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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 - 26 May 2017 @ 5:48pm

Samsung's 'Airtight' Iris Scanning Technology For The S8 Defeated With A Camera, Printer, And Contact Lens

from the a-new-theatre-for-security dept

The thing about biometric scanning as a security practice is it is one of those things that sounds great. "Lock your phone with your fingerprint or facial scan", shout the manufacturers and security companies that came up with the scans. Well, shit, thinks the average person, if nobody else has my face I'm in the clear. Even when movies and television tackle the subject, the methods for breaking the biometric security typically involve convoluted plans and insane stunts so brazen they would make Danny Ocean's jaw drop.

The problem is that the hype around this tech is typically more effective than the tech itself. Fingerprint scanners are easily fooled and facial recognition software has been shown to be defeatable by, and I swear this is true, printouts of a person's face. That isn't security, it's a punchline. So, when Samsung and its security partner decide to pimp the iris-scanning security feature of the Galaxy S8 with language like "airtight" and suggestions that owners of the phone can "finally trust that their phones are protected", one would expect those claims to be backed up by strong technology.

It isn't.

Hackers have broken the iris-based authentication in Samsung's Galaxy S8 smartphone in an easy-to-execute attack that's at odds with the manufacturer's claim that the mechanism is "one of the safest ways to keep your phone locked."

The cost of the hack is less than the $725 price for an unlocked Galaxy S8 phone, hackers with the Chaos Computer Club in Germany said Tuesday. All that was required was a digital camera, a laser printer (ironically, models made by Samsung provided the best results), and a contact lens. The hack required taking a picture of the subject's face, printing it on paper, superimposing the contact lens, and holding the image in front of the locked Galaxy S8. The photo need not be a close up, although using night-shot mode or removing the infrared filter helps. The hackers provided a video demonstration of the bypass.

As they did in the previous facial recognition flaw post referenced above, some will, at this point, be diving for their keyboards to point out that this type of security isn't really designed to make a device impermeable. Rather, it's to keep easy break-ins from occurring. And, hey, that's true! Good job, you guys! The problem here isn't that Samsung's security tech failed to be 100% effective. It's that it's barely effective, yet at the same time Samsung is pitching it as the end of phone break-ins. I'm not the one making wild claims here; they are.

And this tech is going to be rolled out in a big way, likely pitched to the public in the same manner.

"Iris recognition is the next big thing with mobile devices," Starbug wrote in an e-mail. "The technology, especially with the packed space and low computing power of mobile devices, is hard to make hack proof. You can't hide your iris, and it's even worse than fingerprints." At the same time, "mobile devices are holding more and more sensitive data."

Advertising this iris security as "airtight" is actively misleading the public on the security of a device becoming all the more important and one on which the public is more often storing sensitive information. For a company like Samsung to be so vociferous in its claims in light of this easy workaround ought to result in a ding to its credibility.

For biometrics generally, a good pin number is probably still your best bet. The tech may improve to the point of being the most effective option some day, but we're not there yet.

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Posted on Techdirt - 26 May 2017 @ 1:32pm

PayPal Sues Pandora Over Yawn-Inducing Logos And Tweets About People Opening The Wrong App

from the zzzzzzzz dept

We're going to jump right into this one without too much of a preamble, other than a quick refresher on what trademark law is designed to accomplish and what triggers a concern for infringement. The idea behind the law itself is to allow companies to utilize unique identifiers, be it name or branding, in order to distinguish itself from competitors by monopolizing those trademarkable items. The chief concern regarding infringement, therefore, is real or potential customer confusion in the marketplace as to the source of a particular product or service. With that out of the way, let's have some fun discussing how a recent lawsuit filed by PayPal against Pandora gets just about everything wrong with respect to the above preamble.

In October 2016, Pandora announced it was redesigning its logo from a thin, serifed "P" into the chunky, sans serifed "P" that it is today. The color scheme was also changed from midnight blue to a softer shade of blue. By comparison, PayPal's logo, active since 2014, also features a minimalist-looking "P" in a sans serif font and sporting a blue color palette. PayPal's mark actually consists of two overlapping and slanted "Ps," whereas Pandora keeps it to one. Both P's lack a hole.

It's over these two logos that PayPal has filed its lawsuit. Here they are, side by side.

Are they similar? I mean, maybe, but only as a function of how minimalist and non-unique each are. Each logo chiefly consists of a blue "P", except one logo has a single "P" and the other has two "Ps" of varying blue-ness and then slants them. As far as ingenuity into a logo design goes, it's not exactly Rembrandt. If you choose to make your identifying branding for your company as blasé as this, what exactly did you expect?

But the problems don't end there. The lawsuit itself is rife with examples of what PayPal insists are customer confusion in the marketplace. Here's an example.

Except that isn't really the sort of confusion that trademark law is supposed to deal with. The interest is in keeping the public from mistaking the origin of a product. That isn't happening in the examples in the filing. Once the music starts playing when a person intended to use PayPal to pay for something, it's not as though that person begins thinking that Pandora suddenly is handling payment processing requests. What those social media posts are really pointing out is that the logos used in each products' app aren't sufficiently unique to be easily identifiable. Coupled with the fact that Pandora and PayPal don't actually compete with one another, the angle of customer confusion as the basis for a trademark infringement is rather head-scratching.

But the larger point is that for trademark law to fulfill its original purpose, names and branding need to be unique. If companies choose not go the unique route, it shouldn't be possible for them to then bludgeon non-competing companies over the head with their trademarks.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 May 2017 @ 6:27pm

World Of Tanks Developer Gets Negative Review Video Taken Down Under Threat Of Copyright Claim, Backlash Ensues

from the copyright-as-censorship dept

We've heard many stories at this point about video game producers attempting to use copyright and the DMCA as a censorship tool against criticism. As it happens, the frequency of these stories has tapered off somewhat as best as I can tell, even as the indie gaming scene has resulted in an explosion of small gaming studios. The reason for that delta is probably that the gaming community as a whole has become both far more educated and vocal about any attempts to use copyright as a censorship tool. Rightly or wrongly, honesty and transparency in gaming reviews and commentary has become something of a thing the past few years and one of the possibly unintentional results of that campaign has been for attempts at stifling criticism about games to be top of the average gamer's mind.

Which brings us to Wargaming, the studio behind World of Tanks. If you have not heard about the drama from last week yet, it began with a YouTuber called SirFoch, who issued a scathing and expletive-laden review of a specific tank customers could purchase withing the game.

In the video, which was re-posted on another YouTube channel, SirFoch said things like, “Fuck Wargaming, fuck their terrible way of making these premium tanks lately, and fuck this premium tank in particular.” Specifically, he criticized the tank’s lack of weak points behind the machine gun ports by showing viewers its collision model which he argued made the Chrysler K overpowered.

Crude language aside, he was making an otherwise evidenced-based point, whether you agree with him or not. The problem is that SirFoch has signed up to be a "community contributor" with Wargaming, which is essentially one of the more common fan-influencer platforms becoming more fashionable in gaming circles. SirFoch was not paid for his reviews or commentary, but he was given early access to content. In return, Wargaming requires an amorphous "level of decorum" when discussing the game publicly. It was apparently this lack of decorum on SirFoch's part that gave Wargaming license to threaten him with copyright infringement.

In the wake of the video attacking Wargaming for its perceived use of pay-to-win mechanics, a community manager at the company who goes by Zoltan “Ph3lan” Sipos contacted SirFoch over Discord. Ph3lan explained, according to screenshots of the conversation provided by SirFoch, that the YouTuber would be dropped from the program giving him early access to content and would need to take down his video or else Wargaming would be forced to have YouTube remove it for copyright infringement.

