February 8, 2012

Pot, Kettle, Black [10:25 am]

Cary Sherman is going to convince you, no matter what it takes — but this is a real tour de force: What Wikipedia Won’t Tell You [pdf]

Misinformation may be a dirty trick, but it works. Consider, for example, the claim that SOPA and PIPA were “censorship,” a loaded and inflammatory term designed to evoke images of crackdowns on pro-democracy Web sites by China or Iran. Since when is it censorship to shut down an operation that an American court, upon a thorough review of evidence, has determined to be illegal? When the police close down a store fencing stolen goods, it isn’t censorship, but when those stolen goods are fenced online, it is? Wikipedia, Google and others manufactured controversy by unfairly equating SOPA with censorship. They also argued misleadingly that the bills would have required Web sites to “monitor” what their users upload, conveniently ignoring provisions like the “No Duty to Monitor” section.

The hyperbolic mistruths, presented on the home pages of some of the world’s most popular Web sites, amounted to an abuse of trust and a misuse of power. When Wikipedia and Google purport to be neutral sources of information, but then exploit their stature to present information that is not only not neutral but affirmatively incomplete and misleading, they are duping their users into accepting as truth what are merely self-serving political declarations.

Later: Looks like The Times is going to work this — In Piracy Debate, Deciding if the Sky Is Falling [pdf]

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January 9, 2012

Nice! [10:07 am]

You so rarely see it stated so blatantly — “creators” at work! With ‘Porgy’ on Broadway, Gershwin Heirs Flex Their Rights [pdf]

But estate decision making has been most controversial in the case of “Porgy and Bess.” The Gershwin heirs — chiefly nephews and grand-nephews of George and Ira, who had no children of their own — sought a Broadway-suitable “Porgy” to license to other musical producers worldwide with the hopes of earning millions of dollars before the right to the famous songs expire in 2030.

With that in mind they encouraged the trimming of the opera nearly by half, and approved some updating, including a reconciliation scene at the end. The goat-pulled cart of the disabled Porgy is out; a cane and leg braces are in. If all goes well, they may pursue a movie.

“Our responsibilities are to not have ‘Porgy and Bess’ stuck in an attic, to open up the property to younger generations, and to make money for the families,” said Jonathan Keidan, a 38-year-old digital media executive whose grandmother was George and Ira’s sister and who is now a trustee of George’s estate.

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December 13, 2011

An (Uncommon) Elegant Solution [9:19 pm]

I bring this to your attention not just because I really enjoy David Malki!’s Wondermark, but because, sometimes, there’s a better way — Calendars: SOLD OUT. Engineering: STILL LOUD.

A few people have written to tell me that they saw a shirt with this same slogan in the Signals catalog, or on their website. They are right to think that it was done without my knowledge or approval — I’d never let a design this ugly go out: [...]

This is a tricky situation — legally, you cannot copyright a short phrase or slogan. (That’s why you can see stupid slogans like “FBI: Female Body Inspector” on fifty million different T-shirts in fifty million different tourist shops.) A design is copyrightable, but in this case they only used the words. You can trademark a slogan, but that costs a fair amount of money, and I hadn’t done that. (Maybe I should.)

[...] The knee-jerk response is “Cease and desist! Sue! Call a lawyer!” This implies that (a) the issue cannot be solved through more amicable means, and (b) I have a lot of time and money to throw at this kind of problem. The latter is not true, and I like to at least allow for the chance that the former isn’t either. There’s a lot of double negatives in that sequence, so I’ll restate: Being aggressive puts people on the defensive. Being friendly gets people to help you.

Also, always give the party in the wrong the ability to back off gracefully.

Read it all for a nice story — and a welcome contrast to this SOPA bullshit: Media and Entertainment Companies Add Support to Proposed Antipiracy Legislation.

