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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 - 2 July 2015 @ 12:44pm

Chicago Rages Against The Future With 9% Tax On Netflix, Spotify And Other Streaming Services

from the tax-the-future dept

Almost exactly three years ago, Mike wrote up a post that discussed Planet Money pulling together five economists with differing political views to see what they could all agree on. The result was several policy ideas that appeared to transcend politics if economics was the driving motivator instead of any kind of partisanship. The whole post is awesome, and has influenced my thoughts on economic policy and taxes to a large degree, but I came away from it with one general concept firmly in mind: tax what you want to discourage, don't tax what you want to encourage, and never tax innovation or the future.

And now my home city is taxing the future. You see, the city of Chicago recently announced that it will extend its 9% amusement tax to online streaming services and cloud computing.

A ruling by Chicago’s Department of Finance allows the city to add an extra nine percent tax onto “electronically delivered amusements” and “nonpossessory computer leases.” In an odd combination, buying a subscription to streaming media, such as Netflix or Spotify, would qualify, as would using a cloud computing platform, such as Amazon Web Services. Each would be subject to 9% tax; Chicago is the first major American city to levy a tax on either streaming services or cloud computing services.
Amusement taxes in and of themselves generally violate the concept I highlighted in the opening. After all, if you're a municipality, taxing fun is essentially saying you want less fun. But what makes this re-write of the amusement tax already on the books silly is that it is purely a money-grab. Here's what happened: the amusement tax in Chicago worked primarily to collect revenue from book stores, music stores and movie rental stores, which are obviously becoming increasingly in short supply as consumers move to online stores and streaming services like Netflix and Spotify and Amazon for all of the above. This is actually a good thing from a public interest standpoint for a variety of reasons: less pollution from physical products, more efficiency in the marketplace, the opening of more creative outlets for members of the city, and more access to more content from more places and devices, meaning a more robust economic marketplace. The future, in other words, although increasingly the present as well. And Chicago wants to tax all this, effectively discouraging its use, in order to collect an additional $12 million a year.

Chicago, mind you, is in the hole for roughly one hundred times that amount.
Cities with amusement taxes have lost revenue as more people forgo book stores, record shops and video rental stores in place of online outlets. But $12 million isn’t going to be much more than a drop of water in the bucket of the city’s $1 billion operating shortfall.
Fighting the future doesn't even yield much of a reward, so why do it at all? Don't tax what you want to encourage and tax what you want to discourage. This makes it look like the city of Chicago really wants a tax policy to make the city operate like it was 1995.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 July 2015 @ 10:37am

MLB Network DMCAs Video Of Bob Costas Torching MLB Pitcher, Which We'll Now Discuss At Length

from the swing-and-a-miss dept

I have to admit, I didn't see this one coming. We recently discussed how Bob Costas reacted to a video of him being more than a bit hard on Cubs MLB pitcher Pedro Strop by going full-tirade on the internet and social media. Within that post was the embedded video of the broadcast segment that featured Costas wondering aloud whether Strop pointed up to the heavens while walking off the field (something very common in sports) was him imploring a dead relative for forgiveness for his awful performance. That video, I should mention, was up and working at the time the post was being written. By the time it was published, however, it had been taken down with a notice that someone had filed a copyright claim on it.

What's strange about this is that it was an MLB Network broadcast, meaning the likely party requesting its removal would be Major League Baseball itself. I say it's strange because MLB is really good when it comes to advanced media and the internet. No other sport does as well in getting videos and content out there for people to enjoy. A party so good at the internet, however, should know better than to try to hide an embarrassing moment for a broadcaster through obscurity via intellectual property.

Because, thank you Streisand Effect, now we're talking about it again. Oh, and the video is still available from a ton of places, including on YouTube from a variety of uploaders.

The result? Well the conversation continues when this whole thing could already have been put to bed. Costas reportedly apologized to Strop. Strop reportedly accepted the apology, saying he didn't want to be the kind of person to judge anyone. And it would have been over.

But now it's not, because for some reason MLB (most likely) thought it could hide what had happened when it couldn't. I suppose MLB could start an ineffectual game of whac-a-mole with all the other sources of the video out there if it really wants to, but it shouldn't. It never should have taken the first video down in the first place. Going any further would really get the tongues wagging, which was the exact thing the league was hoping to prevent.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 July 2015 @ 9:16pm

Bob Costas Rails Against The Internet After Criticism For Going Nuclear On MLB Pitcher

from the standards dept

You would only really know this if you're a baseball fan, but Bob Costas went ahead and stepped in it recently while calling a Cubs vs. Cardinals game. You see, relief pitcher Pedro Strop came out to work from the bullpen and promptly crapped himself on the mound (not literally). This, of course, is only in good keeping with the Chicago Cubs tradition of sucking, but apparently Costas decided to go in pretty hard on Strop when the pitcher pointed at the sky as he exited the game.

Whoa. That's more than a little harsh relative to most MLB broadcasts and Costas heard about it from many internet sites and social media circles. Baseball fans tweeted, asking him what the deal was in delivering such a harsh line at a pitcher who simply had a rough outing. Websites, like Deadspin, offered up typically reasonable articles with equally reasonable headlines like "Holy shit, Bob Costas." As a result of all of this, Costas has said he would apologize for his remarks.

But this is still all the internet's fault, obviously.

“We can be disingenuous about it if we want, if it suits our purposes, but we all know this: We live in an age of faux outrage, of disproportionate outrage. Everything is shocking, over the top. ‘He savaged Pedro Strop’ — I mean, come on, come on. Let’s get a handle on this,” Costas said. “I could have done better and I will apologize. But . . . that’s just Internet stuff. I’m going to take care of it the same way I would have taken care of it if it was 1986. And that’s going to be that.”
In addition to those comments, the link includes an audio clip from a Costas interview on WFAN, in which he laments the fact that the internet took notice of his national broadcast and decided they didn't care for it all that much. Costas hit the usual chords whenever someone from a traditional media outlet rails against the internet and social media: something something overreaction, something something fake outrage, something something we're still the real media. But my favorite line was:
"The mainstream, which can be criticized, we have our own shortcomings, but we're supposed to hue to a higher standard, both of ethics and of quality. The idea that in some desperate attempt to remain relevant, and to get more clicks, that we should dumb ourselves down to adopting the ethos of the mob, that's something that I'm not good with."
Look, I know I don't really count as valid, because I'm from the internet, but I have a suggestion: it might not be the best plan to trot out the sacred and storied tradition of journalistic ethics in the broadcast media in reaction to a story about you going nuclear on a reliever, such that you, yourself, felt the need to apologize. Those two things mashed together don't make any sense. Come on, Bob, it ain't the internet's fault you came of like a jerk.