SirFoch took down the video in question, but then immediately went public with how Wargaming had threatened him because of course he did. The studio, meanwhile, tried to combat the ensuing backlash in its own forums by complaining about the tone and language choices the YouTuber had used, indicating those factors warranted the copyright threat. Gamers watching this discussion rightly realized that this was essentially copping to censorship by copyright of criticism. The backlash grew in size. Over the next several days, Wargaming reps began suggesting to media outlets that SirFoch's video had been laced with not only vulgarity, but homophobic hate speech as well. The video did not in fact include any such language. The backlash grew even louder.

Grew loud enough too that the studio has now backed down and issued a public apology.

We have further reviewed the incident of last Friday involving SirFoch and his “Chrysler K GF rant” video, and know we could have handled the situation a lot better. We strongly support our players’, including our Community Contributors’, right to speak critically about us and our games. We acted too quickly and over the line when we threatened to have YouTube remove SirFoch’s video through a copyright infringement complaint and we are apologizing for that.

We’re committed to doing a better job on this front. We’re going to improve the way we communicate with our Community and our Community Contributors, and as part of that effort we will work with them on more detailed, specific guidelines to help ensure incidents like this don’t happen again.

Our official position is that Wargaming will not take copyright action against opinions based on our publicly released content.

Over the weekend we released a statement to some media outlets regarding the content of SirFoch’s video that inferred that SirFoch’s videos contained hate speech and homophobia. While we would obviously not want such content to be associated with any of our games – this video clearly did not. We apologize for this statement, and we don't stand behind those claims.

It's a good apology but, frankly, a bit tough to swallow given how far the studio went to try to first bully and then defame one of its own contributors entirely because it didn't like the criticism that contributor issued. Wargaming is likely hoping that this incident hasn't tanked its reputation beyond repair, and it's probable that it hasn't. If not, that official position to not be a copyright bully over censorship had better be sincere, because reputations rarely are offered a third chance if there were to be another such incident.

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Posted on Techdirt - 24 May 2017 @ 1:41pm

Boston Globe Blocks Readers Using Privacy Modes In Browsers

from the noncognito dept

While the Boston Globe has had a paywall on its site for some time -- the metered sort that lets you read a certain number of articles for free before insisting you sign up for an account with a subcription -- that paywall also featured an open tunnel allowing anyone running their browsers in private or incognito mode to drive right through it. This workaround was well known and used since at least 2014, although hunting around on google search results seems to make it clear that this was all found out because people generally like to use privacy and incognito modes in their browsers for the very reasons the browsers developed them: security and privacy.

Two things that perhaps the folks at the Boston Globe don't consider terribly important as they have elected to simply block all readership from browsers running in privacy modes unless the reader signs up for a subscription.

The Boston Globe website is closing off a hole in its paywall by preventing visitors who aren't logged in from reading articles in a browser's private mode.

"You're using a browser set to private or incognito mode" is the message given to BostonGlobe.com visitors who click on articles in private mode. "To continue reading articles in this mode, please log in to your Globe account." People who aren't already Globe subscribers are urged to subscribe.

It's a strange request for a couple of reasons. First, many privacy modes don't even keep sites from tracking what you're doing. They do, however, tend to limit the ability to track you across multiple different sites as you browse. Second, there is still a laughably easy workaround for anyone that wants to keep seeing free articles from the Boston Globe without a subscription: simply delete all cookies from the Boston Globe off of your computer and, voila, you get more free articles. Regardless of both, punishing readers for their privacy concerns probably isn't the best way to build subscription bases.

The Globe policy is a case of "disrespecting user preferences," Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Technologist Alexei Miagkov told Ars. Miagkov was not aware of any other sites blocking users in private browsing mode.

Logging into the website in private mode puts your privacy at risk, he said. "By logging in you make it easy for them to keep tracking you, to keep building their (advertising) user profiles," he said. "They may also sync their tracking data with their advertising partners whereas if you hadn't logged in, those advertising partners might see a new visitor for every new incognito session."

It's worth noting that this isn't a technical limitation, but a choice that the Globe is making almost certainly for those advertising reasons. There are many newspaper sites that have managed to allow for free articles in privacy modes, such as The Chicago Tribune and USA Today. Whatever you think of paywalls generally, I can't imagine how this disregard for readers' privacy choices builds a path to long term paywall success.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 May 2017 @ 6:23pm

Trademark Has Come To This: Tinder Opposes Dating App With Only One Lonely Dude On Its Dating Roster

from the a-real-threat dept

By now, Tinder is probably in the common lexicon. The dating app has been fairly successful, boasting something like 50 million people using it and managing to make something like 12 million matches per day. It's a household name, in other words, which is what makes it a bit strange to see the company bother to oppose a fairly silly trademark application by one guy who designed a dating app to get dating matches for exactly one person: himself.

Shed Simove called the app Shinder and said he built it to find himself a partner. However, when he tried to trademark it, a Notice of Threatened Opposition was filed to the Intellectual Property Office by dating giant Tinder.

"I think it's a case of a big corporate giant looking at an entrepreneur who sees the world differently and being punitive," he said. "It's unlikely that the female population will stop using Tinder and start using Shinder."

To be clear, the attempt to trademark "Shinder" itself is silly. The app was created by Shed Simove for the sole purpose of getting himself a date. He's the only dude on the roster. While the app attempts to recruit women to use it, he's the only option for them. It would be kind of funny, if it weren't so creepy. The attempt to trademark Shinder, according to Simove, was done because he's thought about white-labeling the app for any individual to use. And yes, this is every bit as dumb and probably not trademarkable as it sounds.

"If it was 'white label ' - that would mean if I chose to I could take the raw guts of the code and allow people to have their own versions. Jane could have Jinder, and so on."

Jinder? Please. The whole point of trademark law is to keep customers from being confused between products and services. There is a roughly zero chance that anyone is going to mistake Tinder, megalith in the dating app world as it is, for Shinder, an app used by almost nobody created by one guy to get himself a date. Why Tinder is even bothering with this is beyond me.

Although, because every funny story needs an even funnier punchline, Tinder was not the only one concerned.

He also received a letter from lawyers representing the elevator firm Schindler. Schindler asked him to commit to refraining from entering the elevator or escalator market.

If trademark law has gotten to this point, is it time we contemplate whether it's serving its purpose any longer?

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 May 2017 @ 11:50am

Conan O'Brien Joke-Stealing Case Gets Green-Lit For Jury Trial

from the no-laughing-matter dept

Consternation over so-called "joke stealing" goes back roughly as long as comedy itself has been a thing, but these past few years have seen something of a rise in awareness whenever a comedian is accused of copying a joke. Honestly, much of this hand-wringing is overblown, likely born of an ownership culture that values protectionism over expanded culture, and devoid of the understanding that a joke is much more than the words used to tell it. After all, timing and delivery factor into the success in telling any joke, and it almost seems too obvious to have to point out that multiple comedians come up with similar jokes all the time. For that reason, the bar for copyright infringement on jokes has tended to be very high in the few cases that actually get tried. On top of that, the common method for policing such copying involved the massive reputational hit the accused takes -- rather than legal action. And that's only accelerated thanks to the internet's public shaming engine. Because of that, actual lawsuits over this sort of thing are few and far between.

Which brings us to Conan O'Brien, who is still in the midst of a years-old copyright infringement suit over the claim that he and the writers of his show used several jokes from a freelance joke writer without authorization.

