing to call "commercials" by the term "promotional interruptions" instead.
There are some caveats to CBS’ “commercial-free” option. CBS isn’t spending much time highlighting these asterisks, but they tell you interesting things about the TV ecosystem in 2016:
-If you stream a CBS show live, when it first airs, you’ll still see ads — the same ones you’d see on conventional TV, depending on the local TV market you’re in.
-CBS says “select on-demand shows will include promotional interruptions.” I talked to a CBS rep for a translation: The “promotional interruptions” will be brief, but un-skippable, promos — 15 seconds at most, and no more than two promos per half-hour — for other CBS shows. They’ll show up in about 10 percent of CBS’ episodes, and about 20 percent of its titles — generally its newer shows. That’s because CBS has sold on-demand rights to some of those shows to subscription services like Amazon or Netflix, and in some cases those services have exclusive rights to an ad-free “window” for those shows.
It appears CBS has been taking its cues from the mobile network industry, which absolutely loves calling its plans "unlimited", even though they are very much limited. In this case, the streaming service is "advertising free", except for all the ads on live shows and all of the promotional interruptions on streaming the older library. I had once thought that coming up with new business models to appeal to the public was hard. Turns out it's not! You just have to call one thing by another name and insist the entire world play make believe!
The folks over at Recode appear to think that CBS doesn't even really want people to use this option.
The big picture is that CBS is still very much in the advertising business, and will be for a very long time. So it is presumably betting that the ad-free option will only be interesting to a subset of its All Access subscribers, who are a small subset of its total audience.
It's breathtaking in its cynicism. CBS decides to claim a service is something it isn't while hoping most customers don't use it or want it and instead use the other level of service. It's an insight into how the company sees its viewers, as little more than money-levers waiting to be pulled in the right order to extract the maximum amount of revenue, regardless of whether it has to engage in double-speak and obfuscation in order to do so.
We at Techdirt want to play along with CBS on this sort of thing, which is why we're proud to say that this post is offered to you vulgarity free! On an unrelated note, CBS' advertising free offering is bullshit.
While the University of Texas is no stranger to being a trademark bully, and colleges in general have become overtly maximalist in intellectual property protectionism, it can still be stunning to see the lengths to which a school will go. The latest trademark dispute concerning UT involves donuts shaped in the 'hook 'em horns' gesture, because apparently the school is now in the pastry business. Recently, the owner of Donut Taco Palace 1, Angel Seng, received a threat letter from the university insisting that she stop making donuts that look like horned-hands.
The letter, dated July 19 and sent from law firm Pirkey Barber, which represents the University of Texas in trademark and unfair competition matters, included a photo of Seng’s Longhorn Donut and an explanation that it violates UT’s trademarked “LONGHORN Marks,”which include the words “longhorn” and “longhorns” and the Hook ‘Em hand symbol.
“While the University appreciates Donut Taco Palace’s enthusiasm, UT is understandably concerned about your use of the LONGHORN Marks in this manner,” the letter said. “We suspect that you were not aware of the University’s trademark rights when you started selling ‘Longhorn Donuts.’ We trust that, now that these rights have been brought to your attention, you will take the appropriate steps to discontinue sales of the ‘Longhorn Donuts’ and refrain from any other uses of the University’s marks.”
And here is a picture of the donuts in question.
Now, while the UT website page that specifically discusses licensing arrangements in the most non-specific manner possible doesn't detail which areas of commerce it has trademarks on for the hook 'em hand gesture, nor does the letter that Seng received, UT representatives have managed to trot out the tired old excuse for why the school must behave this way.
Craig Westemeier, senior associate athletics director for trademark licensing at the University of Texas, said in an email that the university receives tips on trademark violations from a variety of sources including alums, fans, staff, faculty, students and anonymous emails. He said the UT brand must be monitored and protected in order to maintain its integrity and value.
“It is an integral part of the trademark law that we protect to regulate the use of and educate the public regarding our rights in these marks. That is our responsibility as a trademark owner,” he said. “We cannot permit the use of our trademarks without providing approval, review and quality control of the item being produced. An inferior product or one that is not properly vetted could hurt the University’s reputation.”
As we've pointed out over and over again, the threat-hammer is not the only way someone can go about protecting its trademark from dilution. With that even being said, there are real questions as to the validity of UT's claim. Questions such as: does the school have a trademark on the hand gesture in the area of baked foodstuffs, can it demonstrate any real or potential customer confusion as to whether or not the school was involved in the creation of these donuts, and exactly how often has the school gotten into trademark disputes with heavy metal rock fans and satanists that famously use the same hand gesture?
