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Posted on Techdirt - 1 December 2012 @ 12:00pm

Rob Reid's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

from the in-the-immortal-words-of-david-lee-roth dept

Rob Reid founded the company that created the Rhapsody music service, and more recently is the author of Year Zero - the tale of a vast alien civilization that’s so into American pop music that it inadvertently commits the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang, thereby bankrupting the entire Universe. You may recall him from our video chat earlier this year.

I wouldn't challenge Charlie Sheen to a drinking contest. I wouldn't enter the ring with Oscar de la Hoya. And I certainly wouldn't level a laughably flimsy charge of copyright infringement against Mike Masnick and Techdirt. But late last week, the remedial lawtards at Human Synergistics did just that. Presumably wasted and punch-drunk after losing bouts to both Sheen and De La Hoya, they penned a takedown letter. Then yesterday came The Rebuttal. This is certainly my favorite Techdirt post of the week - and perhaps of the year (although ask me again after after all of those heart-warming holiday columns have left me sobbing in my Venti Gingerbread Latte). If you think you'd enjoy watching the 49ers smash a math-science magnet school's JV squad, then this post is for you. And if you think "Human Synergistics" sounds like a creepy, high-end love doll manufacturer from the late 80's - well, join the club.

Speaking of dim-wittery, the Barnes & Noble brain trust has come up with a novel (GET IT?) way of shoving piracy-curious eBook buyers straight to the dark side. You simply forbid them from re-downloading books that they've fully paid for after their credit cards expire. It's that easy! This post has the low-down. And if you happen to be a B&N employee (particularly a buyer in the science fiction department), my disparaging tone is not directed at you, but rather that irritating boss (or boss's boss) who just doesn't get it.

On a more serious note, several of this week's Techdirt posts evoked the grim masterpiece 1984. I'm referring, of course, to Van Halen's weirdly succinct album from the eponymous year, which includes "Jump," "Hot for Teacher," and seven other extremely brief songs. Play Side II backward at juuuuust the right speed, and you'll hear David Lee Roth spin an ominous yarn about a dystopian near-future in which brutish governments track their citizens' every thought and movement (it may sound like gibberish, but it's actually Icelandic). Mr. Roth's macabre warnings are echoed in this post about a Texas school that requires students to wear chips that continuously broadcast their locations. And in this post about a Florida gazillionaire who successfully abused copyright and other laws to silence a critical blogger.

Now to be genuinely serious for a moment, I found the images in this post to be oddly chilling, despite the fact that they're just dry line charts. They document the guillotining of Syria's Internet access. They remind me of a flatlining monitor in Intensive Care. I traveled two weeks in Syria back in 2011, and while I was there, the government allowed Facebook access for the first time. I fell in love with the country (particularly Aleppo), and hoped this minor liberalization pointed to a broader loosening that might one day lead to a truly free and open society (note: I tended to be almost pathologically optimistic). I still believe that Syria will get there, eventually (see above). But I fear that things will first get much worse.

In other totalitarian news, Iran's monstrous government is requiring all citizens over the age of 14 to carry biometric ID cards which, among other things, will be required for Web access. It's fascinating (if at times depressing) to watch the tech arms race between authoritarian governments and the forces of openness. I believe that while there are often bumps along the way (like this), technology strongly favors greater individual freedom, empowerment, and autonomy over longer timescales. But as we know, I'm a pathological optimist.

An interesting test of this proposition may be brewing in Utah, where the police in one community will soon be wearing almost-always-on "eye cams." If every cop, citizen, and perp knows that a subpoena-able video is being recorded whenever the police interact with the public, it could lead to better behavior all around (perhaps particularly on the part of police). But as Tim Cushing points out in his thoughtful piece, this will only work if individual officers don't have access to an "off" switch that they can activate at awkward moments.

With that, I leave you to your weekend. In the immortal words of David Lee Roth, "Ég hef fengið það slæmt, fékk það slæmt, fékk það slæmt, - ég er heitur fyrir kennara."

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 July 2012 @ 12:59pm

Excerpt From Rob Reid's Year Zero; Plus A Chance To Win The Book

from the techdirt-book-club dept

As we announced a few weeks ago, the July Techdirt Book Club book is Year Zero written by Rob Reid and which comes out today, published by Random House. Rob will be joining us in a few weeks to talk about writing a comic sci-fi novel about the mess that is copyright law... but in the meantime, he's provided the following excerpt, which is Chapter 1. There is a "prologue" before this, which you can read here, or you can just watch this video, which more or less covers the prologue info:

As part of this, Rob and Random House have agreed to do another give away, this time just for Techdirt readers, which will go to five commenters on this post, based on your voting scores on the comments. We'll give one copy of the book each to the highest ranked "funny" and "insightful" comments, and then the three highest total scores other than the top ranked (so either funny or insightful). There are a few conditions: you have to be in the US or Canada. I know this sucks for those of you not in those places, but there's nothing we can do about it. Also, to win, we obviously have to be able to contact you, which means (a) you need to be logged in when you comment, so we can email you and (b) you have to respond to our email informing you of your win within 24 hours of our email. Also, you can't win twice -- if you score the highest in multiple categories, you get a prize in one and the others will go to the runners-up. We'll keep the voting open until Wednesday night and then tally the votes. So, get to work with your funny/insightful comments...


Even if she'd realized that my visitors were aliens who had come to our office to initiate contact with humanity, Barbara Ann would have resented their timing. Assistants at our law firm clearout at five-thirty, regardless -- and that was almost a minute ago.