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November 16, 2011

Rebecca MacKinnon on the Protect IP Act [2:03 pm]

Firewall Law Could Infringe on Free Speech [pdf]

China operates the world’s most elaborate and opaque system of Internet censorship. But Congress, under pressure to take action against the theft of intellectual property, is considering misguided legislation that would strengthen China’s Great Firewall and even bring major features of it to America.

The legislation — the Protect IP Act, which has been introduced in the Senate, and a House version known as the Stop Online Piracy Act — have an impressive array of well-financed backers [...]. The bills aim not to censor political or religious speech as China does, but to protect American intellectual property. Alarm at the infringement of creative works through the Internet is justifiable. The solutions offered by the legislation, however, threaten to inflict collateral damage on democratic discourse and dissent both at home and around the world.

Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing: Hearing on: H.R. 3261, the “Stop Online Piracy Act

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November 15, 2011

A Little Identity Contretemps [12:14 pm]

Rushdie Wins Facebook Fight Over Identity [pdf]

As the Internet becomes the place for all kinds of transactions, from buying shoes to overthrowing despots, an increasingly vital debate is emerging over how people represent and reveal themselves on the Web sites they visit. One side envisions a system in which you use a sort of digital passport, bearing your real name and issued by a company like Facebook, to travel across the Internet. Another side believes in the right to don different hats — and sometimes masks — so you can consume and express what you want, without fear of offline repercussions.

The argument over pseudonyms — known online as the “nym wars” — goes to the heart of how the Internet might be organized in the future. Major Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have a valuable stake in this debate — and, in some cases, vastly different corporate philosophies on the issue that signal their own ambitions.

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November 2, 2011

Rolling Stone on Music Economics [5:29 pm]

The New Economics of the Music Industry [pdf] (some nice charts with revenue distributions here)

In the old days, it was much easier for pop stars to keep up with how much they were getting paid. Somebody would buy a CD at a Tower Records for $15 and a few dollars would appear months later on the stars royalty sheet. Then iTunes took over the record business, and it was even easier if not more profitable – every time somebody bought a 99-cent track, a few pennies went into the artists bank account.

Those were such simple times. Today, music fans play free music videos on YouTube, stream songs for free on Spotify, MOG or Rdio, customize Internet radio stations on Pandora or Slacker and consume music a zillion different ways. The fractions of pennies artists make for each of these services are nearly impossible to track – at least for now. “People like to simplify this and say, Theres no money in it,” says Jeff Price, founder of TuneCore, which charges artists to place songs directly into iTunes, Spotify and others. “But its complex, its complicated and its still being worked out.”

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November 1, 2011

Artist’s Resale Royalties [2:59 pm]

This is going to be quite a case: Artists File Suit Against Sotheby’s, Christie’s and eBay [pdf]

When the taxi baron Robert Scull sold part of his art collection in a 1973 auction that is considered the beginning of today’s money-soused contemporary-art market, several artists watched the proceedings from a standing-room-only section in the back. There, Robert Rauschenberg saw his 1958 painting “Thaw,” originally sold to Scull for $900, bring down the gavel at $85,000. At the end of the Sotheby Parke Bernet sale, Rauschenberg shoved Scull and yelled that he didn’t want to work so hard “just for you to make that profit.”

The uproar that followed led the California legislature to pass a law, the California Resale Royalties Act, requiring anyone reselling a piece of fine art who lives in the state, or who sells the art there for $1,000 or more, to pay the artist 5 percent of the resale price.

That law is now at the center of a pair of class-action suits brought by the artists Chuck Close and Laddie John Dill and the estate of the sculptor Robert Graham against the auction powerhouses Sotheby’s and Christie’s and the online auction site eBay for failure to pay royalties.

“It’s a question of basic fairness,” Mr. Close said recently in an interview. When purchasers are getting extraordinary returns on their investment, he said, a royalty resale law allows the artist to share, at least in a small way, in the increase in value. (Under the California law, no payment is due if the price drops.)