Sadly, these questions will go unanswered, because trademark bullying works.
Inside Donut Taco Palace, where pale pink walls are covered with photos of menu items that include a doughnut sandwich (a cinnamon roll, cut in half, toasted and stacked with cheese, egg and sausage) and yes, a doughnut taco, there’s a blank space where the Longhorn Donut used to be. Seng said fighting the university would probably become a doughnut vs. Goliath proposition that she can’t afford, so for now she’s re-naming it and purposely selling fewer.
“We’ll change the name and let it go,” she said. “It wastes time to fight back. It’s not worth it.”
"You just literally stated that it is okay for us to import potential terrorist refugees because they would only kill a small number of Americans."
What I said, had you bothered to understand it, is that the ideals America is to uphold are worth the lives of some patriots. Should you want to disagree with this, go ahead, but understand how cowardly you will appear in doing so.
That's mostly because the point that Trump is trying to make isn't accurate, isn't relevant, and doesn't remotely convey an accurate depiction of whatever threat or danger might exist from the taking in of Syrian refugees. I'll give you an example of how to fix this analogy based on the actual danger involved and to keep the analogy consistent.
-I present you with a swimming pool filled with Skittles and inform you that you can eat them by the handful, but within this swimming pool of Skittles, there are roughly 100 or so that have just enough poison in them to destroy roughly .001% of the cells in your body. Would you eat them?
My answer is YES, I fucking love Skittles and my body can recover quite easily from the loss of a tiny amount of cells in my body. The pleasure of Skittles (or the pleasure of being kind to the downtrodden of the world) far outweighs the displeasure of losing some cells in my body (having some of the downtrodden kill an unfortunate by statistically infinitesimal number of American citizens). In other words, taking in refugees, or eating the Skittles, does more good than harm, all while living up to the ideals of American society.
The biggest of many flaws in this stupid Skittles analogy is that it uses multiple skittles to represent refugees, but only a single body to represent America, a body which can be permadeathed by a few poison skittles. That isn't how this works, nor is it an accurate depiction of the situation and relevant dangers.
So, once again, the Trumps prey on the simple by playing con-man games. Cool candidate you have there, bro....
Um, no, none of what you wrote is either correct, nor was it the subject of this post (which I wrote, not Mike). The point of this post was that playing word games with customers is a shitty way to do business. It was not a comment on the quality of the ads that are still included in the ad-free service.
Good, informative, entertaining advertising most certainly IS content, and it can be captivating content when done correctly. I'm struggling to see how that's even arguable....
"ESPN gets even LESS sympathy, because they double douched in paying for the records and then making them public pretty much in direct violation of doctor patient confidentiality."
Um, no. ESPN by definition cannot violate patient doctor confidentiality as they are neither the patient nor the doctor. Again, this is a matter of who the lawsuits sights ought be set upon, and it sure shouldn't be ESPN, which did it's journalistic duty.
"Or rather they believed that their misfortunes were the result of their sins - but please bear in mind that the bible isn't supposed to be the literal word of God (like the Koran) but rather the writing of men inspired by God."
Well, that depends entirely on which version of Christianity you belong to, because biblical literalism is actually a thing....
"It rather depends on what you mean by secularism. Does secularism simply mean the separation of church and state - or does it mean some kind of aggressive anti-religious stance?"
Secularism is the policy of having the government both have no official religion and take no position of favor between religions. It is the separation of church and state. That's all it is.
"Since the United States motto is in God We Trust" it is not clear to me why it should be held up as an example of secularism."
I said we were secular, not PERFECTLY secular.
"I would describe the United States as a deeply religious, (historically) overwhelmingly Christian, country that adopted an (officially) religiously neutral government system in order to prevent the otherwise inevitable rise of religious conflict. In doing this the founding fathers were extending the model for defusing religious conflict that had earlier ended the 30 years war in Germany."
Which is about as perfect an example of secular democracy as you will find.
"To portray the founding fathers as non or even anti-religious is more than a stretch."
As with any other group of people, there was a mix. That said, some of the most important founders were certainly non-religious and/or actively atheist. Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen and Thomas Jefferson were all publicly deists at most, with all three of them actively writing against and making policy against religion. Paine in particular was about as anti-religious as it gets. Others called themselves Christian, but were so heavily influenced by deism that this claim doesn't really square with their other professed beliefs. Still others were devoutly Christian, such as Patrick Henry. That said, this nation was founded on the ideals of the enlightenment, which was itself a massive pushback on organized religion and its power.
