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I am a technology consultant, contributor here at Techdirt, and an author. I hope to someday get enough people reading the books I sell to garner a scathing review.




Posted on Techdirt - 27 February 2015 @ 3:44pm

Under Armour Files Trademark Suit Against Ass Armor

from the turn-the-other-cheek dept

Show of hands: who remembers the North Face vs. South Butt saga? Ah, yes, the trademark battle built perfectly for those of us with a sophomoric sense of humor, fully entertained us three years ago, when an upstart clothier attempted to be funny and the humorless lawyers at North Face cried consumer confusion. While the claim of confusion was as laughable as the rest of the story, the court proceedings saw South Butt agree to change its brand name. Which it did...to Butt Face, because why the hell not? South Butt/Butt Face, after all, was pimping its own publicity by streisanding its way through court proceedings, all thanks to North Face refusing to put down the litigation stick.

Perhaps snowboarder Casey Sherr was taking notes at the time for his eventual release in 2013 of his Ass Armor clothing company, which of course has Under Armour's shorts in a twist.

The Ft. Lauderdale company faces a trademark infringement lawsuit from Under Armour — and plans to fight. The $3 billion Baltimore athletic apparel maker also accused the snowboard shorts maker of unfair competition and cybersquatting for using the name Ass Armor and a tagline that could be confused with Under Armour's. The defendant copies Under Armour by using similar lettering and putting the Ass Armor name along the shorts' waistband, the lawsuit says.

"Making matters worse, similar to Under Armour's well-known and widely promoted Protect This House tagline mark, defendants use, advertise and promote their Ass Armor mark, name and products… in connection with the Protect Your Assets tagline," says the lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Maryland.
Could the well-known Under Armour brand and imagery be somehow confused with Ass Armor and its logo?

Frankly, it stretches credulity to believe that such confusion is likely. More likely this is simply the latest in a long line of battles Under Armour's legal team has staged for itself, having previously gone after Skechers, Salt Armour Inc., and others. Much like the South Butt case, it's woefully likely that all the courts will see is the obvious play on some of the more generic aspects of Under Armour's marks rather than actually weighing any real concerns over customer confusion.

What's clear is that trademark wasn't designed to keep this kind of stuff tied up in court battles like this. Unlike South Butt, Ass Armor appears to be willing to fight the battle.

"We strongly believe the lawsuit filed by Under Armour has no merit," said Scherr, president of the company that makes only the padded shorts, in an email Thursday. "Ass Armor has spent months fighting with Under Armour in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and then, without notice, Under Armour filed this matter in federal court. We believe this is a classic David and Goliath battle. As David, we intend to fight."
Protecting its assets is part of the Ass Armor way, after all.

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Posted on Techdirt - 26 February 2015 @ 1:33pm

Marshawn Lynch, Anti-Authority Hero, Loves To Trademark His Phrases

from the beast-mode dept

At some point, this whole fad of trademarking phrases that leap into the public consciousness through public events is going to have to stop. Between trying to lock the language of the recently slain, the foreign policy story du jour, and all the rest, eventually the public and the courts are going to have to realize that this can't go on unchecked. For some reason, professional and college sports organizations seem especially prone to this kind of nonsense, from the attempt to exert control over a colloquial term to a team simply treating its own fanbase like so much trademarkable chattle.

That last example, concerning the Seattle Seahawks' apparent attempt to trademark roughly all the things, is particularly apropros in the latest trademark news, which features the team's running back, Marshawn Lynch. See, Lynch likes to paint himself as an anti-establishment guy. Far from the spotlight-seeking nature enjoyed by some of this league-mates, Lynch shies from the press, refusing to do the mandatory press engagements collectively bargained between the players union and the league. When he deigns to grace the press with his presence at all, he typically keeps things to one-word or one-phrase non-sequitors in answering reporters' questions, such as when he most recently responded to all questions with, "I'm just here so I won't get fined." It was petty, childish and a departure from the rules agreed upon between the league and the union. Oh, and now it's the subject of a trademark application by Lynch as well.

Lynch last week filed for the trademark to the phrase "I'm just here so I won't get fined" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Lynch famously uttered the phrase as the answer to more than 20 questions on Super Bowl XLIX media day before walking off the podium.

"We heard from our fans, and so many of them were saying that they wanted that phrase on the clothing," Chris Bevans, who runs Lynch's "Beast Mode" apparel line, told ESPN.com. "This is just listening to the marketplace."
That last bit is nonsense, of course, because no fan of Marshawn Lynch's anywhere ever pined for the running back to get a trademark for a phrase he happened to utter. Why such a generic sentence deserves any manner of protection is simply beyond me. A brand is a brand, but simply going out and putting a mark on ever half-garbled jab at his employer that Lynch's fans happen to enjoy isn't what trademark is for. At some point, with the acknowledgement that the USPTO has been so lax in allowing the culture of permission and gates to spring forth, some kind of litmus test is going to have to be introduced to keep otherwise common language from being locked out of commerce this way.

And it's not like this is the first time Lynch has gone around applying for trademarks on whatever happens to come out of his mouth that grabs any measure of attention.
Last year, he trademarked "About that action BOSS," which he said to Deion Sanders of the NFL Network in the only interview he conducted during Super Bowl XLVIII media day. Lynch is expected to be the owner of that trademark by this summer, but in the meantime, he has already started selling clothes with the phrase on it. Lynch owns four "Beast Mode" trademarks and has filed for four more. He has also filed for the phrase "Power Pellets."

Devin Lacerte of Octagon, who works with a trademark attorney on all of Lynch's trademarks, told ESPN.com last month that hundreds of cease-and-desist letters have been sent to people who try to sell products with the "Beast Mode" name.
Delightful, especially considering the origins of "Beast Mode" don't exactly start with Marshawn Lynch (it almost certainly was used in conjunction with video game Altered Beast as well as the cartoon Beast Wars). So here we have a guy who paints himself as anti-establishment, but who is quite happy to run to the USPTO and turn himself into language authoritarian any time something he says grabs attention.

Maybe it's time for the USPTO to go all beast mode on phrases getting trademarks like this, please?

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 February 2015 @ 3:44pm

Red Bull Disputes Old Ox Brewery Trademarked Logo/Name Because, Seriously, An Ox Is Just A Castrated Bull

from the redballs dept

You talk enough about the intersection of trademark and alcohol, and you end up discussing a whole lot of stupid. Between breweries going after breweries, Star Wars going after breweries, and even the whole damned MPAA going after breweries, and almost always for the silliest reasons, you have to wonder who could possibly come by and really knock the petty trademark thing out of the park, right?

Oh, hi there, Red Bull! Thanks for coming along and turning trademark into a giant joke about testicles!