"I don't have anyone scheduled," I said, when she called to grouse about the late arrival. "Who is it?"

"I don't know, Nick. They weren't announced."

"You mean they just sort of . . . turned up at your desk?" I stifled a sneeze as I said this. I'd been fighting a beast of a cold all week.

"Pretty much."

This was odd. Reception is two key-card-protected floors above us, and no one gets through unaccompanied, much less unannounced. "What do they look like?" I asked.


"Lady Gaga strange?" Carter, Geller & Marks has some weird-looking clients, and Gaga flirts with the outer fringe, when she's really gussied up.

"No--kind of stranger than that. In a way. I mean, they look like they're from . . . maybe a couple of cults."

From what? "Which ones?"

"One definitely looks Catholic," Barbara Ann said. "Like a . . . priestess? And the other one looks . . . kind of Talibanny. You know -- robes and stuff?"

"And they won't say where they're from?"

"They can't. They're deaf."

I was about to ask her to maybe try miming some information out of them, but thought better of it. The day was technically over. And like most of her peers, Barbara Ann has a French postal worker's sense of divine entitlement when it comes to her hours. This results from there being just one junior assistant for every four junior lawyers, which makes them monopoly providers of answered phones, FedEx runs, and other secretarial essentials to some truly desperate customers. So as usual, I caved. "Okay, send 'em in."

The first one through the door had dark eyes and a bushy beard. He wore a white robe, a black turban, and a diver's watch the size of a small bagel. Apart from the watch, he looked like the Hollywood ideal of a fatwa-shrieking cleric -- until I noticed a shock of bright red hair protruding from under his turban. This made him look faintly Irish, so I silently christened him O'Sama. His partner was dressed like a nun -- although in a tight habit that betrayed the curves of a lap dancer. She had a gorgeous tan and bright blue eyes and was young enough to get carded anywhere.

O'Sama gazed at me with a sort of childlike amazement, while the sister kept it cool. She tried to catch his eye -- but he kept right on staring. So she tapped him on the shoulder, pointing at her head. At this, they both stuck their fingers under their headdresses to adjust something. "Now we can hear," the nun announced, straightening out a big, medieval-looking crucifix that hung around her neck.

This odd statement aside, I thought I knew what was happening. My birthday had passed a few days back without a call from any of my older brothers. It would be typical of them to forget -- but even more typical of them to pretend to forget, and then ambush me with a wildly inappropriate birthday greeting at my stodgy New York law office. So I figured I had about two seconds before O'Sama started beatboxing and the nun began to strip. Since you never know when some partner's going to barge through your door, I almost begged them to leave. But then I remembered that I was probably getting canned soon anyway. So why not gun for YouTube glory, and capture the fun on my cellphone?

As I considered this, the nun fixed me with a solemn gaze. "Mr. Carter. We are visitors from a distant star."

That settled it. "Then I better record this for NASA." I reached across the desk for my iPhone.

"Not a chance." She extended a finger and the phone leapt from the desk and darted toward her. Then it stopped abruptly, emitted a bright green flash, and collapsed into a glittering pile of dust on the floor.

"What the . . . ?" I basically talk for a living, but this was all I could manage.

"We're camera shy." The nun retracted her finger as if sheathing a weapon. "And as I mentioned, we‘re also visitors from a distant star."

I nodded mutely. That iPhone trick had made a believer out of me.

"And we want you to represent us," O'Sama added. "The reputation of Carter, Geller & Marks extends to the farthest reaches of the universe."

The absurdity of this flipped me right back to thinking "prank" -- albeit one featuring some awesome sleight of hand. "Then you know I'll sue your asses if I don't get my iPhone back within the next two parsecs," I growled, trying to suppress the wimpy, nasal edge that my cold had injected into my voice. I had no idea what a parsec was, but remembered the term from Star Wars.

"Oh, up your nose with a rubber hose," the nun hissed. As I was puzzling over this odd phrase, she pointed at the dust pile on the floor. It glowed green again, then erupted into a tornado-like form, complete with thunderbolts and lightning. This rose a few feet off the ground before reconstituting itself into my phone, which then resettled gently onto my desk. That refuted the prank theory nicely -- putting me right back into the alien-believer camp.

"Thank you very kindly," I said, determined not to annoy Xena Warrior Fingers ever, ever again.

"Don't mention it. Anyway, as my colleague was saying, the reputation of Carter, Geller & Marks extends to the farthest corner of the universe, and we'd like to retain your services."

Now that I was buying the space alien bit, this hit me in a very different way. The farthest corner of the universe is a long way for fame to travel, even for assholes like us. I mean, global fame, sure -- to the extent that law firms specializing in copyright and patents actually get famous. We're the ones who almost got a country booted from the UN over its lax enforcement of DVD copyrights. We're even more renowned for our many jihads against the Internet. And we're downright notorious for virtually shutting down American automobile production over a patent claim that was simply preposterous. So yes, Earthly fame I was aware of. But I couldn't imagine why they'd be hearing about us way out on Zørkan 5, or wherever these two were from.

"So, what area of the law do you need help in?" I asked in a relaxed, almost bored tone. Feigning calm believably is a survival tactic that I perfected as the youngest of four boys (or of seven, if you count our cousins, who lived three doors down. I sure did). It made me boring to pick on -- and useless as a prank victim, because I'd treat the damnedest events and circumstances as being mundane, and entirely expected. It had also helped me immensely as a lawyer (although by itself, it had not been enough to make me a successful one).

Sister Venus gave me a cagey look. "It's sort of . . . an intellectual property thing."

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