Experts in copyright law say the 2-year-old copyright infringement lawsuit filed against O'Brien, his writers for his late-night show, Conan, and Time Warner over a handful of topical jokes may never get before a jury, despite a ruling by a judge that the case can proceed.

The stakes are high, not just in time and litigation costs but in "reputational" costs: No comedian wants to be known as a joke thief. "Accusing a comedian of stealing a joke is the worst thing you can accuse them of, in my opinion, short of murder," O'Brien said in a deposition in the case. "I think it's absolutely terrible."

The relatively few lawsuits of this sort almost never get to trial for this very reason. It ends up being in the accused's best interest to settle, and settle quickly, regardless of the merits. The more public attention given to accusations, the bigger the reputation hit. Of course, those bringing the suits know this as well. The plaintiff in this case is Robert Kaseberg, a freelance joke writer who claims several of his jokes made their way onto Conan's show, unauthorized by him. In the ruling, you can get a flavor of how similar the jokes actually are, but here's a sample.

On Feb. 3, 2015, Kaseberg posted his version: "Tom Brady said he wants to give his MVP truck to the man who won the game for the Patriots. So enjoy that truck, Pete Carroll.”

That night, O'Brien ran with this: "Tom Brady said he wants to give the truck that he was given as Super Bowl MVP … to the guy who won the Super Bowl for the Patriots. Which is very nice. I think that’s nice. I do. Yes. So Brady’s giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll."

Keep in mind that when it comes to jokes and copyright, the bar has generally been set really high. Generally, the word for word lifting of a joke is required for there to be infringement. While the examples in the suit don't rise quite to that level, the judge decided there was enough to push the trial to a jury.

"Plaintiff’s protectable expression is his implication that a fictionalized Tom Brady would therefore give his truck to the coach of the opposing team, Pete Carroll," she writes. "And although the Conan joke takes an active stance … the fundamental expression is the same, i.e., that there was no doubt Brady would be giving his MVP award to the opposing team’s coach. As previously stated, while not exactly identical, the jokes are sufficiently objectively virtually identical to create a triable issue of fact regarding whether a jury would find these objective similarities to be virtually identical within the context of the entire joke."

It's worth noting that while several jokes are currently at issue in this case, two more were, but are no longer part of it. Why? Well, because the judge ruled that they should be tossed, with the reasoning for one of them demonstrating exactly how it is that two comedians could come up with similar, nearly identical jokes in parallel.

Judge Sammartino threw out the jokes about UAB football and the Delta flight (finding in the latter case that one of O'Brien's writers had already pitched a similar joke before the one on the blog appeared). That left Kaseberg with the Tom Brady Joke, the Washington Monument Joke, and the Jenner Joke, as the judge labels them.

It's worth noting that while the judge ruled that the remaining jokes at issue were similar enough for this to go to trial, she also points out that though these jokes are deserving of copyright protection in general, that protection is mitigated by both the nature and length of the works. She notes that we're talking about two-sentence jokes in every case here, with a topical setup sentence and a punchline. There are only so many ways those jokes can be told, which means that for any infringement to have occurred, the bar for that is typically going to be that the uses must be virtually identical. It's a function of the jokes' format, which the judge appears to go to some lengths to point out.

Each joke begins with a factual sentence and then immediately concludes with another sentence providing humorous commentary on the preceding facts. Facts, of course, are not protected by copyright.

So now both sides of the lawsuit will attempt to calculate whether it's worth it to see this thing through to the completion of a trial. Conan and his team will have to weigh the reputation hit against the likelihood they will prevail given the high bar for infringement in these cases, while Kaseberg will have to weigh the cost of carrying on with the trial against that same high bar.

If it strikes you as silly to watch a legal system contemplate the nature of comedy and jokes in this manner, you aren't alone. It strikes me that all of this legal wrangling is only effective because of the reputation hit Conan has taken and will continue to take. So, why wasn't public shaming enough, even if there truly was joke-copying going on?

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 May 2017 @ 9:37am

Japanese Music Collection Society Demands Copyright Fees From Music Schools For Teaching Music

from the getting-schooled dept

A brief review of our past stories about copyright collection societies should paint you a fairly complete picture on how these businesses operate. While they pimp themselves as proxies for content creators to police the known world for unauthorized use of that content, as well as operators working to license the use of that content, instead these companies work as syphons sucking money from both sides. They will be genuinely creative in their attempts to find infringement everywhere, liberally interpreting copyright law and what constitutes requirements for various licenses for things like art and music, while at the same time often being found to feign brain-death when it comes to paying the copyright holders' share for the money they collect.

While the tactics used by collection societies regularly flirt with absurdity, it's not terribly often that they behave in a way that will garner broad disdain. One collection society in Japan, though, has decided to cross that line, unilaterally informing music schools that they must now pay up for daring to teach students how to play music. The schools, it seems, are not taking this lying down, having banded together and planning to sue the collection society.

The music school operators said they planned to file a lawsuit against the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) with the Tokyo District Court as early as July, a representative told The Japan Times. In February, JASRAC informed several hundred private music school operators it will begin collecting copyright fees for the use of sheet music under its management.

It claims the use of music to teach piano or other instruments infringes on the “right of performance” under Article 22 of the Copyright Law, which stipulates the composer has the exclusive right to perform their work publicly. JASRAC plans to revise its regulations, enabling the organization to collect 2.5 percent of all annual fees charged by the music schools.

You can immediately see what I mean about liberal interpretations of the law. Only in the mind of someone working at a collection group would a private school teaching a student how to play a song constitute a "public performance." For the collection group to suggest that this liberal interpretation entitles it to 2.5% of the gross revenue of a music school is plainly absurd. Japan's exceptions to copyright law do include exceptions for non-profit educational institutions, but these schools appear to be private. Those exception provisions also appear to be more geared to works like educational software than music.

The schools are trying to get the government to fill in this gap.

In response to JASRAC’s move, Yamaha Music Foundation, Kawai Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co. and five other musical school operators initially set up a group advocating for the right to educate using musical works without copyright consent. The group, which now has 350 members, has collected over 10,000 signatures demanding a halt to JASRAC’s plan, which it plans to submit to the culture ministry in July.It remains unclear how many companies will join the lawsuit.

“We want the court to confirm that performances at (music) schools do not need JASRAC’s consent,” said a representative for the group.

For it's part, JASRAC points out that there is no definition of a "public performance" in Japanese copyright law. But that likely doesn't mean that JASRAC can simply interpret what a public performance is any way it likes, including in the teaching of a student. Instead, it seems likely that this dispute will give the Japanese government the impetus to flesh out the law. That will ultimately be a good thing, assuming the government doesn't suddenly lose its mind and decide to pretend that educating students is a public performance of music.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 May 2017 @ 1:16pm

As The Battleground For Warfare Moves To Cyberspace, DOD Contemplates Altering Recruitment Requirements

from the getting-basic dept

While we've viewed much of the hyped up discussions about cyberwarfare with some trepidation here, we now live in a reality where it would be clearly silly to suggest that the internet and internet-connected devices are not an emerging battleground for rival nations. While much was made these past few years about what mostly amounted to the penetration of private business networks, the discussion about several democratic elections throughout the country and the clear interference in them, potentially by state actors, has pushed the overdrive button on all of this. As you can imagine, groups in charge of defense for the nations of the world have been paying attention, including the US Department of Defense.

But it seems the DoD has a problem: it isn't meeting its recruitment goals for its Cyber Command division.

The US military is having a hard time getting people with essential information technology and information security skill sets as the services struggle to build a force of "cyber-warriors." During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, senators focused in part on how the work force problem is affecting the US Cyber Command's (US CYBERCOM's) ability to deal with the demands of information warfare and threats both to the Defense Department's networks and those of other agencies and industry.