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Posted on Techdirt - 30 June 2015 @ 1:12am

Kickstarter Still Setting Records Despite Everyone Wanting Everything For Free

from the cha-ching dept

When it comes to old notions that are used to stave off the need to embrace new business models in the digital age, nothing is more annoying than the whole "the masses just want everything for free" myth. That belief is snappy, punchy, and as simple to understand as it is completely and demonstrably wrong. But for a certain segment of the population, typically older generations of the kind that pine for the good old days when America was all apple pie and tasteful cartoons, the myth persists. Now, however, the myth is old. Old enough that it's begun to lose its flavor, like a piece of gum that you've been chewing on since Metallica shut down Napster. The new flavor is every digital success story that proves the myth wrong. Kickstarter happens to be my favorite example of this. What's remarkable about Kickstarter is that it's over half a decade old and, despite some still embracing the old myths, it's somehow still setting records in raising money for content producers.

Shenmue 3 isn’t only the fastest game to raise a million dollars on Kickstarter, it’s also the fastest game to raise two million dollars. The project was announced last night at Sony’s E3 press conference. It’s the follow-up the Shenmue 2, which was released fourteen years ago.
Were you to believe the legacy content producers, who insist the public are free-loading internet anarchists hell-bent on ruining everything and everyone, this shouldn't even be possible. The fact that records for raising money are being broken now is perfect in debunking every part of the myth. The money rolls in over a decade after the myth's creation, despite the expectation that every day would see an increase in younger generations just wanting "everything for free." The money rolls in six years into Kickstarter's existence, meaning nobody can claim that all this money is currently pouring in due to the embrace of some new platform, the popularity of which will quickly die away. The money rolls in for a video game, the exact kind of product that those who believe the myth would expect to be the most pirated.

What does this all mean? Kickstarter is on the verge of becoming the establishment now, if it isn't already. It's no longer the upstart experiment. It's firmly entrenched as a success story in the modern digital economy, taking its place alongside iTunes, Steam, and Netflix as snap-rebuttals to the old mythos. The truth is that there are conversations to be had about how to best operate within the digital economy, but those proselytizing the old gods against a greed that doesn't exist are no more useful in that discussion than flat-worlders might be in a conversation about astronomy. The myth is dead, gone the way of Zeus and relegated to a time before the counterexamples had borne fruit. The new question isn't whether content producers can get the public to pay for their goods; it's whether the now-established platforms can scale to keep up with the wider adoption of the platform.

This was in response to the insane amount of interest and traffic generated by Shenmue 3. People flocking to Kickstarter so fast that the site couldn't keep up. People who others will tell you just want everything for free. The myth is dead. Long live the new business models.

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Posted on Techdirt - 29 June 2015 @ 9:05pm

Chanel Goes After 2 Person Chocolate Company Over The Number Five

from the six-seven-eight dept

Chanel is a company that does fashion and perfume. I know this because I can't walk into a department store without walking past a bunch of glass cases that smell like someone boiled six billion flowers in a pot and then threw it on me, leaving me only to walk past the purses and handbag sections and laugh at the prices for tiny, tiny little bags. Chanel does not sell chocolate, unless you count naming some of the afore-mentioned perfumes and handbags with vaguely chocolate-y names. I know this because I did a Google search to make sure, and those are infallible. And, yet, for some reason, Chanel has decided to play trademark-goalie on a two-person chocolate shop operating in Australia.

Global fashion house Chanel has forced a small Australian chocolate maker to change its branding after it claimed a trademark infringement on its No.5 perfume. A letter from Chanel's lawyers was the last thing that Chocolate @ No.5 owner Alison Peck expected when she set up her company. After all, her business is a "two-man show," named after its address – 5 Main Street Hahndorf, a village in the Adelaide Hills – and makes chocolate, not perfume or haute couture. Her company would have most likely gone unnoticed by the multinational fashion giant had it not applied for a trademark registration.
At which point Chanel's lawyers fired off a threat letter. A letter, I'll concede, perhaps not entirely without merit. Here is the original branding of Chocolate @ No. 5 alongside the branding of a Chanel bottle of perfume.
As you can see, the style of the wording is somewhat similar. I still think I could argue something along the lines of, "What the hell are you people talking about, we do chocolate and the actual name of our business is all over our label", but there is enough of a similarity that claims of confusion don't come off as stupendously silly. Except that Peck has already agreed to change her branding to this:
Problem solved, right? Wrong.
Chanel wanted Ms Peck to only use the digit or word 'five' while her business was located at it current address. "It was implied if I ever moved I would have to change the name. That was when I realised I was being bullied. They don't own the number five. In the future do we go to school and go 'one, two, three, four, trademark protected, six?' It's just crazy. Never mind that China is churning out [counterfeit] Chanel at a rate of knots. I was not trying to pass of my chocolates as being Chanel No.5. That's just silly because it's chocolate."
It sounds to me like the legal team at Chanel is sort of using the descriptive clauses in reverse, suggesting her logo is not infringing if it describes the company address, but if that address changes it suddenly becomes infringing because it's no longer descriptive. If that is indeed the argument they're making, it's a very silly one, because, again, chocolate. Add to that the idea that the number five is getting this much attention in the trademark realm and you can imagine the frustration of a small shop just trying to make a living.

And it's because of those same economic interests that Peck is backing down and simply re-branding.
"I was happy to withdraw my application and change my logo because there is nothing wrong with a bit of freshness to a product. Our product is still the same."

This appears to have placated Chanel, which Ms Peck said had backed down on its other demands. But the fashion titan is "monitoring" her business.
For Christ's sake, Chanel, have a chocolate and calm the hell down.

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Posted on Techdirt - 29 June 2015 @ 1:42pm

70's Band 'Player' Sues Keith Urban For His 'Player Guitar Kit' For Trademark Violation

from the mmmmm-no dept

You'd like to think that people don't use intellectual property and the courts to push themselves into the public spotlight. You'd like to think that the complexities of IP law and the lack of competent lawyers just have otherwise well-meaning people confused. But then you come across a case where there doesn't seem to be any other logical explanation for the trademark lawsuit other than a bunch of once-mildly-famous people trying to thrust themselves into the light of the modern sun and you begin to lose faith. Let me introduce you to Peter Beckett, lead singer for a band called "Player", who had a very popular hit in the late-70's called "Baby Come Back." Now he's also got a hell of a trademark suit filing on his hands, having decided that Keith Urban selling a "Keith Urban Player acoustic guitar kit" is somehow a trademark violation on his band's name.