Red Bull has filed a complaint with the United States Patent and Trademark Office against a small brewery in Virginia called Old Ox Brewery for the using a male cow in its name and logo. “An ‘ox’ and a ‘bull’ both fall within the same class of ‘bovine’ animals and are virtually indistinguishable to most consumers. In addition, an ox is a castrated bull,” Red Bull said in the lawsuit. “Applicant’s Old Ox marks so much resemble Red Bull so as to cause confusion, mistake or deception among purchasers, users and the public, thereby damaging Red Bull.”
I'll give Red Bull credit: it takes a giant set of balls to file a straight-faced trademark complaint that in part centers around your competitor's name's lack of cajones. Beyond that, this entire thing is monumentally stupid. First, any moron in a hurry is too moronic to know what makes an ox an ox, rather than a bull. After all, these are morons we're talking about. Morons with shit to do and no time to sit around and even learn how to spell "bovine" nevermind understand what the hell it means.

Oh, and the similarity of the logos? Pffffffft.

See the similarities in the logos? Because if you do, no you don't, and also shut up. This is pure, unnecessary, downright flabbergasting bullying on the part of Red Bull, which I had thought gives you wings, but apparently might actually give you IQ-point-sucking amoebas in your brain. Fortunately, Old Ox Brewery ain't buying this red bullshit and has instead posted its letter to Red Bull, in which they essentially kindly ask its adversary to eat a bag of castration-remnants.
“Basically you are holding us hostage with a list of demands that, if agreed to, would severely limit our ability to use our brand. Demands like, never use the color red, silver, or blue; never use red with any bovine term or image; and never produce soft drinks. Do you own the color red? What about fuchsia, scarlet, crimson, or mauve? Are you planting your flag in the color wheel and claiming those shades for Red Bull? Do you claim exclusive rights to all things bovine? Do you plan to herd all heifers, cows, yaks, buffalo, bison, and steer into your intellectual property corral, too?”
Huh, turns out these ox have balls, after all...

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Posted on Techdirt - 24 February 2015 @ 2:43pm

The Guardian Details The Horrors Of Chicago Police's 'CIA-Style Black Site'

from the chitanamo dept

As someone who has lived in or near Chicago my entire life, it's been a long-standing source of amusement to hear outsiders' perceptions of the city relayed back to me. Whether it's our neverending association with Al Capone, the strange obsession with our casserole-style pizza, or the perception that our sports fans are meatball worshippers at the altar of Mike Ditka, so much of what people think of us just isn't particularly true.

Unfortunately, the perception of how our police force cares to operate here is also largely incorrect: it's so much worse than you think. If you thought it was all corruption and laziness from some (and I stress some) of Chicago's finest, you don't know the half of it, because the other half is the pure denial of the basic rights we are supposed to have when dealing with our protectors. The recent work done by The Guardian in detailing how Chicago police operated a CIA-style black site ought to chill the bones of anyone planning on being anywhere near my beloved city.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
The practices undertaken at the Homan facility are alleged to include detaining people without documenting their arrest, beatings, keeping detainees shackled for hours at a time, refusing attorneys for detainees access to the facility, and detaining people while refusing them legal counsel for up to a full day. These practices, by the way, weren't reserved for the mature, but were happily visited upon minors, because when you're going to go evil there is no point in half-assing it. Do these types of practices sound familiar to you? Would it help if the detainees were in orange jumpsuits and had the tan of a Cuban sun upon their skin? You get the point.

So, what types of hardened criminals find themselves disappeared at the Homan Square Gitmo?
Brian Jacob Church, a protester known as one of the “Nato Three”, was held and questioned at Homan Square in 2012 following a police raid. Officers restrained Church for the better part of a day, denying him access to an attorney, before sending him to a nearby police station to be booked and charged.

“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”
Church was held at the facility for just under 24 hours, most of that time spent cuffed to the furniture there. Though he had immediately asked to call legal counsel, this request was denied. Neither he nor the 11 other protestors that were taken there were allowed to see legal counsel until finally Church's, and only Church's, lawyer was allowed in after 20 or so hours. Prior to that, police had been questioning him illegaly. Because of the well-publicized nature of the protestor's detention, lawyers had been searching for him for hours. The reason Church couldn't be found wasn't a bug, though. It was a feature.
Though the raid attracted major media attention, a team of attorneys could not find Church through 12 hours of “active searching”, Sarah Gelsomino, Church’s lawyer, recalled. No booking record existed. Only after she and others made a “major stink” with contacts in the offices of the corporation counsel and Mayor Rahm Emanuel did they even learn about Homan Square.

They sent another attorney to the facility, where he ultimately gained entry, and talked to Church through a floor-to-ceiling chain-link metal cage. Finally, hours later, police took Church and his two co-defendants to a nearby police station for booking. After serving two and a half years in prison, Church is currently on parole after he and his co-defendants were found not guilty in 2014 of terrorism-related offenses but guilty of lesser charges of possessing an incendiary device and the misdemeanor of “mob action”.
And yet, as ridiculous as it sounds, Church and the other protestors got off lucky.
On February 2, 2013, John Hubbard was taken to Homan Square. Hubbard never walked out. The Chicago Tribune reported that the 44-year old was found “unresponsive inside an interview room”, and pronounced dead. The Cook County medical examiner’s office could not locate any record for the Guardian indicating a cause of Hubbard’s death. It remains unclear why Hubbard was ever in police custody.
It's quite a shame that we can't ask Mr. Hubbard because he died within the facility where lawyers are refused entrance, where detainees are kept out of the record books, and where the police appear to operate with impunity. Now, it's roughly around here where you're thinking one of two things. Some of you are thinking that such a claim as this is so outlandish that there's very little chance that it's true. Others must be thinking that the accusations of abuse and the denial of rights are rare mistakes made by a tiny percentage of officers. Too bad this secret wasn't all that secret.
“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.

Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the fifth and sixth amendments of the constitution.

“This Homan Square revelation seems to me to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years,” Taylor said, “of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement.”
Keep in mind the references to Gitmo and CIA black sites overseas and then juxtapose that to the ongoing militarization of domestic police within our borders, and the picture becomes a clear warning against allowing the practices of our military and spy organizations to trickle into our domestic police departments. Will the outside world pressure Chicago into giving up the abuse? Unlikely. The outside view of my city is often wrong, but there's no doubting the popular assertion that Chicago is a machine, and the police department represents a powerful cog in that machine, one with a great deal of torque and few placed within which to shove a brick that will keep it from turning.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 February 2015 @ 7:39pm

What A Strong Modding Community Can Do: How Doom Has Been Yanked Into The Selfie Age

from the cheeeeese! dept

We've made the argument for some time that a good modding community and culture is a boon for games and game creators. Far from the dangerous infringement on the original works that some seem to think, a prolific modding community can lengthen the shelf life of a game, improve it for customers of the original work, and even allow the original work to spiral off into unforseen directions, all of which only serve to increase the game's playability, replayability, and fun factor, making it all the more attractive for purchase.

(An aside: many people think that modding as an element that can be included in business model considerations is unique to gaming. It isn't. Remixing, after all, is modding in another form, as are fan-edits to movies/television shows, or fan-made creations in existing universes. All of these are modding in a fashion simliar to how it works for gaming, so don't let anyone tell you that gaming is unique this way.)