The goal put in place for the DoD was to have CYBERCOM fully operational by 2018. Michael Rogers stated at the hearing that he believed that goal could still be met, but the larger problem of keeping CYBERCOM operational was driven by a lack of bulk in qualified personnel. Senator John McCain noted part of the problem is that CYBERCOM officers slated for duty have routinely been rotated out of that role when deployed on tour. It seems there isn't a full commitment by some branches of the military that are likewise generally hurting for bodies. The partnerships the DoD has forged with organizations like the National Science Foundation, the Office of Personnel Management, and DHS to promote its CyberCorps scholarship program haven't managed to fill the ranks, either.

Mostly, this comes down to recruiting requirements.

But as Rogers noted in his testimony, "We need a broad range of skills, and many of the best candidates won't necessarily have advanced educations but have deep experience in the field." And the problem won't be fixed with the military's current approach to workforce development, Rogers acknowledged. "We can't keep relying on five- to ten-year development cycles in terms of manpower," he said.

That will require a radical departure from the military's usual approach to recruiting—particularly since few people who already have the skills the DOD wants would be drawn to the typical military recruitment cycle. People who are usually drawn to the military would require years of training to meet the services' needs. But Rogers was insistent that, whatever the solution, it wouldn't be a separate "cyber force," because the military needs personnel who had the context of the overall mission. Only people embedded in the military would have that.

Except that this sentiment is belied by some of the proposed changes to recruitment currently be considered by the DoD. The headline-grabber of these proposals is the one that would allow new recruits for CYBERCOM to skip basic training altogether.

One of the possible solutions that the DOD has looked at is bringing people with experience and skills essential to offensive and defensive cyber operations into the service "laterally." That means giving them ranks (and pay grades) commensurate to their skills and entirely bypassing the normal recruitment and advancement process.

Even the Marine Corps, which has long required all marines to go through the same basic rifleman training, is considering changes. The potential changes include allowing people with sought-after skills to enter the Corps directly as noncommissioned officers and skip boot camp.

There is some precedent for this, though that precedent doesn't translate particularly well. The Ars post refers to how the Marines have allowed recruits for the Marine Corps Band to join with this kind of lateral entry, where recruits simply audition for the band as opposed to going through basic training. But that sort of lateral entry is worlds away from having active soldiers in the ranks that are actively engaged in what the DoD claims is a pivotal battlefield as opposed to playing Hail to the Chief in the Rose Garden. The dropping of basic training would need to be coupled with a relaxed education requirement, as many of the most talented individuals in technology can often boast an almost clean slate of educational achievement, while still being the best at what they do.

Regardless, we talk all the time about how technology drives change and innovation. It seems even the military branches are not immune from this.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 May 2017 @ 11:47am

Texas Court Orders Sports Streaming Sites To Be Blocked In Anticipation Of Piracy

from the pre-crime dept

A few years ago, we wrote about HBO and Showtime's somewhat novel decision to file a lawsuit against two sports streaming sites for copyright infringement that both claimed would happen... in the future. The lawsuit was filled with understandably novel language, but the fact remained that this was something akin to pre-crime enforcement, best demonstrated in the film Minority Report. One of the chief axioms of American law is that a crime must have occurred for punishment to be doled out. Injunctions are a departure from that, but actually suing for infringement when that infringement hadn't happened yet and, indeed, when the content to be infringed didn't even yet exist, seemed like a departure from the way the law works.

But perhaps this is a practice we'll see expanded, as it seems to be happening again. This time, a federal court in Texas has issued an injunction ordering ISPs to proactively block a group of streaming sites ahead of the Premier League cricket tournament.

This is also the path Indian media outfit Times Content Limited (TCL) decided to go down. The company operates the cricket channel Willow TV and owns the US broadcasting rights to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, which is currently ongoing. Two weeks ago the company sued several sports streaming sites including smartcric.com and crickethdlive.com. These sites allow users to watch cricket games for free over the Internet, without permission. To stop this from taking place, the Indian company requested a broad injunction, which the court granted last week.

The preliminary injunction (pdf) orders various third party providers to stop working with these sites effective immediately to prevent future copyright infringements. This also applies to any new domain names or websites the operators may launch.

Now, there are a couple of things to stipulate here. The websites in question appear to be common sports streaming sites that regularly infringe on the copyright of others. The injunction also suggests that Willow TV has attempted to communicate with the sites many times and has not received much in the way of a response. Whatever you think about copyright and sports streaming sites, it's not like Willow TV has no reason to complain here.

Still, when one paints a picture of justice on a legal system canvas, it's not simply about what picture you paint but how you paint it that's important. After all, precedence is a thing, as are the norms of how the law is carried out. The injunction's inclusion of language like the following seems to set us all on a dark path to prior restraint of speech.

...all service providers whose services will enable or facilitate Defendants' anticipated infringement are ordered to suspend all services with respect to [ the offending websites]...

Again, whatever you might think of sports streaming sites such as the defendant sites, opening the door to broad injunctions on the basis of future infringement seems like a mistake. It's a door that will almost certainly be barged through by copyright holders all over the place and is fertile soil for wanton abuse. The injunction goes to great lengths to acknowledge its order is based on all kinds of past infringing activities by the websites in question, but there is no clear standard for how much infringement must take place prior to a court being able to take down what is ultimately speech pre-emptively in anticipation of infringement in this way.

We must hope this practice is not expanded, or you can expect to see the collateral damage stories begin to appear.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 May 2017 @ 6:03pm

Makers Of Payday 2 Donating DLC Profits To Help 2 YouTubers Fight Copyright Lawsuit

from the good-guys dept

The landscape of YouTubers who do reviews or takes on video games, including Let's Plays, and their interactions with the game makers themselves is one that lacks any sort of norm or uniformity. Some game developers understand the value these YouTubers bring to their businesses, while some tend to go on the attack with copyright claims. Some developers appreciate an open and honest ecosystem of reviews, including snarky reviews, while others attempt to suppress any sort of negativity.

But, as far as I'm aware of, Overkill Software, makers of Payday 2, is the first studio to donate proceeds from its DLC content to defend YouTubers from copyright lawsuits.

Ethan [Klein] and Hila [Klein], who run the YouTube channel H3H3Productions, make sketch comedy and “reaction” videos in which they comment on internet and YouTube culture. Last year, the husband-wife team filmed a video mocking YouTuber Matt Hosseinzadeh, or “Bold Guy,” for his video about picking up girls using parkour. In response, Hosseinzadeh filed a complaint with the Southern District of New York District Court alleging copyright infringement. In the complaint, Hosseinzadeh accuses the Kleins of “purporting to discuss the Work in what they believe to be a humorous manner but in fact reproduces virtually all of the Work as nothing more than a prop.”

Now, we've discussed this lawsuit previously. It's a suit clearly designed to shut up two critics who engaged in what seems to be pretty straightforward Fair Use of Hosseinzadeh's content. Following along with the court proceedings, the last entry seems to indicate the court feels this whole thing, which has already gone on too long, will end with a summary judgement. I can't be certain the court feels that this is going to end up going in the Kleins' favor, but that would be my educated guess based on our previous analysis of the suit.

Regardless, Overkill Software has swooped in to try and help the Kleins by baking them into Payday 2 via DLC and using any money made by it to fund the Kleins' legal efforts.

On April Fools, Overkill Software introduced Ethan Klein into first-person shooter Payday 2. Yesterday, Overkill, who are fans of the Kleins, announced they’ll be making the joke a permanent, and charitable, reality. This Fall, the faces behind H3H3Productions will be playable characters in Payday 2, and Overkill studios will donate all of the DLC’s revenue to the Kleins as they continue to fight their legal battle that, they say, could financially ruin them even if they win.