The trademark violation complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court earlier this year alleges Urban is being “fraudulent and malicious” in marketing the 50-piece “Keith Urban Player” acoustic guitar kit, which includes a signature guitar, instructional DVD series and other items. Beckett contends the “American Idol” judge snatched the “Player” name after the band performed its 1978 chart-topper “Baby Come Back” on an episode of the daytime soap opera “General Hospital” last year.
I, uh, well okay then. Yes, I'm quite certain that Keith was lounging around his estate at the moment that Player's once-hit was played on a soap opera and then suddenly decided to incorporate "player" into his offering of a guitar kit, despite the fact that you...you know...play a guitar. Nevermind that guitar kits aren't in the same market as musical acts themselves. No, because Beckett is quite certain that people buying a Keith Urban Player guitar kit are going to be quite confused into thinking that they're actually buying something affiliated with Beckett's band.
“Defendants’ use of the trade name and trademark Player ... are likely to deceive and will continue to deceive the consuming public,” the suit alleges. “Defendants knew, recklessly disregarded, or reasonably should have known that such packaging, advertising, marketing, and promotion was untrue and/or misleading.” Urban’s “deceptive” use of the “Player” name will cause the group “irreparable injury” that “cannot be adequately calculated and compensated in monetary damages,” according to the lawsuit, which seeks at least $1 million in damages.
We have been harmed so much that we cannot even begin to figure out all the pain we've suffered...so give us a mil-do and we'll bounce, kay? Sorry, sir, but this suit ain't going to last long. I suppose if the aim was to get Beckett back in the spotlight for a moment, it kinda-sorta worked, but only in that everyone is laughing at him now. Seriously, Kieth Urban is insanely popular and nobody is confusing him with Player, the band. Or are they!?!?
The plaintiff further alleges that if an injunction is not granted, “one day consumers may come to believe that ‘Baby Come Back’ was written and performed” by Urban rather than Beckett. Beckett also contends that the Grammy Award-winning country singer star needs to link his name to the band Player’s because “if not for his marriage to Nicole Kidman and if not for his appearance as a judge on the tail end of the now-canceled ‘American Idol,’ defendant Urban’s fame would be limited to country fans for just a few more years.”
Heh, he's funny, I'll give him that. Maybe he can jump into standup comedy.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 June 2015 @ 9:09pm

EU Court Lawyer Advises Against Granting Trademark For Kit Kat Shape

from the trademark-barred dept

There's apparently something of a chocolate war going on in Europe, where rival confectioneries all go around trying to trademark silly aspects of their products while everyone else blocks them. Cadbury reportedly kicked all this off some years back, attempting to trademark the color purple (seriously), before Nestle came in and objected, getting the trademark overturned. The most recent edition of this sweet-war is Nestle's consternation over not being able to trademark the Kit Kat bar's four-bar shape.

This probably requires some brief background. See, the UK is the birth-place of the Kit Kat bar. Back in 2013, Nestle decided that the candy had developed a distinction through its shape such that the four-bar shape deserved its own trademark (there was no attempt made on the two-bar fun-sized version). Nestle initially went to the Office of Harmonization of the Internal Market (OHIM), which essentially assigns trademarks for the EU, in 2012. But in 2013, the UK declined to confer a trademark on the Kit Kat shape. The reason for declining was that four bars of chocolate weren't a distinct enough thing to warrant its own mark.

Cadbury is the one objecting to the Kit Kat shape trademark and they've kept up the pressure, despite Nestle's appeals. The latest development is likely the penultimate nail in this issue's coffin, however.

Confectionery giant Nestle's attempt to trademark the shape of its four-finger KitKat bar in the UK does not comply with European law, a senior European Court lawyer has said. The opinion of the advocate-general effectively ends Nestle's attempts to trademark the snack.
That's because the courts generally listen to the advocate-general on these matters, not to mention that the UK has already been predisposed to denying the trademark and the fact that every next EU entity that gets involved seems to have a different opinion likely means the UK courts will simply affirm the denial of the trademark.

Now, it's perhaps worth noting that we, the Techdirt staff, have had some discussions about this case previously and there's been some disagreement about it. Some of us think that the Kit Kat shape is indeed distinct enough to warrant a mark. Others, including myself, do not. My reason is pretty simple: I tend to see trademark as chiefly a way to keep consumers from buying one product when they had intended to buy another. With that in mind, I've never heard of anyone buying a Kit Kat bar outside of the wrapper that covers up the shape, so I think the idea of getting a trademark on the shape is kind of dumb. That said, I should note the UK court didn't take to that line of thinking, asserting only a lack of distinction in the shape.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 June 2015 @ 3:59pm

A Gronking To Remember Lawsuit Gets Strange While Amazon Argues Liability Would Chill Speech And Art

from the gronk-gronk-gronk dept

Somewhat surprisingly to me, the tale of the now infamous eBook, "A Gronking To Remember" continues to develop. Yes, this whole thing started when a book purportedly written by a woman named Lacey Noonan, which details one housewife's sexual liberation at the sight of Patriots tight-end (heh) spiking a football, was taken down off of Amazon. The speculation at the time was that the cover of the book was the cause of the takedown, with the NFL being the likely complainer, as the cover features Gronkowski in full uniform.

We learned later that the NFL wasn't actually the reason for the takedown. Instead, it was the photo of that couple embracing had apparently been appropriated from the wider interwebz without permission by the author or whoever designed the cover. That couple, choosing to remain anonymous, was suing not only the author but Amazon and Apple as well for selling the work on their respective platforms. So, what have we learned since?

Well, to start with, Lacey Noonan is a dude. Greg McKenna to be specific. Which, whatever, there's no reason a guy can't write sex-fics about a housewife wanting to nail a football player, but it was a surprise. We've also learned that the New England Patriots did indeed complain to Amazon about the appearance of the team's uniform on the cover, but it turns out Noonan/McKenna removed The Gronk from the cover and republished the book again, with the image of the anonymous couple still in place, we assume. We've also learned that Amazon has an automated system that checks the works authors seek to publish for pure plagiarism or insanely offensive material.

That last bit is becoming an issue in the case, as there are some suggesting that if Amazon can scan the text to omit plagiarism, why can't it run facial recognition software to search for unauthorized images on the covers? And if that question actually sounds reasonable to you, go get your head checked because you are insane. Checking text against a database of fiction is one thing. A very impressive thing, actually. But saddling Amazon, who isn't the publisher in this case, as they offer a self-publishing platform to sell works, with the responsibility to scan faces on bookcovers and then go seek out those people to ensure permission has been granted is crazy-pants. Not only is it operating under the theory that everything is infringing first until it's proven not to be, but it's asking the wrong party to be responsible for the wrong things. Nobody, for instance, is asking brick and mortar bookstores to police bookcovers. Amazon's argument in their brief is exactly on point.

"If Amazon were to be denied summary judgment in the present case, (1) Amazon would be forced to closely examine every aspect of every book an author sought to self-publish through KDP and CreateSpace (and Audiobook Creation Exchange), (2) Amazon‟s costs would likely increase substantially, (3) the prices Amazon charges to its self-publishing customers could rise significantly, (4) some authors and independent publishers might no longer be able to afford to publish their works, and (5) Amazon would likely be inhibited from allowing authors to self-publish potentially controversial works."
In other words, asking Amazon to pretend it's a publisher, when it isn't, would be a great way to kill self-published books. Which means a massive chill on speech and art, all in the name of not holding a self-publishing author responsible for what he or she publishes. Expect this to get tossed quickly under section 230 grounds.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 June 2015 @ 11:38am

South Carolina Massacre Results In Apple Going Flag-Stupid In The App Store

from the sigh dept

It's been mere days since Dylann Roof forced his name into our lives by walking into an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, praying with several black members of the church, and then brutally shooting most of them to death. As you can imagine, whenever a tragedy such as this occurs, the country enters into a rare moment of somber seriousness, finally choosing to discuss difficult topics that we've been otherwise avoiding and coming together united to build a better life for our collective futures.