All that being said, it's fun for gaming enthusiasts like myself to watch a decades old game being yanked into modernity through the modding community. An obvious example of this is the original Doom games, still relevant enough to warrant the modding community developing a way for players to take "selfies" in-game.

After almost 22 years Doom is finally finished thanks mod-maker Linguica's "InstaDoom", which adds 37 InstaGram filters to the game and swaps out the fabled BFG with a selfie stick. Available as a free download over at Doom World, "InstaDoom" gives players of the classic shooter a chance to take the battle to the next level by applying filters like "Ashby", Lo-Fi" and "Valencia".

This, of course, is simply the latest mod coming out for a game that has one of the most insane mod-rosters of any in the history of gaming. The whole modding of the game original took off in no small part because Doom was an incredibly well-made game, but the continued modding of the game by the loyal fan community is what propelled the game far beyond being relevant to gaming, to instead being relevant to culture as a whole. The very idea that a game made over two decades ago, long before smartphones existed and any of us had to put up with the term "selfie," has been dragged into relevance with cultural motifs tossed in for effect by a modding community still going strong shows the power of a passionate fan base.

With the success of Doom still on display, and sequels continuing to ride on the early success of a franchise still enjoying relevance in its oldest parts, why would anyone want to kneecap the modding community?

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 February 2015 @ 2:31pm

MLB Claims That Finance Company's 'W' Logo Violates 2 MLB Teams' Trademarks

from the 2-too-many dept

Let's play out a little thought experiment. Let's say that a corporation involved in the money business has a logo for themselves. Now, let's say that two separate trademark holders both claim that this company's logo is too similar to their own. However, let's also stipulate in this scenario that the two offended trademark holders, who both claim similarity concerns with the finance company's logo, aren't bothering to file against each other for trademark claims, even though both are intimately knowledgeable of the other. Now, just to really make all this as face-palming-ly silly as possible, let's consider that these are the three logos in question:

Well, this isn't a thought experiment, it's actually happening, and it is maddeningly silly. The top left image is a registered logo for the Washington Nationals baseball team, the bottom left is the registered "W" flag the Chicago Cubs fly on the rare occassion they win anything, and the logo on the right is that of Evolution Finance's website, WalletHub, through which users can compare credit card prices and get financial advice. So what's the problem, you ask?

Evolution Finance has been locked in a trademark dispute with lawyers representing the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs for two years after Major League Baseball, on behalf of the teams, opposed their attempt to trademark the white-and-green logo. The league asserts that the WalletHub logo bears a strong resemblance to Ws trademarked by the two teams, and that granting Evolution Finance rights to use the mark without restrictions could create confusion for customers and complications for both businesses.
So many issues here, one struggles to know where to begin. Let's start with the fact that Evolution Finance is as much in the baseball business as it is in the puppy-murdering business, which is to say not at freaking all. "I came here to buy baseball tickets and I ended up transitioning my 401k into a personal Roth IRA on the basis of better returns in the bonds market" is a phrase that is nearly impossible to even have imagined, thus showing the extreme and dangerous power of dumb ass trademark claims. Add to it that half the problem appears to be that a trademark was granted on what barely amounts to more than a letter and we've already got issues with MLB's claims.

But to really make this a head-scratcher, I'm trying to figure out why the two teams, who actually are in the same market, are being allowed to make this claim when they haven't bothered to go after each other over their respective marks. I mean, the obvious answer is that the league likely wants the two teams to play nice over the Ws each as trademarked, but that shouldn't make anyone more comfortable with a specious move attacking a company that isn't in their market.
“It is common for trademark owners to sometimes overreach in protecting their marks,” said S. Lloyd Smith, an attorney at Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney who represents Evolution Finance. “They’re always concerned or cautious that if they don’t enforce their marks they might lose their rights. The real question is why does MLB care?” Smith said. “They don’t own the letter W. There’s lots of other Ws out there. They’re just plainly overreaching in this case.”
Overreaching and fanning on a curve ball for strike three, more like it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 February 2015 @ 1:33pm

Cabs Strike In Chicago Against Uber; Uber Drivers Presumably Report Uptick In Business

from the beep-beep dept

For a couple of years now, Chicago taxi companies have been making all kinds of noise in an attempt to keep Uber and other ridesharing services from disrupting the marketplace. The whole thing has been a fairly transparent case of a jealous legacy player in an industry not loving a disruptive newcomer. That said, there's precious little validity in a claim against a city or competitor that mostly amounts to: "But I really like all that money I was making."

Not that such a lack of validity is keeping Chicago's taxi services from waving their arms around in an attempt to get attention. The most recent futile event was a staged mini-strike in Chicago's downtown area (actually, directly below my office), during which cabbies refused to pick up fares and instead drove around the loop honking their horns the entire time.

Many cabbies drove through downtown for four hours Tuesday morning, refusing to pick up fares. Dozens of cabs drive in circles around City Hall and the Daley Center for more than an hour, honking their horns to draw attention. Many cabbies had posted protest signs in their windows, accusing Uber of stealing their customers.

“It’s good music to my ears,” said cab driver Rocky Mmomo, a steering committee member of the United Taxidrivers Community Council. Mmomo said cabbies want the tax industry deregulated, so it can better compete with Uber and the other ride-sharing companies.
A couple items to note here. First, don't be fooled by old Rocky's claim that they just want the cab companies to be deregulated so they can be on a level playing field with Uber drivers. What isn't mentioned here is the obvious problem with that line of thinking: Uber's service and livery services aren't really the same thing, so the same regulations don't apply. A full-time taxi driver employed by a taxi service that pays for the medallion and proper livery license is a far cry from an Uber driver who does a little people-shipping during his or her off hours. They're just not the same thing and pretending they are won't get anyone anywhere.

And the city of Chicago, for its part, is licensing Uber based on what it actually is.
On Monday, the city agreed to issue a “transportation network provider” license to Uber, after negotiations led to a promise from Uber to provide more stringent safety measures than required by the city’s ride-sharing ordinance. Uber competitors Lyft and Sidecar were granted similar licenses three months ago.
Again, as you can see, Uber and ridesharing service providers aren't cab companies. Pretending they are doesn't make any sense. But that's what the legacy cab companies want. And you can tell that's all they want by their arguments for deregulation.
“We’ll be sitting at a hotel for two, three hours; and all of a sudden you see three UberX cabs just came and picked up customers while we’re just sitting there. How is that fair? That’s not fair to a cab driver,” cab driver Mustafa Husein said.
Forgive me, sir, but who the hell ever promised you fairness when it comes to competing in a changing business marketplace? The very nature of disruptive business models are to be "unfair" to the legacy models so as to build a more efficient product and happier customers. That's the entire point. I'm fairly certain nobody promised cabbies a living, after all. So honk away, guys. I'm sure Uber drivers are happy to pick up those fares you refuse.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 February 2015 @ 9:00pm

Anheuser-Busch Drops Trademark Opposition Against Natty Greene Brewing Co.

from the yay dept

Anheuser-Busch is no stranger when it comes to silly little intellectual property conflicts. Sometimes the perp, sometimes the victim, the insanely large beer-maker often finds itself deviating from the business of making beer and instead landing in the courtroom. The company's latest foray centered around a perceived large threat from a tiny little brewery called Natty Greene Brewing.