While the Kleins were initially represented pro bono, a year later, after switching firms, the price of fighting the lawsuit has reportedly snowballed, with the first month allegedly costing over $50,000. And they will continue to fight it, the Kleins say, to protect fair use and prevent a bad precedent. (YouTube personality Philip DeFranco helped raise $170,000 for them in a GoFundMe, arguing that the lawsuit is “an attempt to step on freedom of speech via a broken copyright system and most people’s confusion over Fair Use.”)

This is, to some degree, connecting with fans. Fans, at least, of the Kleins. It's also refreshing to see a game studio take the stance that they are fans of YouTubers that do some videos based on video games and are actively looking to support them against a bogus copyright lawsuit. Can you imagine, say, Nintendo doing something like this? Given its hardline stance on intellectual property, it's a difficult thing to conjure in one's mind.

Overkill, by the way, is taking 0% from the sales of the Klein DLC. It's a great look for the company.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 May 2017 @ 6:34pm

Nier Automata Modder Includes Piracy Checks In Mod, Causing An Uproar, But Should It?

from the hmmm dept

Nier: Automata is a multiplatform game that I know almost nothing about at all, other than it was released relatively recently and that the PC version of the game was shipped out with some rather frustrating bugs. Apparently the game on PCs doesn't actually ship with true 1080p resolution and has some severe frame rate issues. But, because this is a PC game we're talking about, a fan going by the handle Kaldaien went ahead and released a patch that seems to fix these issues. There is just one problem.

Kaldaien's patch checks to make sure the game it's patching hasn't been pirated. And that caused something of an uproar on the Steam forums.

On neoGAF, Kaldaien explains that “Nothing malicious happens if you fail this check, you’re just presented with an infinite license screen that you can click Accept on but since you don’t respect licenses the license doesn’t respect your click.” In short, you can’t use the official mod if you pirate the game.

On the Steam forums, this news caused quite the commotion. The thread that originally shared the mod burst into arguments and insults, and Kaldaien himself even got temporarily banned from posting, allegedly because he called someone a “pirate moron.” The thread has since been removed from Steam, but reactions to the piracy check can be found all around the web. Some people actually feel entitled to use the mod no matter how they obtained the game.

The negative reactions got fairly vitriolic. One the one hand, yeah, it's the internet, what else would you expect? But frankly much of this looks very misguided, based in large part on a misunderstanding of why Kaldaien included the piracy check. With most of the angry responses suggesting that Kaldaien was taking some kind of moral stance or, as one comment suggested, simply wanted "to be a prick", it was actually done to keep the modder from suffering more headaches.

“My anti-piracy measures actually have nothing to do with my personal views on individual piracy,” Kaldaien wrote on neoGAF. “I don’t condone the practice, I don’t generally think highly of people who do it, but this is not done to punish them. It is to protect me against asset injection of copyrighted material.” On Steam, Kaldaien said, “I will not be thrown under the bus when some user uses my software to inject DLC they didn’t purchase.” It’s also worth noting that locking pirates out means Kaldaien doesn’t have to waste time trying to troubleshoot problems with people that don’t even have the game legally.

So, there's that. But how pissed are any of us, even those of us that think copyright protectionism and DRM are misguided, supposed to be? Whatever the motivation, this amounts to a fan making a mod for a game and trying to police the legitimacy of purchases on the publisher's behalf. This is, in some ways, the sort of thing a publisher should want. Nier: Automata, by the way, shipped with Denuvo DRM... which was cracked shortly afterwards. While there are workarounds for the FAR mod's piracy check, if it's causing this kind of an uproar then it must be having some effect. What if this shows that a motivated fan-driven modding scene can actually help protect the investment of game publishers on their behalf? That would be a good thing, I think.

It could help on many levels, in fact, including in that it could demonstrate even further the value a modding community can have to a game publisher. If stories like this drive publishers to be more modder-friendly, and therefore drive the modders to be more publisher friendly, the end result might be an overall better ecosystem for the end customer. There are some gamers out there that will pirate no matter what, but that doesn't mean they should expect the true fans modding those games to be on their side of the piracy argument.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 May 2017 @ 11:57am

Tough Mudder Threatens Local Rotary Club Over 'Significant Use Of The Color Orange'

from the it's-the-new-black dept

While most minds will naturally recoil at the idea of a single company getting a trademark on an entire color for use in a certain marketplace, it's a thing that exists. And it exists widely enough that even smallish entities are getting in on this game. Far from the game T-Mobile likes to play in pretending it owns all uses of the color magenta in every market, it's becoming more common to see lesser known companies trademark base colors such as purple and yellow for their markets. If the idea that these basic colors can be locked up commercially in this way strikes you as laughable, your antennae are tuned correctly.

But as this goes is useful in one particular way: it produces some truly hilarious content from the lawyers when it comes to enforcing these broad color trademarks. The most recent example of this would be Tough Mudder Inc., the company that collects money from people who want to run an obstacle course, which sent a threat letter to a local Rotary Club for putting on its own charity obstacle run and daring to use a color you just might recognize as common.

Members of the Raymond Area Rotary Club are seeing red after being warned that the club’s use of the color orange to promote its upcoming Thunder Run 5K obstacle race violates a trademark held by Tough Mudder Inc., a large organization that holds similar obstacle races worldwide.

In his email, Tough Mudder associate counsel Michael Rosen wrote that the club had engaged in “significant use of the color orange” on its website, www.thunderrunnh.com. “As you probably know, we have an obligation to police our intellectual property. Accordingly, we have a federal trademark to such color in connection with obstacle course mud runs, so we are kindly asking that you refrain from such significant use on your website,” Rosen wrote in his email.

A concern about a "significant use of the color orange" is one of those things that only an out of control trademark culture can produce. In no other arena would that kind of silliness be tolerated, but because the Trademark Office has declined to exert even the barest amount of scrutiny on the matter of trademarking colors, here we are. By the way, here is an image of the "offending" site side by side with that of Tough Mudder.

If your face isn't in your palm at this point, it should be. The folks at the Rotary Club are understandably irritated. And they chose to let it show when communicating back to Tough Mudder Inc.

Rotary member Joe Pratt, the Thunder Run course director, was surprised to hear from Tough Mudder.

“My first reaction was amusement, and I was impressed that we would show up on their radar,” said Pratt, a Nottingham resident.

Pratt fired off an email response to Tough Mudder that said, in part, “I’m going to put off an admonishing call to our pro bono webmaster since I am fairly certain you boys are not going to spend significant assets or energy to deal with the laughable implication that we are encroaching, through color trickery, on your trademarked intellectual property. It is somewhat disconcerting that in David and Goliath form it is possible to litigate against a nonprofit that has a primary goal to eradicate polio worldwide.”

It's hard to say the snark in the email is undeserved. This is the problem with allowing base and common colors to be trademarked in this way. It's one thing is some specific shade of a color has gained significance in the marketplace, but nobody equates the color orange with Tough Mudder. Orange is orange.

To that end, the Rotary Club has said it isn't changing its coloration for this year's event, though it might for future events.

Pratt said the club might consider changing the color for next year’s event, but not this year.

“If we have to go to mauve or burnt cayenne, maybe we will next year,” he said.

Funny, but sad.