Just kidding, we're talking about flags, y'all! With only the briefest respite provided by some in the media choosing to inject video games into this tragedy for no reason at all, most of our time has been spent discussing the Confederate battle flag. In case you're not sure, yes, this is indeed crazy. Not that the idea that a treasonous symbol of failure like the Confederate Navy Jack flying over the capital of a state in Lincoln's union isn't absolutely asinine. It most certainly is. But for our attention to be diverted from the deaths of living people to a stupid symbol from a war won long ago while the bloodstains have barely dried in that church makes absolutely no sense at all.

And just when you think this couldn't get any more stupid, Apple gallops to the rescue by losing its mind in its own App Store.

Many large US companies, like Walmart and Amazon, have already banned the sale of any Confederate flag merchandise as a reaction to the recent events. Now, it appears that Apple has decided to join them by pulling many Civil War wargames from the App Store. As of the writing of this story, games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow Civil War games are nowhere to be found. Apple is famous for reaching for the axe rather than the scalpel when it comes to political issues (like rejecting Hunted Cow's Tank Battle 1942 for depicting Germans and Russians as enemies), so this move doesn't come as a great surprise.
Just so I have this straight, because a racist killer murdered nine people in South Carolina, I, here in Chicago, can't play a Civil War simluation and kill Confederate soldiers? How does that make any sense? Well, it's likely that Apple didn't bother to think any steps beyond noticing that the Confederate battle flag was included in the game, therefore the ban-hammer was brought down. In fact, Apple has told game developers as much when communicating with them about the ban.
It's looking like Apple has pulled everything from the App Store that features a Confederate flag, regardless of context. The reasoning Apple is sending developers is "...because it includes images of the confederate flag used in offensive and mean-spirited ways."
No, it didn't, you dolts. It's history. That flag actually did exist in the context of the time period of the game. And the result is predictable: everyone is mocking the hell out of Apple as we speak. Popehat was helpful, as always:

While others tried to helpfully show Apple how this has been handled by others far, far better:

In other words, we're all adults here, or close enough, so let's not simply try to pretend the bad thing from history never happened. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't do nuance, so instead we end up with two banned historical games that were simply too accurate for the iOS platform.

Bet you they're still available for Android, though.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 June 2015 @ 6:04am

Took Longer Than I Expected: Bill O'Reilly Yanks Video Games Into Charleston Massacre For No Reason At All

from the pinhead dept

You just knew it was going to happen. Not long ago, Dylann Roof walked into a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, prayed with several parishioners there for some time, and then proceed to shoot most of them dead. So many of these stories are horrific not only for the violence that gets perpetrated, but because we're typically left with the most vexing of questions: why? Why did two Colorado teenagers shoot up their school? Why would a young man walk into an East Coast elementary school and shoot children? Why?

The South Carolina massacre is different in that respect. We know exactly why Dylann Roof killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He did it because he was a racist, bigoted, self-aggrandizing fool who actually thought that differences in appearance equated to differences in humanity and saw heroes in those who would oppress their fellow humans. Oh, also video games, if you ask Martin Luther King III and Bill O'Reilly, obviously.

"Look at video games," King said during the segment. "Our children play video games and 7 out of 10 of them are violent. Some of our movies are very violent, and we want to see more and more violence."

O’Reilly agreed with King, noting that there needs to be more pushback, more people need to argue that it’s "not a good thing to devote your leisure time to violent pursuits."
This has to end. With the available evidence continuing to demonstrate that any link between violent media and real-life violence being tenuous at best, the rush to drag an entertainment medium into the discussion of a self-admitted racist killing blacks simply because they were black is absolutely insane. There's no wondering the why here. There's no linking video games to this tragedy. The conversation doesn't belong in any relevant discussion about Dylann Roof. And it's not like O'reilly really wants entertainment mediums saddled with the responsibility for what evil people do.

You'll notice that O'Reilly (and it isn't just him, I can assure you) is happy to bring up his own constitutional rights to free speech when challenged but have no issue dragging an art form and entertainment medium into the spotlight after a tragedy that had nothing to do with video games. And, look, this isn't a Fox News or Bill O'Reilly problem. Plenty of major news outlets are happy to placate older adults that need a tight little box to put tragedies in, something that can be blamed. Video games apparently are destined to fill that role until these idiots retire and the next generation of news people are in place, because those people will have grown up gaming if the statistics and demographics are any indication.

So I guess we just wait them out.

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Posted on Techdirt - 24 June 2015 @ 9:01pm

Arkham Knight PC Game Arrives Just In Time To Demonstrate Why Steam Needed Refunds

from the port-density dept

When Steam announced its new refund policy, the timing was, perhaps, unfortunate in terms of gauging the response to the new policy. See, the new refund program came on the heels of a similarly new attempt by Steam to offer a platform for modders to charge for mods, which caused a nearly universal backlash from the gamer customers. With that fresh in everyone's mind, it was disheartening to watch some game developers, particularly those on the indie side, criticize and worry over Steam having an actual refund policy for digital games. Not that every last bit of the concern was unwarranted, mind you, it's just that the idea of Steam having essentially zero refund policy was one of those things that sounded like it couldn't even be true, so any adoption of refunds was going to be a win for consumers. Still, the focus of gaming companies appeared to be on how horrible it all was for them, rather than understanding the legitimate reasons why a customer might seek a refund.

Here to helpfully demonstrate the why is Warner Bros. and its PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight, which is beginning to look like it was designed to be a very prominent middle finger to PC gamers. In case you haven't kept up on what a complete mess the PC version of the game is, all you need to know is that WB's own instructions on how to play it and what's required for minimal settings will have you blinking in surprise. Here's how WB says you should run the game on a minimum system:

