Sunday, August 10, 2008

Top Copyright Lawyer on the Depressing State of Copyright Law

William Patry is one of the country's leading intellectual property lawyers, author of a seven-volume treatise on copyright law, and now senior copyright counsel for Google. Until recently, Patry also maintained a highly-regarded personal blog about copyright. On August 1st, however, Patry announced that he was bringing his blog to an end.

Patry cites two major reasons for the move. The first is personal. Patry is concerned that many people, including some in the press, continue to cite the blog in the context of his work at Google, despite his repeated insistence that it is a personal blog in no way affiliated with Google. In addition, he's tired of dealing with the inevitable crazies who pop out of the woodwork when you maintain such a public presence.

Patry's other reason for ending the blog?

The Current State of Copyright Law is too depressing.

Much like the U.S. economy, things are getting worse, not better. Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty-Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again: multilateral and trade agreements have ensured that, and quite deliberately.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Letter to Xeni

Hi Xeni,

I'm a big fan and I've read the entire comment thread -- over 1400 comments at the time of this writing, from beginning to end. First of all, I want you to know I'm so sorry for the way this whole thing has slapped you in such a public way. Whatever your transgression -- and I'm in the camp that thinks it should have been obvious that "upublishing" a huge batch of posts without saying anything is a pretty big one -- not many BB fans in that comment thread wish you any of the pain you must be experiencing.

So keep the faith. We love you all and we love the blog. We just want to hear from BoingBoing that we can still trust you.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Hitler Tamed by Prison (1924)

Oh thank goodness.

Via the fantastic Pixdaus.

An Open Letter to MoveOn

I have been a member of MoveOn virtually since it's inception during the Clinton impeachment debacle. Until a few days ago, I was also a passionate supporter of Senator Obama's presidential run. I have welcomed MoveOn's endorsement of this extraordinary candidate, as chosen by an overwhelming majority of MoveOn members.

Like many of Senator Obama's supporters, however, I am shocked and horrified by the Senator's decision to sign on to the unconstitutional and fascistic FISA bill. I believe that such an action betrays all Americans in a fundamental way that calls into question Senator Obama's fitness for the highest office in the land. I therefore urge MoveOn to hold an immediate vote of its members to decide whether to withdraw MoveOn's support from this candidate.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama Supports FISA Legislation


More on Russert, and a potential First Lady's sordid past

In the comments to my previous post, Anonymous takes issue with my criticism of the recently-passed Tim Russert. Presumably, Anonymous is uncomfortable with the propriety of criticizing the dead, since he or she offers no substantive response to my main point. As a top dog in the back-patting Washington media world, Russert was a defacto enabler of the worst and most criminal Administration in recent history. This point would be hard to deny even if Anonymous wanted to try.

Linda Hirshman has a good summary of Russert's legacy up on Alternet. Here's a snippet:

The Russert Test was a disaster because it rewarded people willing to lie unabashedly on TV. They lied because they could not truthfully defend their positions. But Russert's famed "gotcha" research couldn't catch them. Much has been said this eulogizing week about Russert's hard-working ways assembling the material in advance of the show. Old metal. When someone told a new lie on Meet the Press, such as when Dick Cheney flat-out denied he had ever said that intelligence confirmed the Al Qaeda/Iraq link, Meet the Press had no procedure for producing the contrary evidence. This would hardly have been difficult, given Google, an earpiece and a producer to do instant research. As it happened, NBC had the rebuttal to Cheney's lies in its own archives, but it remained for The Daily Show to do the research.

While I'm on the subject of the media, can you imagine the media brouhaha if Michelle Obama had a history as a drug addict who stole prescription pain killers from her own non-profit, medicines intended for poor people in Third World nations ?

One of the presumptive First Ladies is a former drug addict and thief, but it's not Obama. Cindy McCain's past isn't a secret -- she has discussed it on Dateline and Good Morning America -- but I still find it odd that Michelle's fist bump can dominate a slow news cycle while Cindy gets such softball treatment. Salon wrote about the whole sordid affair back in 1999, but almost everyone seems to have forgotten about it, or decided the McCains deserve a free pass on this one. The article is well worth a read, both for what it reveals about the powerful McCain spin machine and for its tale of a lonely, depressed woman trapped in a marriage of convenience.

The media has decided that candidate's spouses are fair game; let's see if we get any balance.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert - The Other Side

The chattering class is praising Tim Russert to the stars today, after the amiable Meet the Press star collapsed and died unexpectedly.  I always thought Russert seemed like a nice guy and I'm sure all the kind words are heartfelt. But I have a lot of trouble stomaching all the high praise. Russert was a $5 million a year hack, a central figure of the Beltway elite "political" press who basically shilled for his friends in high places while hiding behind his "blue-collar guy from Buffalo" persona. Serious journalism hardly ever emerged from his show.