Last summer, Anheuser-Busch filed opposition to Natty Greene’s application to trademark “Natty Greene.” The company said it has been using the “Natty” name in connection with its line of beers since at least 1998 and that it has trademarks for “Natty Light” and “Fatty Natty” — also known as Natural Light beer — as well as its Natty Daddy brand. The company felt that the Natty Greene’s trademark would cause confusion among consumers.
Natty Greene is a small micro-brewery with a couple of locations out of North Carolina and they make craft beer. Anheuser-Busch is a macro-brewery if ever there was one and Natural Light is what college kids drink because it costs roughly the same as a thimble of sand in the Arabian Desert. The chance of someone attending a tasting at a Natty Greene location and somehow thinking the whole thing was coordinated by the same people who make Budweiser, Beck's and Natural Light is effectively null.

And, in a rare sign that sense still exists in this crazy, crazy world, apparently the folks over at A-B agree.
Anheuser-Busch late last week agreed to drop its opposition to the trademark application Natty Greene’s Pub and Brewing Co. is pursuing. David Sar, an attorney with the Greensboro law firm of Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard who handled the matter for Natty Greene’s, said Anheuser-Busch filed its withdrawal on Friday. Sar said it was withdrawn with “prejudice,” meaning it can’t be refiled. He added that the two sides reached a confidential resolution. The trademark office will now most likely grant Natty Greene’s its trademark, he said.
It's a nice end to the story, I suppose, but the resolution leaves me questioning why any of this had to happen in the first place? With just a small application of the common-sense-juice to A-B's lawyers' brain-thoughts, a whole lot of time and money could have been avoided, considering we ended up in the same place as though no opposition had been filed anyway.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 February 2015 @ 8:54pm

Hubris Defined: Dumb Murderer Takes A Selfie With His Dead Victim

from the cheeeeese dept

I've never particularly been under the misguided notion that most of the criminals in this world are any kind of masterminds in their craft. Most criminals, as we've demonstrated again and again, are idiots. Some criminals are dangerous idiots. And some, well, some are so evil it remains only to be thankful that their stupidity helps us to keep their asses behind bars where they belong.

Take, for instance, the teenage murderous psychopath who thought snapping and sharing a selfie with the body of his victim was a sweet idea.

Maxwell Marion Morton, 16, is being held without bail in the Westmoreland County juvenile detention center on charges of first-degree murder, homicide and possession of a firearm by a minor in connection with the death of Ryan Mangan. Police said the photo they received shows Mangan as he was found at the crime scene. A selfie of a suspect with a dead victim is a first for county District Attorney John Peck, who has been a prosecutor for more than 30 years.

“I've never seen it before,” Peck said, “but it was a key piece of evidence that led investigators to the defendant.”
Now, I know what you're all thinking: anyone who takes a selfie with the dead body of his victim is someone who wants to get caught, not an idiot. Well, you'd think that was the case, but it wasn't. Morton had sent the pic via Snapchat, believing that the deletion feature would protect him, somehow. The person he sent it to, however, saved it rather quickly, and it ended up in the hands of the police.
“(Police) received a copy of the photo which depicted the victim sitting in the chair with a gunshot wound to the face,” a police affidavit states. “It also depicts a black male taking the ‘selfie,' with his face facing the camera and the victim behind the actor. The photo had the name ‘Maxwell' across the top.”

Morton also allegedly sent text messages that read, “Told you I cleaned up the shells,” and “Ryan was not the last one.”
So, sometimes two plus two equals a very evil and very stupid person. Usually these kinds of dumb criminal stories are somewhat funny. This one just makes me happy that a murderer is behind bars.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 February 2015 @ 12:32pm

Sriracha Boss On Trademark: Mmmmm, No Thanks

from the techdirt-hero dept

Sriracha, the beautifully flavorful pepper sauce, has a very special place in my fridge, right between the bloody mary mix and the hollandaise sauce. Why? Well, because it bunks with the other breakfast essentials in the Geigner household, that's why. Where else can you find Sriracha? Well, pretty much everywhere else, even incorporated in the products of other food companies, like Subway, Heinz and Frito-Lay. How is this possible? Through, as you might expect, a complicated series of licensing arrangements?

No, it's possible because David Tran, the boss at Sriracha makers Huy Fong Foods, never filed to trademark the Sriracha brand. And he can't be bothered to give any shits about trademarking it today because he's too busy raking in roughly all the money.

Tran, who now operates his family-owned company Huy Fong Foods out of a 650,000-square-foot facility in Irwindale, doesn't see his failure to secure a trademark as a missed opportunity. He says it's free advertising for a company that's never had a marketing budget. It's unclear whether he's losing out: Sales of the original Sriracha have grown from $60 million to $80 million in the last two years alone.

"Everyone wants to jump in now," said Tran, 70. "We have lawyers come and say 'I can represent you and sue' and I say 'No. Let them do it.'" Tran is so proud of the condiment's popularity that he maintains a daily ritual of searching the Internet for the latest Sriracha spinoff.
It's as though Tran were channeling a Techdirt writer with this kind of stuff. The infringement others want him to combat is instead seen as free advertising, propelling sales and spurring on growth coupled with a good-humor attitude towards "rip-offs." We'd accuse him of infringing on our playbook, but that just wouldn't be in the spirit of the example he's setting. Tran goes on to note his belief that more exposure through use of his product's name will mean even further growth.

Some competitors of Tran are confused, and it's kind of funny to hear their reaction.
Tony Simmons, chief executive of the McIlhenny Co., makers of Tabasco, said Tran's Sriracha sauce was the "gold standard" for Sriracha-style sauces, which has largely come to mean any dressing that packs a piquant punch of chili paste, vinegar, garlic and sugar. Simmons was reassured by his lawyers that Tabasco would have no problem releasing a similar sauce using the name Sriracha.

"We spend enormous time protecting the word 'Tabasco' so that we don't have exactly this problem," Simmons said. "Why Mr. Tran did not do that, I don't know."
Well, because he's too busy being the "gold standard" of the thing you're trying to get it on using his brand's name. This means that Tobasco, in this case, is advertising Tran's product for him, all the more so when his is admittedly the best around. How is Simmons not getting this? And the best part of this is that the USPTO has already issued several decisions stating that the single word "sriracha" on its own is now too generic for any of these pretenders to trademark for themselves. Chalk up another victory for Tran, who allowed the use of his brand name so widely that he's effectively protected against someone trying to come along and lock it up.