To suggest that this nation isn't a beacon of secularism isn't just wrong, it missed the entire point of the country.
"The US government is thus a very different animal from the Chinese government - which still officially espouses atheism."
Correct. It would be every bit as illegal for our government to adopt a policy of atheism as Christianity. The 1st amendment's instructions to our government can bu summed up as: you shall take no position respecting religion.
"It is completely accurate, Google Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Darwin if you like."
Please. Stalin wasn't remotely a secularist. He created a church out of the state, was a minister in his youth, and even promoted "miracles" within communism, such as Lysenko's biology (2 harvests every season! wheee!). Mao Zedong, meanwhile, certainly was anti-religious, which isn't the same thing as secular. But, he ran his state as a secular state, so I take your point. However, why you would lead with Mao as an example of secularism instead of, oh I don't know, the UNITED STATES, is beyond me. As for Hitler, he wasn't remotely secular and it's laughable that you seem to think he was. He was overtly religious, as is easily proven.
"It also hits to your point that secular governments are somehow saints."
Not only did I not say anything remotely like that, I certainly hope you crafted the end of this sentence to be ironic, because it most certainly is. What I actually SAID was that secularism is preferable to theocracy. Is that REALLY something you're not prepared to agree with?
"And no, the Republicans are not the racist, sexist, phobic people the left like to believe they are. The only people that believe those lies are the left and it makes you look pathetic by repeating them."
Well, I'm most certainly not on the Left, as you call it, and Republicans most certainly ARE tilted towards racism and sexism to a degree more than the liberal parties we have. This isn't to make an overt generalization. Put another way: there are more members of a racist/sexist fringe in the Republican Party than in the Democrat Party. Both parties have these elements, both parties are NOT majority in those leanings, but pretending they're equal or that Dems are more racist is hysterically wrong....
"Your beloved Jefferson and the Dem party has a horrible history of treatment of people of color."
This is certainly true, as the Democratic Party prior to the realignment in the 50s-60s were as or more hardline anti-civil rights than the Republicans. On the other hand, the opposite has been the case since that realignement. So, shall we focus on what these parties had done in the first half of this century, or shall we focus on what they've done more recently and at present?
And, while Jefferson certainly had among the worst flaws imaginable in being a slave owner, I would stand by the statement that his work has brought more freedom to the world than any other person in the history of the planet.
"Not to mention your Darwinist friends in the communist party that have put many millions in the ground."
When is this canard about Darwin=Communist going to end? It's not accurate, it's barely correlative, and the term "Darwinist" doesn't even make sense....
"Covering Trump this way isn’t freeing. It’s uncomfortable, both for individual journalists and for the broader institutions they serve. I think, if anything, the likely reaction will be overcorrection: The press would be so happy to have a semi-normal Republican candidate it could cover respectfully that whoever follows Trump is likely to benefit from a bit of halo effect just by comparison."
And not just by the media, mind you. The next Republican Presidential candidate is already guaranteed to appear more likable, more sane, more Presidential by virtue of following this fiasco of a cycle. It's funny, but four years ago Ted Cruz was unelectable because of his place on the political spectrum being too extreme. What a Trump candidacy may have done is shift the American public's zero-point on the political spectrum to the right, far more than Bernie Sanders did so to the left. In 2020, Ted Cruz may still be considered extreme, but will likely realize less of a penalty for that extremeness because of this election cycle.
And that should be terrifying. It's also yet another reason why the press should not be engaging in false dichotomy and slaving itself to concepts of equal time that are undeserving.
"You have raised an interesting point, but in doing so, you also contradict yourself. Your aptly point out that vaccination not causing things like autism is a theory. However, you contradict yourself by making the assertion that it is the correct answer."
This is a PERFECT example of somebody not understanding how scientific evidence and terminology is used. That vaccines do not cause autism is not a "theory". That they DO cause autism IS the theory. The lack of a scientific link is not the standard against which the evidence should be offered, it's the LINK that is measured by evidence. That's the entire point.
So, when we talk about whether two sides deserve equal looks or time, that's not how science works. The one making the claim (that autism and vaccines are linked) has a MUCH higher evidence mountain to climb than the side that makes no claim at all (that there is no link). That's why the calls for open debate on the topic miss the point, because unless there is HIGHLY credible evidence for the claim, the claim can and should be dismissed.
It absolutely happens. The way it works is that the organization being attacked by the holder of the overly broad trademark can respond by seeking to invalidate the trademark entirely. The dust up between a Kentucky distillery and the U of Kentucky featured this kind of petition, though I don't believe it was successful in that instance....