Tim Russert: Stop the Inanity is a sharp summation of Tim Russert's unique qualities.

Glenn Greenwald, former civil rights litigator and best-selling author, holds the mainstream media to the fire on a regular basis on his Salon blog. Here are a couple of his Russert-related favorite quotes of 2007:

When I talk to senior government officials on the phone, it's my own policy -- our conversations are confidential. If I want to use anything from that conversation, then I will ask permission
--Tim Russert, under oath at the Lewis Libby trial, citing the textbook function of a government propagandist to explain his role as a "journalist." 

I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used. It's our best format," as it allows us to "control the message 
--Cheney media aide Cathie Martin, under oath at the Libby trial, making clear how well Russert fulfills his function.

And check this video of Matt Lauer speaking with Russert about Speaker Pelosi's trip to Syria, which Greenwald calls "a two-minute tribute to the fact-free idiocy of our media stars." Notice how Russert simply accepts Lauer's right-wing frame without question.

Here's a fun Digby post from April, 2007.

BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable.

Someone in the administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.

What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.


TIM RUSSERT: I-- look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth. Now-

BILL MOYERS: They're the ones who know the story?

TIM RUSSERT: Well, they're working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and-- and-- and political officials.

BILL MOYERS: But they don't get on the Sunday talk shows--


For more Russert goodies, check out the Huffington Post's Russert Watch.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How to Reject Authority at a Border Patrol Checkpoint

Here's a weirdly compelling video of a guy declining to answer a Border Patrol agent's questions at a checkpoint 50 miles north of the Mexican border. He repeatedly asks, "Am I being detained?" and "Am I free to go?" -- questions the poor agent fights like hell to avoid answering.

Comments on the site skew pretty heavily against the motorist, who people seem to think is being rude. His manner is certainly brusque, but I nevertheless find it thrilling to watch someone bravely assert their civil liberties in the face of armed authority. I can sympathize with the B.P. agent, who's just trying to do her job. Too bad that pesky Bill of Rights sometimes gets in the way.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Clay Shirkey on Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirkey is the very smart new media scholar who posited that kids growing up today immersed in ever-more advanced technology are undergoing genuine neurological changes similar to those accompanying language acquisition in small children. (Check my previous post here.) Recently, he described a social paradigm shift no less cataclysmic. In a speech given at the Web 2.0 Conference on Wednesday, Shirkey discussed the sudden democratization of the tools of cultural production, which have turned millions of formerly passive consumers into content producers. Shirkey goes on to answer the all-important follow-up question: Where do they find the time?

It turns out Americans watch 200 billion hours of television every year. Worldwide, people watch about a trillion hours per year. These are astounding numbers; by comparison, Shirkey estimates that the entire Wikipedia project worldwide represents about 100 million total hours of human thought.

If people worldwide, suddenly awash in a sea of choices, reduce their total television viewing by a mere one percent (1%), the "cognitive surplus" freed up would be equivalent to 100 Wikipedia-scale projects. Per year.*

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn't know what to do with it at first.... Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn't be a surplus, would it? It's precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.

Read the whole speech here.

* Shirkey mistakenly claims 1% of a trillion would yield 10,000 Wikipedia projects but I think he's off by a factor of 100.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wow! Tay Zondy is sharp!

Tay Zondy's a strange dude. His YouTube smash hit Chocolate Rain was just voted most popular music video of 2007 despite -- or perhaps because of -- the fact he comes across as a humorless oddball with a marginal, though startlingly deep, voice. The song's catchy in that maddening commercial jingle way; once it infects you it doesn't let go easily (which may be why Chocolate Rain has inspired hundreds of parody responses, beginning with this hilarious remix).

Check out this interview with Zondy (nee Adam Nyerere Bahner), in which the 25-year-old doctoral student holds forth on selling out, Richard Wright, social justice, and media bias. He's a prickly interview subject, perhaps because he's way too smart not to sense the media narratives unfolding around him. My respect for Zondy just took a huge leap.

Tip of the old hat to Salon's Farhad Manjoo for the link.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Masterstroke

Yesterday, Obama gave what I think is the single most important political speech of my lifetime. Obama assumed he was addressing mature adults, and he wrote and delivered the speech with a bluntness and honesty I've never seen in another American presidential candidate, ever. Obama addressed the full spectrum of race and its legacy in America. He called on all Americans, including the media, to leave the past behind and embrace a new vision of a united America.

If this isn't political courage, I don't know what is.

Watch the full speech here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama/Clooney 08

Aha! The perfect running mate! George Clooney is already an internationally famous and beloved American. I'm sure the rest of the world is quite aware of his progressive activism on behalf of the poor and weak. He makes movies about it, for heaven's sake.

What better American Ambassador could there be, all around the world, than Vice President Clooney? An unmarried serial monogamist from Hollywood with a solid record of international political activism!