Well done all around.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 February 2015 @ 4:04am

French Government Declares Independence From Free Speech: Broad Internet Take-Down Powers Now In Place

from the storm-the-bastille dept

As its plan to completely shatter the support it received recently by attacking the very same concept of free speech its enemies declared war upon with terrorist attacks on a parody magazine not so many weeks back, the French government's ability to be laughable and simultaneously dangerous never ceases to amaze. What at once looked to be rather punctuated attacks on opinions and social media, and even cable news (which I consider a common enemy but for vastly different reasons) has now since devolved into the kind of massive overreaction against a third-party target that is, dare I say, quite American in nature. Apparently no longer content with the plan to police the ever-dangerous internet themselves, the French government has suddenly and, it must be conceded, shockingly announced that it now has veto power over the internet, requiring ISPs to censor sites at its whim. And, because cynicism is practically the secret sauce in these kinds of things, they've laced their claims of "combating terrorism" via censorship powers with a dash of "preventing child pornography" to boot.

A new decree that went into effect today allows the French government to block websites accused of promoting terrorism and publishing child pornography, without seeking a court order. Under the new rules, published last week by France's Ministry of the Interior, internet service providers (ISPs) must take down offending websites within 24 hours of receiving a government order. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says the decree is critical to combating terrorism, but civil rights groups say it gives the government dangerously broad powers to suppress free speech.

The decree implements two provisions from two laws — an anti-child pornography law passed in 2011 and an anti-terror law passed late last year. A department of the French national police will be responsible for identifying the sites to be blocked, with the suspected terror-related sites subject to review by an anti-terrorism branch. An administrator from the CNIL, France's independent data protection organization, will be charged with overseeing the process. Once a site is blocked, its page will be replaced with an explanation of why the government took it down. In the case of child pornography pages, the text will also include a recommendation to seek medical help.
Now, anyone reading this site already knows why anointing a government with these kinds of powers, whether by the excuse of child pornography or via the far more mangled conflation of speech and terrorism, is inherently problematic. We should simply be able to trot out examples of governments declaring non-offending sites as falling under these kinds of headings and rest our case. When we see France spiral into this kind of out of control fear-based tailspin, however (particularly after having gone through it ourselves to such a degree that we're still trying to dig ourselves out of it), we should find it conscripting us to fight against a stupid history that is attempting to repeat itself.

What this move relies upon, as do most attempts to censor speech on the internet, is a misguided fear of the seduction of internet-based communications. You can see this especially in the perhaps well-intentioned proponents of censorship when they speak.
Supporters of the measure say it's critical to preventing future attacks, pointing to the growing number of young French nationals who have joined jihadist movements in Iraq and Syria, as well as aggressive online propaganda campaigns from terrorist groups like ISIS.

"Today, 90 percent of those who swing toward terrorist activities within the European Union do so after visiting the internet," Cazneuves told reporters last week, after presenting the decree to French ministers. "We do not combat terrorism if we do not take measures to regulate the internet."
Just try to implement that mode of logic in any arena that doesn't involve the internet and see how far it gets you. You'll be laughed out of the conversation if you were to say, for instance, "A large percent of those committing terrorist acts within Europe attended a mosque before doing so. We do not combat terrorism if we do not regulate mosques." It misses the point entirely, of course, because it punishes what is largely the innocent while doing very little toactually combat terrorism. We might also find that terrorists largely wear silk, or listen to a certain type of music, or are part of any number of subsets of culture that we wouldn't dream of censoring, regulating, or placing under the watchful eye of a French government that has appeared all too happy to blame everyone for the failures of both their own security apparatus and civilization as a whole. But with the internet? That we'll censor, because the ruling class is still of an age that might find it scary enough to allow it to happen.

Add to this that the blocking attempt will be largely ineffective for those with the will to circumvent it and this essentially amounts to one part grandstanding and two parts setting up a precedent for government interference in speech in the future.
"In light of the recent arrests that have followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks — many of which are clearly overboard — I would say that France's government needs to seriously think about whether this law will stop terrorists, or merely chill speech," Jillian York, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said in an email to The Verge.

Others question the effectiveness of the measure. Felix Tréguer, of the French online rights group La Quadrature du Net, says the decree risks "over-blocking perfectly legal content," adding that the domain name system (DNS) blocking that it calls for can be easily circumvented. "The measure only gives the illusion that the State is acting for our safety," Tréguer said in a statement published today, "while going one step further in undermining fundamental rights online."
A small ruling class exerting control over the rights of the many in favor of its own power? Where have I heard this story before?

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 February 2015 @ 3:35pm

Nintendo's YouTuber Affiliate Plan Is A Bureaucratic Mess Of Delays And Control

from the who'd-have-thought? dept

You may remember that several months ago, Nintendo announced plans to create a YouTuber-affiliate program that would finally allow YouTube personalities to, according to Nintendo, share in the ad revenue generated by YouTube videos featuring Nintendo content. Leaving aside the notion that such videos are essentially a version of free advertising for the company, there was also a great deal of concern over how much control Nintendo wanted to leverage over the content within the videos. The wording in the agreement made it clear that access was being traded for positive coverage, essentially destroying the trust relationship between YouTube producers and their hard-won audiences.

Well, as if those concerns weren't enough, it turns out that Nintendo can't even administer to their own program appropriately, the result of which is them attempting to exert even more control. The problem? Well, it turns out too many people wanted to sign up.

Many people are still waiting for Nintendo to approve their first set of submitted YouTube creations despite the company’s promise to process videos in “two to three days.” The game publisher has acknowledged the problem, and it says that it’s still working on getting caught up. Game videos on YouTube is a big business, as that category regularly has the biggest audience of viewers and subscribers.

“Due to your enthusiasm for the program, we’re receiving a higher volume of applications to register channels and videos than expected,” reads an update on the Creator’s Program website. “It is taking longer than we anticipated to confirm the applications. We appreciate your patience as we work through them as quickly as possible.”
Given the kind of money involved in game videos on YouTube, you have to believe the request for patience is being met with glares and stares. Especially, as I mentioned above, since Nintendo appears to be a subscriber to the theory that every crises is an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to tighten their grip on video content even more, to a degree that's actually quite stunning.
Nintendo posted an extensive whitelist of games that it has said are OK to monetize on YouTube. You can read the list for yourself, since it’s far too long to include here. For people who did want to submit their entire YouTube channels to Nintendo, the company is now saying that it will have to turn down your application if you have any uploads featuring games not on the whitelist. That includes non-Nintendo games.

“If a video within your channel contains game titles outside of the list of supported games, please remove it from the channel before registering,” reads the website. “If you are unable to remove the video from your channel, please register each video that contains game titles on the list of supported games individually.”
Except, as Nintendo also noted, the company is first completing registrations or entire channels, while the wait time for registering individual videos has ballooned. What does this mean? Well, if you actually want to get this stuff rolling, you register your entire channel. And if you do that, you have to delete any videos that aren't on Nintendo's happy-happy approved list. That's about as clear-cut an example of using a bureaucracy to shape a message through complicit media as it gets, and it should be a warning to anyone who was thinking about getting into bed with Nintendo on this YouTuber thing but hasn't yet.