Resolution: 1280x720
V-Sync: Off
Anti-Aliasing: Off
Texture Resolution: Low
Shadow Quality: Low
Level of Detail: Low
Interactive Smoke/Fog: Off
Interactive Paper Debris: Off
Enhanced Rain: Off
Enhanced Light Shafts: Off
So, 720p and everything off or low on the details. Okay, that's how you'd typically go about reducing the load on a minimum machine, fine. So what's the now-recommended minimum from WB?
OS: Win 7 SP1, Win 8.1 (64-bit Operating System Required)
Processor: Intel Core i5-750, 2.67 GHz | AMD Phenom II X4 965, 3.4 GHz
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 (2 GB Memory Minimum) | AMD Radeon HD 7950 (3 GB Memory Minimum)
DirectX: Version 11
Network: Broadband Internet connection required
Hard Drive: 45 GB available space
Look, I don't want to get into some war with the community over what a modern day gaming machine should look like, but that isn't a minimum system by any standard. Not that this is the first game that doesn't run on a decent modern machine (screw you, NBA2K15), but none of this was expected by gamers or WB, which is why they've been promising a patch ever since the port hit the market and everyone started freaking out. But there's no timeline on that patch, of course, and in the meantime the company is essentially suggesting that you better have a better-than-average rig to even run this game at the minimum specs. But even then...
With these settings on Min Spec AMD GPU’s, users can expect some minor texture pops, occasional loading symbols during fast-paced scenarios, and some hitches & stuttering when gliding or driving the Batmobile. With these settings on Rec Spec AMD GPUs, users can expect some minor texture pops, occasional loading symbols during fast-paced scenarios, and some hitches & stuttering when gliding or driving the Batmobile. To help alleviate this, AMD users using Rec Spec GPU’s should turn Texture Resolution, Shadow Quality, and Level of Detail to Low. We continue to work closely with AMD to resolve these issues as soon as possible; make sure you have the most current drivers and check back here for updates on when the next driver version is available.
Meaning that depending on which GPU manufacturer your machine is using, a min-spec machine and all the settings turned low or off will get you to the point where your game almost works. Woo-hoo! And yet this is where Warner Bros., and Steam, deserve some recognition, because the company is pointing directly to Steam's refund page on the community site to show customers where they can get refunds.
If you purchased your copy of the game through Steam and are not satisfied with your experience, you can request a refund at help.steampowered.com (Steam refund policies can be found here: http://store.steampowered.com/steam_refunds).
And that's why Steam needed a refund policy. The PC gaming community is very loyal to PC games, but that doesn't change the fact that PC gaming includes variables where consoles do not. Performance and machine specs are the chief amongst them. If for no reason beyond that, the refund policy was overdue, rather than something for developers to freak out about.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 June 2015 @ 9:23am

Tumblr Complies With DMCA Takedown Requests From A Self-Proclaimed Future-Alien From Another Planet

from the he-has-the-GIF dept

We see more than our fair share of bogus DMCA and intellectual property takedowns around these parts. Hell, there are so many that at one point a website was created strictly to keep a running tally of these things, though that site appear to no longer exist. That said, there are bogus takedowns, and then there are bogus takedowns, and this is the story of one example of the latter and the silliness of the take down first and ask questions later attitude sites take these days.

Tumblr is rife with GIFs. We all know this. Tumblr claims that those that have takedowns filed against them will have their material removed first, but will be provided all the relevant information on the takedown so that they can figure out what happened. Tumblr also claims that real-life human beings review each of these requests to ensure they're legitimate. If that's true, then Tumblr needs to explain why a bunch of GIF artists are having their material removed at the behest of the purported true copyright owner, a future-alien being channeled by a present homosapien named Darryl Anka.

Darryl Anka telepathically channels a space alien from the future named Bashar who lives on the planet Essassani; on this basis, he has claimed many copyright infringements in the creations of Tumblr's GIF artists. The "trained members" of Tumblr's Trust and Safety team who "reviewed" these claims decided they were sufficient grounds for action, and promptly removed the offending GIFs, sending emails to the artists who'd posted them explaining what had happened. Each artist received a "strike" against them under Tumblr's three-strikes-and-you're-terminated policy.
Look, I'm the last person who wants to go around offending the sensibilities of the great nation-planet of Essassani. After all, we may need their military assistance to fight against The Reapers years in the future once we've attained intergalactic travel and all that. But still...what the shit? This is almost enough to make me wonder if this whole episode was specifically designed to throw shade on Tumblr and its likely false claims about how and who is reviewing these takedown notices. Some of the GIF artists in question are equally flabbergasted.
The claim is that my work is in fact copyrighted by “Bashar channeled by Darryl Anka” What? I looked it up. Darryl Anka believes that he is channeling information from a space alien from the future named Bashar that lives on a planet called Essassani via telepathy. Cool story bro. What exactly is the legal basis for their claim? Maybe it has something to do with “ ” ? Is that some kind of alien code? Or did Tumblr just auto copy and paste the email they got including stray HTML garbage characters? What is the evidence? “The copyrighted works can be found at www.basharstore.com/.” I clicked that link. There’s no GIFs on it. There’s nothing that resembles anything on my blog. Again, Tumblr’s policy states “Each claim is reviewed by a trained member of our Trust and Safety team.” I find it difficult to impossible to believe that actually happened.

Here’s my conclusion: Tumblr’s DMCA takedown system is fully automated and “trained members” do not in fact review anything. Or, embarrassingly someone did look at all of that “evidence” and decided that aliens from other planets have legal rights on Earth and that even though a copy of the alleged infringing work is not on the site provided, they’ll just take Darryl’s word for it?
Several things went wrong here. First, this is what you get in a "takedown first" scenario: nonsense claims that are given the benefit of the doubt to the detriment of legitimate speech/art/whatever. Add to that the embarrassment of Tumblr's review process claim being completely debunked and you can imagine how pissed off these artists are. And, finally, we have what is either an impressively creative troll or someone with a mind that broke somewhere around the fourth season of The X-Files a decade ago. And, coming full circle, keep in mind that that's the person getting the benefit of the doubt in the DMCA process.

It's time we did this differently, valuing the speech of the many over the restrictions wished for by the few. Even if amongst those few is Bashar, the alien from the future.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 June 2015 @ 2:51pm

Chicago Preacher Tries To Stop Spike Lee From Using 'Chiraq' As Title Of Upcoming Film

from the a-timothy-geigner-joint dept

I wasn't aware of this, but human-Knicks-mascot Spike Lee is reportedly making a film about violence in Chicago. This is annoying for a whole host of reasons, including how insanely relatively low the city's murder count is compared to historical averages. That said, it's not like there isn't a severe violence problem in tiny, tiny pockets of areas here in my home city, so if he wants to make a film about it, fine, go ahead, for all the good it will do. But the film is also reportedly going to feature the term "Chiraq", a silly comparison between the homicide counts in Chicago versus the death toll in Iraq, because that's apparently a valid comparison. Annoying as the term is, however, it's more annoying to see some money-grubbing preacher from Chicago try to force Spike to alter the title, claiming ownership of the word and spouting off all kinds of easily refutable nonsense about its origins.

Emmett Benjamin, who filed trademarks for "Chiraq" in Illinois within the last two months, said that when he heard about the film a few months ago, he thought it could threaten the work he has been doing as part of his temple in Oak Park, the House of Christ Temple Divine.

"We had been working on this for almost an entire year ... and realizing (the term) Chi-raqi will be put in danger," Benjamin said. "We put over $100 into marketing last year to try to spread awareness, and I hate to say it, but Spike Lee's project would seem to be a result of our hard work in marketing."
Emmett is burying the lede here, because if he and his church are able to turn $100 worth of marketing into terminology adoption by one of the most famous movie directors of our time, well, Emmett should get out of the god business and start himself a marketing firm. Now, I'll emphasize from that quote that Benjamin has "filed" for trademarks, not successfully registered any regarding "Chiraq." That said, his church does indeed produce films to raise awareness of what he calls "Chiraqi - a nation of persecuted black people." So, does he have a common law claim to the word?