We already know they like each other!

Dibs on the TeeShirts!

And Larry Lessig for Minister of Culture! Ensuring the free flow of information to all Americans, and working to promote such values in the rest of the world as well! Maybe Hillary for Health and Human Services? Gavin Newsom to head the newly-created Department of Peace?

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?


Hats off, by the way, to the beautiful Tootsie Farklepants for her Obama/Clooney 08 post, in which she posited an Obama/Clooney 08 ticket way back on April 27, 2006, almost two full years ago. I was unaware of any other prior use of the term until after I wrote this post, when I googled "obama/clooney" and found her.

It's possible she got the idea from TMOTTB, commenter number four on this article:

Coincidentally (!), TMOTTB left the comment on the very same day, August 27, 2006...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NYC in Words

Alex Gopher's short animated film The Child envisions a Manhattan constructed entirely of words. The nominal plot follows a young couple rushing to the hospital to deliver their baby. I don't know if Gopher's trying to illuminate an obscure neurological condition or simply creating a compelling textual road trip, but the result is trippy and moving.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An Idea for Hillary and Obama

I think Obama will be our next President, or else our next Vice President. You heard it here first. (Unless someone else has said it before me.)

I have an idea both he and Hillary can use to generate even more momentum, more cash, all while setting a moral example for all other candidates and for the nation.

Hillary was on Letterman tonight, and they were talking about the enormous amount of money she and all her colleagues were spending on their campaigns. Letterman said, "To think some of that money could have gone to feed poor people."

There's the idea. I think both Hillary and Obama should become an example, a Christian example, if you like, by pledging to donate 10% of their total donations to help feed the poor and homeless. How much do you want to bet that their total take goes up by more than 10%? Hell, that might even inspire me to donate to one or both of them.

Maybe it should be 30%? Just how generous and giving are the American people, anyway?

Whichever candidate would have the courage to do something so obviously wonderful -- that's the one who deserves your vote.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Disaster on Lego World

My son has just completed his first short film, about a UFO attack on Lego World. Contains horrible violence and bloodied, dismembered Lego dudes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dennis Kucinich at the Democratic Debate

The warmongers at GE/NBC specifically changed their rules to exclude the anti-war Kucinich from last night's debate, after initially inviting him. Luckily, American patriot Amy Goodman of Democracy Now decided to rerun major chunks of the debate with Kucinich in studio, essentially giving him the seat at the table he was denied by the corporate controlled media. So here's the debate as it should have been:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Richard Dreyfuss@Macworld

I mentioned a few days ago seeing Richard Dreyfuss, the actor from Jaws and The Goodbye Girl, hanging around at Macworld. Well, I had a Close Encounter of the Star Kind and I snapped a surreptitious pic for you, Dear Reader.

I wasn't going to add this coda but what the hell. You see, when I saw Richard Dreyfuss, all I could think of was a little anecdote in uber-producer Julia Phillips' memoir, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. Phillips and Erica Jong* were hanging out with Dreyfuss:

“Whaddyou mean, angry fucking?” Erica says, egging him on. She and I exchange an I’ll-never-fuck-this-one look. Oh, please. Dreyfuss is a little shorter than me, and has taken to calling me “boss” as in, “Hi, boss,” then pecking me, sonlike, chastely on the cheek.

Dreyfuss pulls himself up to his full height, which is not much, and puffs out his chest. He dryhumps the air, his arms around an invisible whore, and as he screams, “I hate you I hate you I hate you…” one hand smacks his phantom lover about the head and shoulders. We crack up, but in my mind he has moved from a maybe to a never.

So that's what I thought of when I saw Richard Dreyfuss.

* So worth a click, just for the audio. At the moment, it's Jong reading her own poem Smoke on Vanessa Daou's trippy electro-jazz album Zipless: Songs From the Poems of Erica Jong.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Macworld & EFF

I got to feel ridiculously hip yesterday, what with wandering Macworld and then schmoozing at EFF's 17th birthday party at the 111 Minna Gallery a few blocks down the road. The highlight of Macworld for me, besides playing with the new Macbook Air, was getting a chance to play an early version of Spore, genius Sims creator Will Wright's much delayed new wonder in which players get to create an entire universe, from single-celled organisms to highly customizable animals and creatures to galactic physics.

Check Wright's inspiring TED talk for a closer look.

In the picture, a guy is designing a creature, elongating and shaping the spine. You decide on the length, width, and placement of legs, eyes, mouth, and every other design element of the creature. Then, when he comes alive he moves according to your design and, presumably, some basic rules of anatomy and physiology. Tres cool.

Spore is the game my son and I and -- a great many other people -- have been most eagerly anticipating for several years. Wright's the kind of guy who won't release a game until it's really, truly ready, and I'm willing to believe Spore has required some seriously heavy-duty coding to bring to fruition. Previous release estimate put the date around March, but all I could get out of the EA reps was that the game would be released "sometime this year."