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Posted on Techdirt - 11 May 2017 @ 5:08pm

Bethesda's Pete Hines Shrugs His Shoulders About Trademark Dispute With No Matter Studios

from the praey-for-him dept

If any single aspect of common trademark disputes has become the thing that annoys me the most about them, it's how often the canard from trademark bullies that they have to be bullies by order of trademark law is trotted out for public consumption. You can almost set your watch to it: trademark bully does trademark bullying, public backlash ensues, trademark bully falsely explains that if it doesn't bully it loses its trademark rights, the public usually backs off. While it would be unreasonable to expect the general public to be up on the nuances of trademark law to the degree of someone who is paid to write about it, it's not unreasonable to smack down attempts by those who know better but who actively attempt to misinform that same general public.

Which brings us to Bethesda. We recently discussed an indie studio called No Matter Studios, which had launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for its game Prey for the Gods, being bullied into changing that name to Praey for the Gods by Bethesda. Bethesda recently released a AAA title called simply Prey and is enforcing its laughably broad trademark rights, acquired by Bethesda from 3D Realms, on that name. Faced with a trademark dispute by a much larger company, No Matter Studios caved and made the requested changes which, as we pointed out in the original post, are so absurdly inconsequential as to beg the quesiton of how much real customer confusion was Bethesda actually concerned about in the first place. Right on time, the public backlash began, with much of it directed at Pete Hines, who is in charge of PR and marketing for Bethesda games. And, right on time again, Hines trotted out the shrugging excuse blaming the law rather than his company's actions.

Many contacted Bethesda' Pete Hines on Twitter and voiced their concerns over the development, in response to which he said that ZeniMax had contacted No Matter Studios in 2015 to warn them of potential implications but ZeniMax's letter was ignored. He said that neither companies are responsible for how trademark laws work and that there have been countless times when ZeniMax's own studios had to change game titles to accommodate the same laws that No Matter Studios is now having to comply with.

"We reached out in Nov 2015. We tried talking to them. Well before their Kickstarter. And they could have used a name that didn't infringe on our mark like we have 1,000 times when we came up with something another company marked. I'm not a trademark lawyer. Or any kind of lawyer. They disagree. Doesn't matter what I think about any of this."

Hines was even more specific on Twitter in response to those who raised concern over this dispute.

As I am going to apparently be forced to keep repeating, this is the sort of thing that sounds good but simply isn't true. There is no blanket requirement that every use of a trademark by another party must be policed in every instance, forever and ever, amen. The requirement is for appropriate policing, with the likelihood of customer confusion governing what is and is not appropriate. Hines has gone back on Twitter and sent out reporting from media that buys into the forced bullying canard. Much of that reporting repeats the myth whole cloth, but its belied by some very simple facts.

The chief fact to consider is that the changes requested by Bethesda and agreed to by No Matter Studios are so inconsequential. They mostly amount to a single character being added to the latter's game title, an "a." The game's logo, meanwhile, remains untouched and reads as Prey for the Gods. There is nothing in trademark law that requires action resulting in so little consequence. More importantly, were this to be a valid trademark concern on the part of Bethesda, the necessary results of any dispute would have to be more substantial. Remember that customer confusion drives all of this. If there is no potential for confusion in the marketplace, there is no need for the policing of the trademark. Given how the likely lack of confusion in this example is the result of one game's title consisting of a single word while the other's title uses that word as part of a longer and unique title, it's difficult to imagine a future in which Prey for the Gods keeping its name results in Bethesda being stripped of its trademark rights to Prey.

So, please, don't buy the excuse. Hines himself notes on Twitter that he is not a lawyer. And I will say that he generally seems to be actively trying to engage these concerns, rather than ignore them. Given those two factors, I almost wonder if Hines himself is misinformed on the subject.

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Posted on Techdirt - 11 May 2017 @ 12:07pm

Ruslan Sokolovsky Gets 3 And A Half Years Suspended Sentence And A Conviction For Playing Pokemon In A Church

from the pokemon-go-to-jail dept

Update: After doing some hunting around, we were able to dig up additional reliable source material that indicates that Sokolovsky's conviction, troubling on its own, carries a suspended sentence that will keep him out of jail. We are updating the title of the post to reflect that, but will keep the original post in full below this update. While Solokovksy is obviously pleased to not be behind bars, it remains troubling that he has been convicted, forced to delete his videos, and spent months between house arrest and a detention center throughout this ordeal.

The better part of a year ago we discussed the story of atheist activist Ruslan Sokolovsky. Sokolovsky became something of the sequel story to the now infamous Pussy Riot debacle. Russian police detained Sokolovsky and put him on house arrest for the crime of playing Pokemon Go in a Russian church and uploading a mildly snarky video about it to YouTube. The Russian Orthodox Church was fully on board with his being detained, stating in true Christ-like fashion that the real crime was his not respecting the Church and being an atheist blogger.

Now, these stories out of Russia are taking a back seat to some of the grander geopolitical games currently being played, but it's worth your notice that the Russian government isn't dicking around when it comes to suppressing the speech of its own citizens. As evidence of that, we can point out that Sokolovsky has received three and a half years in prison, simply for producing a video the Russian Church didn't like.

Sokolovsky posted a video of himself playing the augmented reality game late last year in a way that Russian authorities said showed “disrespect for society.” Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 3.5 years in prison. The judge in the case, Yekaterina Shoponyak, granted the prosecutors their wish and gave the blogger a 3.5-year suspended sentence.

“In accordance with the expert evaluation, the court found blogger Sokolovsky guilty of inciting hatred, violating religious feelings and illegal possession of special technical means - a pen with a video camera,” the judge said, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

We'll get to the weird bit about the spy-pen in a moment, but we must first note that nobody reporting on this seems to understand how Sokolovsky's previous detainment on house arrest will be factored in to his multi-year sentence. Regardless, given the timeline of events, it seems clear that he will spend a fair amount of time behind Russian bars, simply for engaging in speech that wouldn't cause an American to blink twice. Put into the context of the overall discussion with some of the new American leadership's affinity for overseas dictatorial regimes, Western citizens need to start paying attention to the actions of those regimes. After all, it's not as though the American government hasn't recently engaged in its own play to bow at multiple altars in the name of decency and respect for faith. There's no equivalence to any of this...yet. But attention needs to be paid to the consequences of starting down that pious road.

As for the spy-pen with the camera built in, it looks somewhat like the Russian police or government decided to build in a bit of fictitious intrigue to paint Sokolovsky as a sneaky, sneaky guy.

Strangely, there’s some confusion about the charge that Sokolovsky possessed an illegal camera that was disguised as a pen. During the trial he reportedly said that not only was the pen not his, but that it wasn’t a camera at all, but instead just a light bulb. Today’s news of his sentencing didn’t clarify any of the questions surrounding this strange aspect of an already bizarre trial.

Regardless, it seems a trivial thing, given that it changes nothing about the "crimes" he was actually charged with, which were essentially upsetting the state church. A three and a half year sentence will certainly produce a chilling effect on speech. These are not the kind of values we want to be consorting with.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 May 2017 @ 6:11pm

Bethesda Trademark Bullying Results In Indie Game Adding A Whole Letter To Its Name, But Not Its Logo

from the a-for-effort dept

One of the most infuriating aspects of typical trademark disputes is how often the dire nature of the supposed infringement is ratcheted up in the threat rhetoric, while the eventual settlement reached seems laughably inconsequential. Bethesda, which has built a reputation for itself in terms of trademark bullying over its video game franchises, has been an example of this sort of thing in the past. When it decided that it owned the term "scrolls" generally after trademarking its Elder Scrolls franchise, it launched a dispute with developer Mojang over its game which was titled Scrolls. Much was made about the potential for customer confusion, except the eventual settlement allowed Mojang to keep the name for its game. One wonders why such a settlement would be agreed to by Bethesda were its original assertions remotely accurate.