One legal expert doubted Benjamin's chances for securing rights to Chiraq. Jonathan Masur, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, said that Benjamin could receive a legitimate trademark only if he were the first person to use the world commercially.

"The word comes from rap and hip-hop, people who have been using the words," Masur said. "I am dubious that this person is the first person to use the word."
Almost certainly not. As best as I can find, the term "Chiraq" has been used since at least 2012 and almost certainly earlier. 2012 was when someone posted a definition in Urban Dictionary. The term has been quite prominent in music, media, and film circles ever since. And Benjamin doesn't even pretend to have coined the phrase himself.
Benjamin, who uses the terms Chiraq and Chiraqi interchangeably, also wants to make sure that the low-income "people of color" in Chicago, who coined the term, receive proceeds from the film.

"The term was originally coined by young men and women in the streets of Chicago living in the battle zone with the police and sometimes other gangs and other people," Benjamin said. "The name belongs to the people of Chicago. We are merely protecting it and holding it for them."
Yeah, that isn't actually how trademark works, my friend. Like, at all. Collective city ownership of a term, such that a preacher purporting to represent them might extract money from a filmmaker and control the title of his films, is a concept not found in the law, or really anywhere outside of said preacher's head. On top of that, he'd likely have to convince a court that his films would be confused with Spike Lee's, a claim he hasn't made because it would take a level of hubris I believe is attainable only by FIFA executives. And even if he wanted to make that case, Spike Lee is using the term in a film to comment on violence in Chicago, meaning he could likely simply shout "First Amendment!" and dance out of the courtroom to go continue making his film.

Sorry, sir, but "Chiraq: This Time It's Personal, A Spike Lee Joint" will be made, and there's nothing you and I can do about it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 June 2015 @ 9:03pm

Some Now Suggesting Cardinals Hack May Have Violated The Economic Espionage Act

from the uh-oh dept

After the revelation that the St. Louis Cardinals are being investigated by the FBI for hacking into the Houston Astros' networks and grabbing a whole bunch of proprietary statistical and scouting data, much of the speculation centered around one or two rogue employees, who may have used old passwords to get into the Astros' systems. Those systems had been set up by the Astros' new GM, who was a former Cardinals employee and who presumably just reused his passwords. With that speculation in mind, the focus then turned to how the feds might look to use the CFAA to go after those employees for having committed a federal crime. All of that would be serious enough in and of itself, except some of the details coming out of the investigation and some of the expert opinions on which laws may be brought to bear are making all of this look much more serious than even most people's first take.

Much of the speculation that only an employee or two will face punishment under the CFAA has taken the form of something like this, from Alexander Southwell, a cybersecurity expert for law firm Gibson Dunn.

Southwell said the most likely charge would involve violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The Cardinals would be unlikely to face criminal charges unless it could be proven that the team, and not an employee or group of employees, was behind the act, Southwell said.

“The entity can’t be held responsible for the acts of rogue employees,” he said.
But not everyone agrees with that. Much in the way that Sarbanes-Oxley was constructed to keep high-level executives from shirking their responsibility for the actions of the businesses they oversee, there are laws on the books that could be used to go after the Cardinals' leadership not only if they had direct knowledge of this alleged hack, but also if they should have known about it but didn't. Serious negligence would have to be proven on the part of the higher-ups still, but the bar is lower. Here's the take from Nathaniel Grow, an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies at the University of Georgia.
The alleged hacking may have also violated the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, which criminalizes the theft or misappropriation of trade secrets. The data allegedly accessed by the Cardinals would appear to satisfy the legal definition of a trade secret, which covers any information that provides a business with a competitive advantage over its competitors and is not generally known by the public (for example, the recipe for Coca-Cola). The Astros’ proprietary statistical analysis and internal scouting reports would almost certainly qualify as trade secrets under this definition. . . Under the EEA, anyone who steals, copies, or downloads someone else’s trade secret information without permission faces a monetary fine and possible jail sentence of up to 10 years in prison per offense.

Perhaps more significantly, however, the EEA would also potentially allow the government to charge the entire Cardinals organization with criminal activity. As Section (b) of the law provides, “Any organization that commits any offense described in subsection (a) shall be fined not more than $5,000,000.“ In order to charge the entire organization with criminal activity, however, prosecutors would likely have to show that high-level Cardinals executives were aware of the hacking, or at least should have known that it was going on. If that is the case, then the entire team could face criminal prosecution. But if the hacking were simply carried out by a few lower-level team officials, without the knowledge of any higher-ups, then any organization-wide criminal case would be unlikely.
Complicating all of this further is the combination of Major League Baseball's antitrust status, which in part hinges on the notion that MLB acts as an umbrella organization under which the franchises operate. One of the questions that's been raised is whether or not the EEA could be invoked in this situation due to that organizational architecture. After all, two different people might own McDonald's franchises, but it would hardly make sense if one sued the other for stealing "trade secrets" when they're both McDonald's. Are the two teams competitors or are they different entities within the same organization?

Either way, the more that comes out, the more it's becoming clear that the FBI has someone or some people in the Cardinals organization dead to rights. The question is going to end up being how many are punished and under what laws they are prosecuted.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 June 2015 @ 1:27pm

Trump Campaign Was Legally Allowed To Use Neil Young's Music At Rally, But Doing So Was Kind Of Dumb

from the yeh-fired dept

It seems like every presidential election cycle, which comes around far too often and lasts for far too long for my taste, there inevitably ends up being some kind of row between some musicians and some politicians over music used at campaign events. The targets of these disputes tend to be Republican candidates, due to the political demographics of musicians as a general thing, but Democrats have been targeted as well. And, as we've mentioned in the past, other than creating a stir in the media and hoping the target campaign relents, there's roughly shit-all these musicians can do about it. But that stir can often times be enough, especially if the musician uses the opportunity to pimp a rival candidate.

Like Bernie Sanders, for example. Apparently when walking ego Donald Trump decided that he was going to announce his candidacy for President of these United States, his campaign decided to use Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" at the event. Neil not only wasn't pleased, but he used the opportunity to boost the candidate he does endorse.

"Donald Trump was not authorized to use 'Rockin' In The Free World' in his presidential candidacy announcement," said Young's manager in a statement. "Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States Of America."
As it turned out, as it usually does, Trump was authorized to use Young's music through an ASCAP license. That said, maybe it's time politicians learned to take the extra step and clear things with musicians before using their music, if for no other reason than to protect against the backlash becoming an advertisement for a rival campaign. Campaigns are very much like brands, after all, and the last thing a brand wants to do is get a competitor's name in circulation. That's got to be doubly so when the rival "brand" is someone like Bernie Sanders who, think whatever you like of him, is starving for more name-recognition on the national level. A couple of simple phone calls from the campaign office would likely inoculate against this sort of thing happening, where now every quote from Young on this dust-up mentions Young's support of Sanders.