Because, and this is important, this is the beginning. If Nintendo is attempting to control video producers' content this way at the beginning, imagine what they have planned once they've convinced enough producers to sign up.

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 February 2015 @ 2:40pm

Nintendo Plans For The Future By Pretending All Of Our Smart Phones Aren't Great Handheld Gaming Devices

from the should-work dept

While Nintendo isn't necessarily known for forward-thinking when it comes to its business models, you don't necessarily expect the company to be on full-on denial mode. Coupled with its rather tragic history on treating its customers well, the gaming giant seems to make a habit out of restricting its own revenue in favor of backwards thinking. That mode of business planning appears to be progressing as Nintendo has announced that, rather than making old Nintendo games available legitimately on smart phone app stores, the company is going the other direction and looking to make smart phone games available on its 3DS mobile device.

In a recent interview with the Nikkei, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed that Nintendo will be remaking more smartphone games on the Nintendo 3DS. Iwata added that the company will also be remaking old Nintendo games for the handheld. The games will be low-priced, going for a few hundred yen (a couple of bucks). That's right, instead of remaking old Nintendo games for smartphones, which anyone with a smartphone and a brain would love, Nintendo is releasing revamped and remade titles on the 3DS.
That sound you here is the collective gaming world's eyebrows raising in unison. While the 3DS product may certainly do things most smart phones cannot, that doesn't really come into play when it comes to Nintendo's back-catalog of games. Imagine, just for a moment, if Nintendo chose to go the opposite direction on this. Imagine if they suddenly made their NES, SNES, and N64 games available for purchase on smart phones, devices that are perfectly suited for running those older games. Piles of money doesn't even begin to describe what Nintendo would make from doing this.

Unfortunately, Nintendo is steeped in such a pervasive culture of wanton control that this strategy may not even have occurred to them. But they certainly must be aware that these games are already being played on smart phones, which really just drives home the notion that not making them legitimately available is simply pissing money away.
I get that Nintendo makes games for Nintendo hardware. I get it! I also get that some of these smartphone tie-ups could be big money-makers. But there are old games that people are already playing with emulators on smartphones anyway. So why not give these games a proper (and official) release?

Because, Nintendo. That's why.
Well okay then.

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 February 2015 @ 11:38am

55th Largest Private Company In America Sent Millions To China Because An Email Told Them To

from the you've-got-mail dept

You've all heard of this kind of scam before. Some nefarious person or group gets a hold of someone's email or computer screen, pretends to be someone in some official capacity, and demands a whatever sum of money they can get away with. Some of the time these scammers pretend to be the IRS, or a utility company, or even law enforcement. What these scams tend to mostly have in common is that they go after private citizens en masse, in the hope to entice whatever percentage of the more gullible amongst us to pay up. What you don't expect to hear about is one of the largest corporations in the United States essentially falling for the same thing.

The Scoular Co., an employee-owned commodities trader founded 120 years ago, has been taken for $17.2 million in an international email swindle, according to federal court documents. An executive with the 800-employee company wired the money in installments last summer to a bank in China after receiving emails ordering him to do so, says an FBI statement filed last month in U.S. District Court in Omaha.
Sort of takes your breath away, doesn't it. One would like to think that it takes more for any company to move millions of dollars around internationally than a simple email string. Whatever else, this seems to indicate a complete failure of process, with the lack of checks against fraud and mistakes occurring on stunning levels. In attempts to explain how this happened, Scoular CEO Chuck Elsea wove a tail of compromised identities (including his) and coincidences that caused all of this to happen. The tale, however, leaves the reader certain that there was still some serious stupid going on here.
The gambit involved emails sent to a Scoular executive that purported to be from Elsea and the company’s outside auditing firm. The emails directed the wire transfer of millions of dollars to a Chinese bank. But court documents say the emails were really from impostors using email addresses set up in Germany, France and Israel and computer servers in Moscow. The three wire transfers, the FBI says, happened in June 2014. They were prompted by emails sent to Scoular’s corporate controller, identified in the FBI statement as McMurtry. The emails purported to be from Scoular CEO Elsea, but were sent from an email address that wasn’t his normal company one.
Which is precisely where this scam should have died on its scammy vine, wilting under the dry heat of "haha, the boss got his personal email hacked." The idea that millions of dollars can be ordered transferred from an email address not associated with the company is ludicrous. Die, however, the scam did not.
The first email on June 26 instructed McMurtry to wire $780,000, which the FBI statement says he did. The next day, McMurtry was told to wire $7 million, which he also did. Three days later, another email was sent to McMurtry, instructing him to wire $9.4 million. McMurtry again complied. The first two emails from the faux CEO contain the swindle’s setup, swearing the recipient to secrecy over a blockbuster international deal.
McMurtry has reportedly been cooperating with the FBI and providing them with the reasons he so easily complied with the rogue emails' requests. Those excuses include some of the scam emails looking like they came from the company's outside accounting firm and that Scoular had indeed been in discussions for an expansion into China. Those excuses, though, don't alter the fact that a simple phone call to the parties involved, to Elsea's office (or, hell, at the watercooler or whatever), or to the general office number for the accounting firm would have exposed the scam entirely and saved the company 17 mil-do in the process. How does something like that happen?

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 February 2015 @ 4:12am

More Violent Video Game Research Says Real World Violence Link Is Crap

from the murder-death-kill dept

If you've been reading Techdirt for any decent length of time, you already know that the science behind whether violent video games cause real life violence is hardly settled. With that said, it's also true that those making the claim are the ones that have to prove their case. What that means is that the burden of proof on those that claim there is a link between real violence and gaming violence is much higher than on those of us that claim no link exists. So, when the most recent work and its researchers come out to again suggest that there is simply no link between violence and gaming, it's worth highlighting, particularly considering the antagonistic approach new, younger researchers are taking against the old guard and their reaching methodologies.