But where Mojang's settlement was at least cut and dry, such is not the case with indie studio No Matter Studios. No Matter held a successful Kickstarter campaign for its game Prey for the Gods, but ran into trouble when it tried to trademark the name for its title.

In a post mostly about updates made to the game following its successful Kickstarter, No Matter Studios also announce that the project will now be known as Praey for the Gods after Bethesda "chose to oppose our [trademark]."

"We could've fought this and we did think about it for quite a while", the statement says. "Something like a trademark opposition can be long and depending on how far someone wants to fight it can be very expensive. We didn't want to spend our precious Kickstarter funds, nor did we want to have to ask for additional funds to fight this in court."

Instead of fighting, No Matter reached an agreement with Bethesda, and that agreement carries with it a hilariously meager name change for No Matter's game. Instead of calling it Prey for the Gods, it will instead be titled Praey for the Gods. A single lower-case "a", it seems, is all it took to satisfy Bethesda's hunger for trademark protection. I would submit to you, dear readers, that any potential customer confusion is unlikely to be alleviated by that single character.

Particularly when No Matter is allowed to keep the original name in its logo for the game.

"While we disagree with their opposition we were able to come to an agreement", No Matter say. That agreement means that they can continue to use a logo that says Prey For The Gods, with a stylised "e" that's actually the silhouette of a woman praying, but must use Praey for the Gods every time the game's name is written.

And that might actually be confusing, but not in any way that points gamers to Bethesda. For the name of the game and its logo to be different is going to strike everyone as odd, all while the actual name change rings as wholly inconsequential.

I'm not sure what kind of billable hours get generated for this sort of thing, but I give Bethesda's lawyers an A for effort when it comes to justifying the timecard.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 May 2017 @ 7:22pm

Half Of NBA Teams Jump Into The NBA's New eSports NBA2K League, FIFA League To Start Soon

from the one-giant-step dept

With eSports exploding into a legitimate spectator event, both for in-person viewership and televised events, it was only a matter of time before professional sports leagues got in on the act. As it has been on so many things, the NBA became the first American league to announce it was creating its own eSports league, partnering with Take-Two Interactive and its NBA2K series to power its sponsored competition. When commissioner Adam Silver announced all of this in February, however, he was speaking for the league, but not the individual teams that make up that league. Asked at the time what he expected the participation level to be from individual teams, he said he expected about half to jump into this.

It turns out that projection was pretty much spot on, as 17 NBA teams ave officially agreed to participate in the league, lending their jerseys and branding to the games. Also released were some details about how the league will operate and how the games will be conducted.

The league will draft teams of five players to compete in a five-month season, which will mirror the NBA with a regular season, bracketed playoffs, and a final championship match to wrap it all up. Players will create their own avatars for competition, so no one will be using avatars of the recognizable basketball stars that appear in NBA 2K, like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving.

The Chicago Bulls are not among the teams participating, because the universe hates me and takes every opportunity to make me unhappy. That aside, the NBA's monopoly on a pro-league-backed eSports league will be short lived. In Europe, a FIFA eSports league is already in the works, with several European clubs buying in.

Netherlands’ Eredivisie, the country's highest soccer league, will launch its own esports league, the organization announced earlier today. All 18 clubs, among them the “Big Three” (Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, and Feyenoord) will participate in the league. The “E-Divisie” launched in association with EA SPORTS and Endemol Shine Netherlands, a TV production company.

You should expect the other major pro sports leagues to follow suit very, very quickly. As eSports begins to stretch its legs and expand its reach, these leagues are going to want to get in on what the NBA and soccer clubs are doing. And with major broadcast partners like ESPN bringing the product to the market, hopefully with all the polish and production one would expect of them, it's likely eSports growing popularity is about to explode.

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Posted on Techdirt - 5 May 2017 @ 7:39pm

How Moral Panics Can Turn Into Therapeutic Tools: The Dungeons And Dragons Edition

from the medicine-check dept

It seems there must be something in our human DNA, something that hasn't been filtered out over the generations, that causes the masses to engage in moral panics. When you peruse our previous posts about moral panics new and old, it highlights how laughably absurd they tend to be. Specifically, if past is prologue, you get a fair understanding of how our current moral panics will be viewed in the future, as we laugh now at the consternation caused by such demons as telephones, comic books, chess, and pencils. And that laughter causes no pause about the current moral panics surrounding social media, certain forms of music, and video games.

Sandwiched in between antiquity and modernity is Dungeons & Dragons, the popular tabletop role playing game that experienced its own moral panic decades ago, but which has since risen dramatically in popularity. This game, once thought by parents to create potential Satan worshipers out of their little darling children, has already been pushed as a fantastic starting point for would-be creative writers. More recently, however, therapists have begun using the game as a therapeutic tool in sessions with patients. Adam Davis runs one of these groups using D&D in therapy, called the Wheelhouse Workshop, and details one story in which he uses the game as a therapy tool.

Davis, who runs Wheelhouse Workshop out of an office in a large, brick arts building in Seattle, is used to seeing sides of kids that don't usually come out in school. He, along with co-founder Adam Johns, designs D&D games that are less like hack-and-slash dungeon-crawls and more like therapy with dragons. In D&D's Forgotten Realms world, the kids' psyches run amok. Earlier this month, over the phone, Davis told me about Frank (not his real name), a tall, lanky teenager who barely spoke above a whisper. In school, he tended to sit with his feet in front of his face, so no one could really see him. He hated to take up space. After his parents and teachers noticed that his body language seemed a little stand-offish to peers, they enrolled him in Wheelhouse Workshop.

"The character he chose was a dwarf barbarian," Davis recalled. "He was really loud and bumbling and unapologetic. It was a really obvious opportunity for this kid to play with qualities other than his." Adam had Frank sit like his character, spreading his legs apart and slamming his elbows onto the table. In dwarf-barbarian mode, Frank could experiment with new modes of relating to others.

In the link, there are other examples of other groups using D&D in therapy sessions, and it becomes instantly obvious why it's such a valuable tool. Letting kids play the game to work out real life issues, or work on modes of interaction and socialization, is what every tabletop RPG session is to some extent. But for those whose interactions aren't merely escape from reality, but a way to work on their real life interactions, the lessons learned in the game can be profound. Therapists have always used role-playing in therapy sessions, of course, but allowing for an in-game narrative filled with social interaction and potential consequences adds a new layer. When the therapists explaining why they use the game as a tool in this way talk about the benefits, it will likely sound familiar to what the proponents of more recent moral panic targets have to say on the subject.

Because D&D is inherently cooperative and escapist, it urges players to re-imagine the ways they interact with peers. And because each player has their own specialty, like communicating with dragons, they'll have their moment to feel valuable in a group setting.

At worst, kids who are socially isolated can enjoy hacking up some goblins after a crappy school day. "For someone who never leaves their house except for school, to have a peer say, 'I need your help picking a lock' makes a huge difference," Johns told me.

That sure sounds like someone describing interactive multiplayer video games to me, among other things. The point to understand here is that thirty or forty years ago this game was absolutely vilified. Unfairly so, by a public too willing to buy into fears about something they didn't understand and a media environment happy to whip that fear into a fervor. No part of that equation has changed saved for the target of the moral panic du jour. Hell, we've already heard of things like video games and other technology being used in therapy sessions, yet what percentage of parents polled today would have negative things to say about those games?

If moral panics are in our DNA, or perhaps merely in our social fabric, we need more people to have a greater understanding of how often these panics melt away and the benefits of the thing feared are then realized. Maybe then we can at least muffle these types of moral panics.