All that being said, Young has somehow managed to make Trump the sympathetic figure in this whole story.
A press secretary for the real estate mogul said Wednesday that Trump would respect the wishes of Neil Young and no longer use "Rockin' In the Free World," which Trump featured Tuesday during his announcement that he was seeking the Republican Party's nomination for president. Trump press secretary Hope Hicks said Wednesday that "despite Neil's differing political views, Mr. Trump likes Neil very much."
It's a good way to spin the ending of this story for Trump's team, appearing so reasonable and agreeable to Young's antics, which come off looking petty. Still, no reason to let your campaign's music choice give the artist an opportunity to pimp Bernie Sanders. There are enough conservative musicians out there making music.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 June 2015 @ 6:17am

Post Merger-Failure, Comcast Still Dedicated To Treating Customers Like Shit

from the comcastic dept

Look, you don't get to be the best at something without being fully committed to it. Sports, science, doing that thing where you make farty noises using your armpits to gross your mom out, all of them require not just talent, but the kind of dedication it takes to put in the work to being the best. Comcast has that dedication. You might have thought that after its abysmal customer service record helped torpedo its merger with Time Warner, discouragement would have set in. And maybe if customer after customer after customer publicly lambasted Comcast for doing what it does best, that the company would have been forlorn and simply given up.

Well, you'd be wrong. Being the best at pooping on your customers isn't something Comcast is willing to give up on. This was most recently evidenced when the company simply took the email address of one customer and gave it to a new customer of the same name, and only corrected the mistake once the news got involved.

In April, another Kathleen Cox, who lives in Michigan, signed up for a Comcast account. The company took the Florida's Kathleen Cox's e-mail account and gave it to the woman in Michigan.

"It has been crazy," said Cox. "It is frustrating that's what it is."

It means all of her e-mail contact information went away, but it also resulted in Cox getting the other woman's bill.

"Your bank, your doctor, everybody you know that had your email address for 13 years," said Cox. "All gone."
Keep in mind, Kathleen Cox the Florida edition is a current customer. No matter, new customer means -- yoink! -- there goes the email address you've been using for a decade. But, hey, mistakes happen, especially when you're a Comcast customer, so let's give our friends there a chance. I'm sure the company was johnny-on-the-spot in helping get this resolved, right?
The problem apparently wasn't fixed until the news station got involved. "Everyone says 'within 24-72 hours,' and nothing happens," Cox told First Coast News. Cox said she spoke to 18 Comcast agents who promised to fix the problem. It took "more than a month" to finally get it solved, according to the report.
It's starting to look like the only way to get a customer service issue successfully resolved with Comcast at this point is to involve someone in the media. For Florida Cox to be promised a resolution in a few days and have it take a month, all the while she's missing out on emails sent to her in a time when email is perhaps the primary method for communication throughout the day, has to be immensely frustrating. I imagine the folks at Comcast, who have in the past been willing to do a mea culpa, must have their tails between their legs.
"We have apologized to Ms. Cox for the inconvenience and frustration this has caused her. Our customer care has worked with her to resolve the issue," Comcast told the station.
Just another win for customer service, I guess. In the meantime, all the Joe Smiths out there probably want to go with a different email service.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 June 2015 @ 9:15pm

Mi Amiga: One Michigan School District's Three-Decades-Old Hero Computer That Still Manages HVAC Today

from the salute dept

As I'm sure I've mentioned in the past, I've worked most of my professional life in the tech industry, specifically working for a managed services consultant in Chicago. One of the things we do is advise our clients on hardware rotations. Client machines, like desktops and laptops for instance, are typically recommended on a four to five year rotation. Because, let's face it, a five year old computer is either functionally worthless or is probably hanging onto a single strand of twisted copper before crapping out entirely, amirite?

Please don't send this post to my customers. Why? Well, because this is the story of the Grand Rapids Public School System in Michigan and the Commodore Amiga, originally bought during the Reagan administration, that is still running the schools' heating and air conditioning today.

The Commodore Amiga was new to GRPS in the early 1980s and it has been working tirelessly ever since. GRPS Maintenance Supervisor Tim Hopkins said that the computer was purchased with money from an energy bond in the 1980s. It replaced a computer that was “about the size of a refrigerator.” The computer is responsible for turning the heat and the air conditioners on and off for 19 school buildings.
Great. My HP laptop from six years ago has the keys falling off the keyboard and I'm pretty sure the fans inside the chassis have had their fins whisked down to tiny little fan-nubs, but this beast from the cold war times is still making sure little Johnny doesn't get sweaty during his lunch period. What's insane about all of this is the intricacy with which the whole thing manages to work. The computer controls the boilers, fans and pumps, while also monitoring temperatures within the schools... and it was programmed by a local high school student in the 80's. Not only that, but because the Amiga is a thing that belongs in a museum somewhere, whenever the school district needs help with the machine they still go back to that very same "programmer" who is all grown up now and happens to still live in the area. I mean, just listen to this.
“It’s a very unique product. It operates on a 1200-bit modem,” said Hopkins. “How it runs, the software that it’s running, is unique to Commodore.”

Hopkins said the system runs on a radio frequency that sends a signal to school buildings, which reply within a matter of seconds with the status of each building. The only problem is that the computer operates on the same frequency as some of the walkie-talkies used by the maintenance department.

“Because they share the same frequency as our maintenance communications radios and operations maintenance radios — it depends on what we’re doing — yes, they do interfere,” Hopkins said.

If that happens, “we have to clear the radio and get everyone off of it for up to 15 minutes.”
The school had received funds to address infrastructure problems from something called the "Warm Safe and Dry" bond in 2011, which seems like it was named specifically to get the schools' HVAC systems up to date. But GRPS was all, "eh, fuck it, this thing's still running like a champ, so let's put our ancient computer down the priority list." And it looks like it was the right decision. The Amiga runs day and night to this day, with only some minor inconveniences and replacement parts getting in the way of saying this thing is working flawlessly.

The article notes that the locals there are considering a new $175 million bond proposal that would free up money for the school system to replace the Amiga with a modern system that would cost something like $2 million or so. If it passes, Hopkins is expecting it to be a high priority, which will result in the sad day when we have to retire the old girl and put her out to pasture. In the meantime, this machine deserves some kind of Ironman award. We salute you, Commodore!

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 June 2015 @ 3:43pm

Be Careful Not To Hire Conspiracy Theory Nuts To Run Your Social Media: The Shaquille O'Neal Story

from the shaq-fool dept

I've always suspected that most famous people have outside groups managing their social media engagements for them. That is why I almost never follow celebrities on social media sites. What's the point? At the same time, with the importance of self-branding in the media today, I understand why these outside groups are used. What I don't understand, however, is why a famous person might entrust his or her social media brand to a group that might just end up making a client look foolish.

Take, for example, Shaquille O'Neal. The former NBA star and current NBA commentator has quite a presence on the web, which is what made it so strange when his personal website and Facebook page suddenly began announcing that Shaq was one of those 9/11 truther types.