Stetson University psychologist Christopher Ferguson is one of the chief antagonists. In their drolly titled 2013 commentary, "Does Doing Media Violence Research Make One Aggressive?," Ferguson and his colleague, German researcher Malte Elson, invite readers to contemplate a thought experiment as a way to think about the plausibility of the "monkey see/monkey do" theory. "Take 200 children and randomize 100 to watch their parents viciously attack one another for an hour a day, the other 100 to watch a violent television program an hour a day," they suggest, "then assess their mental health after one month is over." Surely they are right when they assert that "to suggest the mental health outcomes for these children would be even remotely identical is absurd." As the thought experiment makes clear, ordinary folks do recognize that people, including children, can distinguish between real and fictional violence and will react accordingly.
The thought experiment reduces the violent media concept to an absurd level, surely, but that only serves in this case to highlight what the sandbagged-claims of some researchers are attempting to hide: people are smarter than they're given credit for. The moment you acknowledge that even the youngest children can make distinctions between real life violence and fictional violence, the game is almost entirely lost from the get go. All that's left to do is to find that fictional violence doesn't also magically make children, or adults, like being violent in real life, and the game is a rout and we can all go home. If only there was some kind of published metric that would allow us to show that as violent media has become more prevalent, people have actually become less violent in real life.
In October 2014 the Villanova psychologist Patrick Markey and colleagues published a study comparing trends in onscreen violence to America's murder and aggravated assault rates between 1960 and 2012. They report that movie violence has dramatically increased in the past 50 years, and that depictions of gun violence in PG-13 movies have tripled in the last 27 years. Controlling for possible confounders such as age shifts, poverty, education, incarceration rates, and economic inequality, they report, "Contrary to the notion that trends in violent films are linked to violent behavior, no evidence was found to suggest this medium was a major (or minor) contributing cause of violence in the United States." In November 2014, the FBI reported that the violent crime rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent over the past 20 years.
Who wants to suggest that movies, games, and television were more violent fifty years ago? Yeah, I didn't think so. This is the point we've been making for years. Setting aside the single, percussion-like occasions when some horrific violent act occurs, like, say, Sandy Hook, where is all this violence? Movies and television have been getting progressively more violent as time has marched on, but violent crime keeps dropping. And, don't think I'm forgetting that video games are a more recent thing, compared with movies and television.
In the December 2014 Computers in Human Behavior, a team of researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia used the standard 15-minutes-of-play format widely adopted by video aggression researchers to assess whether playing ultra-violent, violent, and nonviolent video games had any post-play effect on two measures of pro-social behavior. In one, players are paid $5, asked to fill out a brief questionnaire about a local children's charity, and told they can donate some money on their way out. In the second, players are told that they are choosing the level of difficulty of a puzzle that another subject has to finish in a limited time in order to earn money. The hypothesis was that the more violent the game, the harder the puzzle and the lower the charitable donations would be. Instead, the researchers reported that there was no difference among the three groups with regard to pro-social behavior, although the players of the ultra-violent games did donate more. "There is now growing reason to suspect that playing violent video games does not impact prosocial behavior in a normal population," concluded the researchers.
Again, when the burden of proof is higher on the side making the claim that a link between violence and video games exists and the side claiming no link exists continues to bury them with good, solid data, it's probably time to give this up and move on to the next moral panic.

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Posted on Techdirt - 5 February 2015 @ 9:07pm

Video Game Maker Sued By Lawyer/Necromancer For Featuring General Patton In-Game

from the in-case-of-doubt,-attack dept

We live in a strange world, folks. How else can one describe an era in which intellectual property has morphed into a form of publicity rights necromancy, in which dead celebrities haunt the living to the tune of lots of dollars? First it was the CMG Worldwide's quest against Twitter on behalf of James Dean. Now CMG has shaken its summoner's staff in the direction of Maximum Games, siccing none other than General George S. Patton (zombie) on them.

An upcoming strategy game, called Legends of War: Patton, has been sued by a firm representing estate of the deceased General, a company that as Gamasutra reports also polices the use of other historical figures such as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe; Marlon Brando, Chuck Berry and Amelia Earhart.

You'd think that long-dead figures from popular history would be fair game, but it turns out there are limits that vary from state-to-state. Maximum Games, who are releasing (or trying to release) LoW: Patton, are based in California, where the law says such figures are fair game if they've been dead for 70 years.
Whereas General Patton has been dead a mere 69 years, which makes all the difference in this stupid, idiotic world. And if you somehow think that I'm being unfair in calling this world a stupid place, please understand that the estate of George Patton, who has been dead for just shy of seven decades, is suing the video game maker claiming false endorsement. Yes, the use in a game of a historical figure who died roughly just as the computer was being invented, has been construed to potentially confuse people into thinking that Patton was endorsing the product personally, from the grave.

Which brings us directly back to how the CMG Worldwide lawyers are necromancers. After all, the lawsuit only makes a general kind of sense assuming that George Patton could somehow come back from the dead and endorse a product for real, thus this use breeding the confusion. CMG obviously vetted the suit, which means they too believe that zombies are real. The only logical reason for them to think so would be if they could animate zombies themselves. And that's necromancy, case freaking closed.

Or else publicity rights are stupid. It's definitely one of the two...

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Posted on Techdirt - 4 February 2015 @ 9:21am

The Cost Of Mark Zuckerberg's Broken Censorship Promise Is Everyone Thinks They're Winning When Nobody Is

from the empty-promises dept

As you probably have heard by now, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Mark Zuckerberg came out with a seemingly wonderful statement on the value of free and open speech, clearly in the context of his social media empire. The language was wonderfully clear on the matter, in fact.

Yet as I reflect on yesterday's attack and my own experience with extremism, this is what we all need to reject -- a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world. I won't let that happen on Facebook. I'm committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence.
Almost before the boss of Facebook's fingers had lifted away from the keyboard, the social media giant spun around on its digital heel and mooned all those that had been cheering on Zuckerberg's words.
Only two weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a strongly worded #JeSuisCharlie statement on the importance of free speech, Facebook has agreed to censor images of the prophet Muhammad in Turkey — including the very type of image that precipitated the Charlie Hebdo attack. It’s an illustration, perhaps, of how extremely complicated and nuanced issues of online speech really are. It’s also conclusive proof of what many tech critics said of Zuckerberg’s free-speech declaration at the time: Sweeping promises are all well and good, but Facebook’s record doesn’t entirely back it up.
But the real issue isn't really that an international company that happens to be led by an American has divorced itself from a moral stand. That kind of thing happens all the time and can be chalked up to the simple fact that, in capitalism, money is king and values are the jester entertaining the masses. And, just to be clear, I'm not arguing that there is even anything wrong with the above. The problem is the promise and what it is designed to do.

That promise was meant to accomplish two things. The first is the obvious public relations benefit Facebook received from going all Western values in public. The audience that would read Zuckerberg's proclamation was always going to be largely in favor of the values expressed. That same audience likely largely won't ever make themselves aware of Facebook's kneeling before the censorious Turkish government. And that's not a bug, it's a feature.

What the divisions in values allow statements like Zuckerberg's and the subsequent actions Facebook took in Turkey to do is make everyone feel like they've won something, while the status quo is maintained. Westerners cheer on as the gauntlet is thrown down for free speech in the arenas which will appreciate such a stand, while a Turkish government and the religious zealots that appear to live solely to show their subjects that Western values are as fleeting as a wisp of smoke claim victory as well. Everyone is in exactly the same place as they were before, except perhaps slightly more emboldened, but feels like they're progressing their agenda.