After following their heroic work for well over a decade, I finally joined the EFF at Macworld. Joining supports the leading voice for civil liberties in cyberspace and netted me a cool Hugh D'Andrade-designed tee shirt, too.

I ran into my buddy Bob around the iPod Touch display and we ended up going to dinner at Osha, a very nice Thai place right in the neighborhood. We watched a very cute redhead in a short skirt and white stockings getting a big takeout order. After dinner, we walked over to 111 Minna and discovered the cute redhead is an EFFer. I knew there was something special about her!

At the EFF party, I met Fred von Lohmann, Senior Intellectual Property Attorney, copyfight hero, and all-around nice guy. I've been a fan for years, and I complimented von Lohmann on his excellent interview in Steal This Film II, the fantastic free documentary all about the historic threat to free and open information exchange on the Internet.

I also had a nice long chat with Charles Choi, founder of a new indie film distribution site. With Caachi, filmmakers set their own prices for DRM-free downloads. Artists retain all rights to their work, along with 75 cents of every dollar their films take in. I wonder what percentage goes to the artists with Apple's newly-announced video download service?

In the corner, a couple of guys held court for a while with XO laptops from the One Laptop Per Child project. Impressions without actually playing with one: Very cool, stylish design, and pretty powerful for what it is. The guy doing the demo claims it's very easy to learn to use, especially for someone who has never before used anything else.

Then I met EFF's incoming webmaster Chris and his delightful girlfriend Hilary (one "l," thank you very much) and told them about the seminal role EFF has played over the last 17 years. I advised Chris to make sure the site steers everyone to the Join EFF page as clearly and conveniently as possible.

I even got to introduce Chris and Hilary to Fred von Lohmann, who wished Chris well in organizing a decade and a half's worth of documents into some coherent form!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Liveblogging from Macworld

I don't have much to say at the moment. I just think it's cool to be posting from the Blogger's Lounge at MacWorld, sponsored by Office 2008. I've already bumped into a couple of friends, one of whom will accompany me to the EFF 17th birthday party later.

Saw lots of cool Mac-related stuff and got to play with the new Macbook Air. Crazy. Also saw Richard Dreyfuss hanging outside the John Lennon Bus. Pics and impressions to follow.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

3 Graphic Designers + 4 Days = D-Day Invasion

This astonishing clip demonstrates that the days in which you needed the GNP of a small country to make an effects-heavy blockbuster are coming to an end. The clip supports my contention from a few days ago that the balance of power has shifted quite dramatically in the film industry.

In my previous post, I mentioned that big time film and television artists will start creating their own media companies, owning every step in the production process and eliminating the parasitic middlemen called studios. Apparently, this process is already underway. Artists and writers are teaming up with geeks to create their own production partnerships, entirely independent from the studios.

The time is ripe for a bottom-up reinvention of the film and television industry. Both technology and society have evolved exponentially since the last writers' stike, way back in 1988. The current writers' strike is the biggest mistake the AMPTP has ever made, and the blowback could prove fatal.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Daily Show is Back -- Thank God

Jon Stewart went on a tear for his first show back in the midst of the Writers' Strike. Stewart, along with Stephen Colbert, is the best friend the writers could ever hope for, clarifying the issues and slicing the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the corporations it represents. Both Stewart and Colbert featured experts on labor and unions. If nothing else, this strike is educating Americans about the value of unions in allowing workers to stand up to large corporations to assert what are beginning to seem like fundamental rights.

Stewart: I don't believe that the AMPTP understands the struggle that it's in, and I don't think they understand the blowback that's going to happen.
Link (click on the Writers' Strike segment)

Very soon, film and television artists will simply cut free from their corporate masters and run their own shows, much the way musicians are doing right now. Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin did this in 1919 when they formed United Artists, and others have periodically tried the same tactic, often successfully. But the fundamental paradigm of big media has remained constant. Production and distribution have been so expensive that only large corporations have been able to afford them.

That era is coming to a close. Digital media democratizes every step of the process, from production to distribution. The days of scarcity, of a small number of giant corporations controlling the means of production, are over. How appalling that artists and creators largely don't own or control their own work! How'd we ever get into this situation?

The future of media is the Internet, and everyone knows it. The media giants are fighting to hold onto their digital distribution cash while simultaneously claiming they're not making any money on the Internet ($1 billion lawsuits against YouTube notwithstanding).

This strike is a big story. A very, very big story. This is the first Internet-era strike, the first time artists have been able to take their case to the public through all the new media channels, the ones not controlled by their adversaries. Hell, the Golden Globes had to be cancelled, because the producers couldn't get any actors to cross the picket lines and show up.

A line has been drawn in the sand. The AMPTP is fighting a losing battle. Watch out for the blowback.