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Posted on Techdirt - 5 May 2017 @ 3:25pm

US Entertainment Firm Milks Croatian Concert Promoter With Trademark Rights It May Never Have Owned

from the a-for-effort dept

We see all kinds of dumb and frustrating examples of trademark bullying here at Techdirt. From questionable claims of infringement entirely, to the over-policing of broad or generic terms that never should have been granted trademark protection to begin with, to vice-like licensing terms that appear to be designed more to put licensees out of business rather than building any kind of long-term business model out of trademark rights. That said, at least in most of these stories the offending party has the trademark its bullying with. That may not be the case when it comes to Worldwide Entertainment Group Inc., which is being sued by a Coatian festival promoter after being milked over a trademark the promoter says Worldwide doesn't actually have.

In a federal complaint filed in Miami, plaintiff Adria MM Productions Ltd. says it has been the exclusive promoter of “Ultra Europe” and other “Ultra”-branded events since July 2013. It claims the inaugural electronic music festival attracted 100,000 fans, and that the audience has grown with each successive event. The defendant Worldwide Entertainment Group Inc., also identified as “Ultra” in the complaint, is the organizer and promoter of the Ultra Music Festival that takes place every year in Miami.

The complaint says Ultra entered into various licensing agreements to grow its brand around the world, and sought out AMM ” because AMM is one of the largest promotion companies in Croatia and holds exclusive licenses and rights to venues in Croatia and was a successful promoter of musical events in Croatia.” AMM says that Ultra made it believe that it owned the mark “Ultra Europe,” and the five-year licensing agreement required it to pay the defendant licensing and promotional fees for the use of its proprietary marks in Europe.

From there, the complaint details just how Worldwide put the squeeze on AMM through its evolving licensing terms, which only evolved in the direction of higher fees and more control for Worldwide. And the restrictions were fairly intense, including giving Worldwide the right to approve vendors at AMM festivals, providing for exhorbitant arrangements for Worldwide staff, and adding on fee after fee. All of this was, mind you, while AMM was entirely responsible for putting these concert events on. All Worldwide was doing was licensing the term "ultra" for these festivals. Because of all of this, AMM was losing money on its events.

When the original five-year licensing agreement expired, Worldwide demanded even more from AMM in a new five-year agreement. AMM attempted to negotiate, but Worldwide instead pulled the plug and cut AMM off from email and social media channels for the European events, prohibited AMM from promoting the 2017 festival in Croatia, and even sent a notice of default to AMM saying that it had breached the two companies' original agreement.

Then, this.

AMM says that at that time it discovered that Ultra didn’t have any rights over proprietary marks in Europe, specifically in Croatia.

Damn. Specifically, the complaint states that Worldwide "held no trademark rights in Europe and, specifically, Croatia at the time it entered into the agreement with AMM." If that ends up being proven, it's difficult to see how Worlwide isn't in an absolute bucket of trouble. It's one thing to bully and squeeze a licensee over a valid trademark, but to do all of this and not even own the rights that are the basis for the licensing agreement to begin with? That's all kinds of evil.

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Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2017 @ 6:09pm

Atlus Loosens Streaming Restrictions For Persona 5, Still Has In-Game Checkpoints For Streaming Rules

from the not-good-enough dept

Recently, we discussed an odd post by the American division of Atlus, the company behind the recently released game Persona 5. The post basically outlined restrictions on streaming the game in the popular "let's play" format. Those restrictions were pretty clearly geared towards keeping spoilers for the game's stories off of the internet, with indications that discussing or streaming game content that occur after an in-game date was verbotten. The post was also couched in threats for DMCA notices, which is odd because spoilers aren't what copyright law was designed to combat. The public backlash was fairly uniform, with Atlus coming out not looking particularly good as a result.

It took a while, but Atlus has finally responded. While it positions this response as a loosening of the restrictions on streaming, it still keeps all of the worst aspects of the original restrictions in place.

On Tuesday Atlus announced that they will allow players to stream or post videos from up until the in-game date of November 19, just before the story's final act. The post wrote it was in response to "numerous reactive news articles," opinion videos and "many emails" asking them to loosen the restrictions.

"We also want to apologize to those of you who saw the previous guidelines as threatening," Atlus wrote. "It was never our intention to threaten people with copyright strikes, but we clearly chose the wrong tone for how to communicate this."

That last bit is more than laughable. Here is the original text that from the first set of restrictions that caused concern among streamers that they would be hit with copyright strikes.

This being a Japanese title with a single-playthrough story means our masters in Japan are very wary about it. Sharing is currently blocked through the native PS4 UI. However, if you do plan on streaming, video guidelines above apply except length. If you decide to stream past 7/7 (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND NOT DOING THIS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED), you do so at the risk of being issued a content ID claim or worse, a channel strike/account suspension.

That seems pretty clearly to be a threat of copyright or DMCA notices if the rules aren't followed. As for the loosening of the restrictions on streaming, Atlus essentially just pushed back the in-game checkpoint in the rules. Instead of prohibitions on streaming content beginning at the in-game date of 7/7, it now begins at 11/19. And if that following sentence doesn't read as purely absurd to you, then you need some help getting your mind calibrated.

There is value in having fans stream games in let's play videos. This has been demonstrated repeatedly. Either Atlus buys into that or it doesn't. Straddling the line in the name of saving fans from spoilers, even after it has moved that line, isn't good enough. Restrict streaming. Or don't. Pick a lane, in other words, rather than trying to build guidelines based on in-game dates. That simply makes no sense.

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Posted on Techdirt - 4 May 2017 @ 2:52pm

Sad Raiders Fans Fail To Keep Team In Oakland By Squatting On Trademark

from the told-you dept

It was way back in the early part of 2016 that the rumors came out that the Oakland Raiders football team would be moving to a new home city. Fans were understandably upset and voiced their displeasure in a variety of ways, but the dumbest of those ways certainly must have been Lane Blue's attempt to trademark the team name in conjunction with all of the different potential landing cities the team was rumored to be moving to, including the "Las Vegas Raiders." Lane wasn't the only sad Raiders fan to attempt this, it seems, as we now see reporting on his and other trademark applications being denied for obvious reasons.

Lane Blue, an air-freight company owner from Fresno, Calif., said that he applied for the trademark in an effort to stop the Raiders from relocating to Las Vegas.

"If I own the trademark that’s worth possibly millions of dollars, maybe I can talk them into staying," Blue said, per KCBS.

Blue's application was denied, as is likely with everyone else who applied for the trademark.

The reason for the denial is that trademarks must be used in commerce in order to be valid. Trolling your favorite NFL team in order to prevent it from moving cities is not, as best as I can tell, a form of commerce. Instead, it's a form of being a mere annoyance to both that team and the Trademark Office. These squatting attempts, motivated either by fandom or attempts at a quick cash-grab, almost never work.

"These people think they’re going to cash in, and 99.9 percent of the time, they’re wrong," sports-trademark attorney Patrick Jennings said, per KCBS. "For a trademark lawyer, it doesn’t take much effort to knock those (applications) out separate from the patent and trademark office."

The only effect these applications are likely to have on the Raiders is a delay on them receiving the trademark. That could still be damaging, though, as knock-off "Las Vegas Raiders" gear is already flooding the marketplace.

And that's supremely unfair for the Raiders ownership to have to spend the time and capital slapping these applications down. Meanwhile, of course, the Trademark Office is collecting the application fees from members of the public who somehow think a trademark application will bend an NFL team to its knees. Sorry, Raiders fans and get-rich-quick people, it isn't going to work.

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