And that's about as dangerous as it gets in the arena of an exchange of ideas and ideals. The cure for the plague of censorious government and/or organizations, be they religious or otherwise, is for the clash of culture to happen. That will never happen so long as companies like Facebook bend to the will of the enemies of speech while also successfully placating the pro-speech populous with PR statements. That promise is what lets us pat ourselves on the back, thinking we have an ally, when that ally is really a con-man playing both sides against the middle for the most cynical of reasons: money. Please don't let them get away with it, even if only in your own mind.

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Posted on Techdirt - 3 February 2015 @ 6:26am

Taiwan Nannies Rule: Parents Can't Decide How Much Time Their Kids Spend With Electronics

from the mama-government dept

The nanny-state arms race marches on, apparently. Whereas the previous intersection of overbearing government and technology has resulted in politicians attempting to ban the use of headphones while walking across the street, governments introducing all manner of silly policies in the name of "protecting the children", and even municipalities attempting to run psy-ops on citizens to keep them from smoking, Taiwan appears to be taking an even more direct approach with plans to fine the parents of children the government has deemed spend too much time with electronics.

Under rules passed last Friday by Taiwanese politicians, children under the age of two should be completely banned from using electronic devices, Xinhua, China's official news agency reported. Meanwhile under-18s should not be allowed to "constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable". It means electronic products are now listed alongside cigarettes and alcohol as potentially dangerous vices.
And you can see their point, assuming you're a crazy person. Because electronics are tools primarily of communication and productivity, even if they're also used for entertainment, and government intrusion on young people's ability to communicate, learn, and be entertained is so far removed from alcohol and tobacco that one wonders how the argument was made with a straight face to begin with. The prospective "too much time" part of this legal equation has yet to be ironed out, but the brainchild for the law is, shall we say, more than slightly aggressive on the topic.
The new regulation is the brainchild of Lu Shiow-yen, a Taiwanese member of parliament who said his intention was to protect young people by stopping them using electronic devices for more than 30 minutes at a time. Parents who break the rules can be hit with fines of up to about £1,000 although it remains unclear how authorities will determine what amount of time is unreasonable.
There's a million reasons why this is stupid, but I'll boil it down to one specific reason: baseball. Baseball is huge in Taiwan. Baseball is enjoyed primarily on television and streaming electronic devices. And baseball, for all its wonderful aspects, takes roughly as much time as it takes for a mountain to form in the Nebraska prairie. Thirty-minute stretches of time as a limit effectively outlaws youngsters watching baseball. Put in that context, and really any other context, these sorts of artificial limitations on the electronics that dominate our lives (in a good way) are ludicrous.

Expect either the backlash here to be huge, or the law to go largely ignored. Either way, this is a political non-starter.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 February 2015 @ 12:28pm

French Gov't Warns Citizens About Shifty Folks Who Don't Eat Delicious French Baguettes

from the freedom-bread dept

If you've been following along with our coverage on how the French are using the Charlie Hebdo attacks as cover to completely lose their minds, you probably thought it couldn't get any worse than declaring war on the internet and news agencies. It's gotten worse. So, so much worse.

On Wednesday the French government launched a website to counter terrorism in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Its message of national unity, aimed at young people who could be radicalised as well as the general public, quickly made a splash on the internet. The site was liked 17,000 times on Facebook; its official Twitter hashtag (#StopDJihadisme) was used 12,000 times; and a slick video meant to counter jihadist recruiters got over half a million hits. But it didn't take long for sarcasm to emerge. And it was the government's infographic about radicalisation that seemed to catch the internet's attention most of all.
Here's the infographic in all of its glory.
See that image in the upper right-hand corner? You know, the one that looks like a baguette that has been crossed out? Well, it's part of the larger government-inspired fear propaganda that lists out all of the supposedly tell-tale signs that a person you thought was cool has, like, totally gone all Jihad, dude. Those signs include people who have dropped old friendships, withdrawn from their sports teams, or have recently changed the way they dress. You know, teenagers.

But that baguette thing. Boy, that really got the snark rolling.
"The government invites you to be wary of those who do not eat baguettes," said one user, in a theme that was echoed by many others.

Jonathan Russell, Political Liaison Officer at the London-based counter-extremism Quilliam Foundation, told BBC Trending that sarcasm is to be expected when it comes to government-run campaigns. "The general response is that people don't like to be told how to think," he said. "This doesn't mean that those doing the mocking are supportive of extremism. It's more that because it is a centrally run campaign it lacks an element of credibility".
It's more dire than that, actually. People, for all of their failings, recognize government BS when they see it. Much like when older Americans were taught to sit underneath their desks in case of a nuclear strike by those pesky commies, a government that informs its citizens to be on the watch for people who change their dietary habits is equal parts laughable and fully-expected. Because when government tries to do this kind of catch-all "be on the lookout," it almost always does it poorly. Those that can't grasp how silly this kind of thing is, on the other hand, fall victim to the fear-based hysteria.

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Posted on Techdirt - 29 January 2015 @ 9:07pm

The MPAA Forces Craft Brewer To Abandon Its 'Rated R' Beer Brand

from the this-beer-is-not-yet-rated dept

The MPAA. Usually that's all I'd have to say and then we could all have good combo laugh/cry over exactly how cartoonishly dickish an organization could be. But now it's entered the realm of alcohol, where trademark silliness is all too prevalent. But if any of those previous stories looked petty, the pure petty stones on these MPAA folks will astound you. Yes, it has come to this: a craft brewery has been forced to change the name of its celebrated "Rated R" beer brand. This, people, is as stupid as it gets.

A few weeks ago the MPAA sent a cease and desist letter to Minneapolis beer brewery 612 Brew, who’re known for their tasty beers including the popular “Rated R” brand. The movie industry group pointed out that the company was using the “Rated R” trademark without permission and urged the beer maker to drop the name to avoid confusion.
Of course! Who could possibly deny how the confusion over whether I was drinking an R-rated movie or a beer might creep into my brain? Who also could possibly deny that the MPAA's "Rated R" trademark is something other than purely descriptive? I mean, it's not like the mark is, you know, describing the exact state of rating of the movie or anything, right? And, finally, really how different are the movie and beer-making industries? Aren't they essentially the same thing? Because if they aren't, then this really doesn't make any sense.
The brewery first responded to the demands by arguing that the Rated R name can be used as they clearly operate in a different industry. The MPAA wasn’t convinced though.
Imagine the look on the faces of the sweet folks making this wonderful alcohol when they were informed that the lawyers at the MPAA weren't convinced that the MPAA and a brewery were in different industries. I imagine it took the grace of god himself to keep embolisms from popping inside of their brains as they tried to process a claim so stupid.

And, yet, because the brewery is small and the MPAA is big, the name of the beer will be changed. This is how stupidity plus money can equal the good guy getting screwed out of his brand. The beer will continue on, of course, though under a different name: "unrated."
The brewery now has to hope that the “unrated” name won’t cause any headaches in the future. A quick search reveals that there’s an “unrated” trademark application in progress by a “yoga pants” outfit, so fingers crossed.
Fingers crossed. Jesus...

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