There was more like that. On the one hand, everyone, including Shaq, is allowed to think that 9/11 was the work of government conspiracy pulled off by the evil overlords that have been running this country for their own personal benefits. On the other hand, 9/11 truthers are sadly hilarious as a general rule, but picturing the low-voiced, enormous Shaq wagging his finger about holographic 747s and shouting about the melting temperature of steel would be the kind of funny I'd pay real money to see.

Turns out that hilarious scenario will never be, however, as Shaq released a statement saying some yahoos at his social media management company were the ones responsible. Digital Mavericks, the outside firm that Shaq has since fired, also released a statement.

Statement from Shaquille O’Neal: This post was insulting and offensive, and I apologize to everyone who came across it. Once I learned that it was on my Facebook page and blog, I ordered it removed and fired the firm that posted it. I am not and never have been a “9/11 truther.’’ My father served our country and I am immensely proud of the sacrifices people make daily to keep us safe. The events of 9/11 were a horrible tragedy for our nation and it’s a disgrace that anyone would think otherwise.

Statement from Matt Argall, CEO of Digital Mavericks: Our firm helped manage content for Shaquille O’Neal’s Facebook page and blog. Yesterday, one of our employees posted a link on Mr. O’Neal’s social media that related to the tragic events of 9/11. Mr. O’Neal had no knowledge of the posting. Further, it does not represent the views of Mr. O’Neal, our clients or our organization. We sincerely apologize. We have removed the link from Mr. O’Neal’s social media and no longer manage social media content for him. We are very sensitive to the tragedy of 9/11 and apologize greatly for this post.
In the meantime, nobody reading anything on Shaq's site or social media sites will have any reason to believe that the posts are actually coming from him. Which is what makes celebrities on social media so lame. The truth is that it would have been far more fun if Shaq was a 9/11 truther. Fun and sad, yes, but still fun. Oh well, hopefully the next company he contracts with has some nonsense to say about vaccines or something.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 June 2015 @ 1:34pm

The Cardinal Way: FBI Investigating STL Cardinals For Hacking Into Astros Database

from the running-redbirds dept

If you're a baseball fan, as all good Americans are, and you have never lived in St. Louis, you probably hate the Cardinals. Don't feel bad if you do, they're quite easy to hate. No other fanbase has managed to coax platitudes out of the team and local media like the common refrain that Cards fans are "the best fans in baseball." Groan. Few other teams outside of college football programs tend to go on and on about "the Cardinal way" and how they "do things the right way" like the redbirds do. The problem is that the Cardinals have been an excellent baseball team for pretty much ever, always managing success with a minimal number of lean years.

Perhaps it's partly because they're cheaters on the level of committing federal crimes in order to gain an advantage -- at least according to reports coming out today. The news broke today that the FBI has become involved in investigating whether members of the Cardinals front office illegally gained entry to a proprietary database on player files, projections, statistics and trade maps owned by the Houston Astros.

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.
Even those of you not prone to caring about professional sports will likely recognize that this is a full-on shit-hitting-fan moment for a professional organization. The "hack", as it's being called, is the kind of low-tech stuff that most of these stories involve, but that doesn't change the fact that this situation seems to be the exact kind of thing the CFAA was designed around. The background on this is that Astros General Manager used to work for the Cardinals, where he developed this database of statistics and scouting methods. When the Astros hired him away, he ported his work over to be used with his new franchise. Somehow he was allowed to use the exact same passwords from his Cardinals days, which allowed somebody from the rival team to log in and begin pulling data. Ten months ago, that data was, for some reason, released into the wild, embarrassing the Astros and yanking away any advantage the proprietary system might have yielded them. The Astros reported the hack to the league office, which involved the FBI.

Word from early on in the FBI's investigation seems to leave little doubt that someone at the Cardinals, if not many someones, is involved. Oh, and very, very stupidly involved, too.
The Cardinals front-office executives who hacked into the Astros’ database are extremely dumb. You can’t even give them credit for being l337 H4x0rs because all these dummies did was use one of the old passwords Astros GM Jeff Luhnow used when he worked for the Cardinals, and they did it from their own goddamn home, which made it very easy for FBI to track them down. Here is a tip: If you’re going to commit corporate espionage, don’t do it from your home computer. Go find, like, an internet cafe or something.
But the thing about the CFAA is that its punishment doesn't correct for technical proficiency, so a "low-level hack," as this is being called, is still a hack and still falls under the law's purview. Dumb sports team or not, this is a federal crime, and the fact that people are going to lose their jobs may be the least of those peoples' concerns. We could be talking about real jail time here.

Regardless, the Cardinals way is dead, unable to pull itself from a muck of its own making.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 June 2015 @ 8:15am

Everyone's An Agent: UK Company Provides Spy Software To Teachers To Weed Out Child Terrorists

from the no-no-no dept

Never content to simply let America take a bad idea and run with it alone, these past few years have seen our friends in the UK slowly start to lose their collective minds concerning terrorism and radical Islam. It's hard to be too terribly snarky about it, considering here in America we've done our best to perfect overreacting to terrorism, but when the UK decided to institute something like Orwellian "thought crime," it was still worth noting how dumb of an idea it was. But our British friends weren't done. Now, schools throughout the country are being offered some very special software that will allow teachers to spy on student activities to try to weed out the eventually-maybe-might-be-radicalized.

Schools are being offered new software that helps teachers spy on pupils' potentially extremist online activity. It alerts teachers if pupils use specific terrorism-related terms or phrases or visit extremist websites on school computers, laptops or tablets. Teachers are encouraged to look for a pattern of behaviour rather than raise the alarm after a single warning.
This software is being offered in an effort to help schools comply with the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, which puts the onus on schools to prevent children from becoming terrorists, because apparently everyone is in the business of counter-terrorism these days. It must be quite nice to be in the national security business in the UK, given how the government has managed to simply foist their responsibilities upon public citizens with nothing better to do than teach the stewards of the nation's future.

And that last line in the quote, the one about how teachers are encouraged to look for ongoing patterns rather than flying off the handle if a student happens to look up "jihad" on Google? Yeah, because teachers are clearly the best able and most trained when it comes to making those kinds of judgements. They're not. You know who is? The god damned people in the counter-terrorism business. Maybe stop shirking your responsibility and do the damned job.

Those producing this software are just full of the old "the internet is just the worst" tropes, too.
Sally-Ann Griffiths, of Impero Software, which designed the program, said: "With a widely reported increase in the number of children being radicalised, it's vital that schools put measures in place to prevent pupils coming to harm online. By defining terms such as 'yodo', a phrase used by jihadist sympathisers meaning 'you only die once', the glossary gives teachers, who are part of the solution to the problem, the tools they need to identify, intervene and safeguard at-risk pupils."
Heh, yodo, that's actually pretty good. Less good is someone pimping this privacy-invading, research-chilling, conversation-stopping spyware retreating to the argument-safe-house position of relying on "widely reported" non-statistics and appeals to protecting the children. On the other hand, I suppose it's quite a nice lesson for these children to find out what life will be like as an adult. Thanks to the NSA and its international counterparts, they can expect to be surveilled in much the same way when they're all growed up.

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