[...] John Henry Merryman, a law professor at Stanford University and an expert on art and cultural-property law, said that advocates of the droit de suite ignore how the art market operates. The increased price for Rauschenberg’s “Thaw” at the Scull auction was due not only to the artist’s continuing creative efforts, he said, but also to the dealers, collectors, auction houses and critics who took a risk in supporting and buying Rauschenberg’s work before he was famous. He noted that the increased price for a single painting simultaneously raises the value of all the artist’s work.

Mr. Merryman dismissed the argument that the droit de suite was analogous to music or literary royalties. “The idea that somehow artists are hurt because they don’t have copyright is nonsense,” he said. Artists retain copyright and must be compensated if their work is reproduced. The difference, he explained, is that “the realization of a work of art is in exhibition, not in duplication.”

The Whitney Museum of American Art at one time compensated artists for exhibiting their work. The idea never caught on, but it makes more sense, Mr. Merryman said.

I look forward to an explanation of exactly how this constitutes “fairness” in this context. Absent a finding that US copyright law is going to move toward a wider application of European droit d’auteur (and, as the article states, droit de suite), I cannot imagine this is going to go very far — but never say never…..

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October 10, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal [4:27 pm]

I still don’t believe in psycho-history — but I do believe in the infinite attractiveness of the surveillance state: U.S. Intelligence Unit Aims to Build a ‘Data Eye in the Sky’ [pdf]

It is intended to be an entirely automated system, a “data eye in the sky” without human intervention, according to the program proposal. The research would not be limited to political and economic events, but would also explore the ability to predict pandemics and other types of widespread contagion, something that has been pursued independently by civilian researchers and by companies like Google.

Some social scientists and advocates of privacy rights are deeply skeptical of the project, saying it evokes queasy memories of Total Information Awareness, a post-9/11 Pentagon program that proposed hunting for potential attackers by identifying patterns in vast collections of public and private data: telephone calling records, e-mail, travel data, visa and passport information, and credit card transactions.

“I have Total Information Awareness flashbacks when things like this happen,” said David Price, an anthropologist at St. Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash., who has written about cooperation between social scientists and intelligence agencies. “On the one hand it’s understandable for a nation-state to want to track things like the outbreak of a pandemic, but I have to wonder about the total automation of this and what productive will come of it.”

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September 28, 2011

Democratization of the Surveillance State [3:48 pm]

Help Wanted - Busybodies with Cameras [pdf]

Known here sarcastically as paparazzi, people like Mr. Im stalk their prey and capture them on film. But it is not celebrities, politicians or even hardened criminals they pursue. Rather, they roam cities secretly videotaping fellow citizens breaking the law, deliver the evidence to government officials and collect the rewards.

“Some people hate us,” said Mr. Im. “But we’re only doing what the law encourages.”

[...] “I’m making three times what I made as an English tutor,” said Mr. Im, 39, who began his new line of work around seven years ago and says he makes about $85,000 a year.

Bounties have a history in South Korea; for decades, the government has offered generous rewards to people who turned in North Korean spies. But in recent years, various government agencies have set up similar programs for anyone reporting mainly petty crimes, some as minor as a motorist tossing a cigarette butt out the window.

Snitching for pay has become especially popular since the world’s economic troubles slowed South Korea’s powerful economy. Paparazzi say most of their ranks are people who have lost their jobs in the downturn and are drawn by media reports of fellow Koreans making tens of thousands of dollars a year reporting crimes.

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September 26, 2011

Another OnStar Challenger [8:34 am]

It looks like typical Senatorial grand-standing, until you get to the last paragraph of the quote below: NY Sen. Schumer accuses OnStar of invading privacy [pdf]

The OnStar automobile communication service used by 6 million Americans maintains its two-way connection with a customer even after the service is discontinued, while reserving the right to sell data from that connection.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York says thats a blatant invasion of privacy and is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. But OnStar says former customers can stop the two-way transmission, and no driving data of customers has been shared or sold.

“OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory,” said Schumer, a Democrat. “I urge OnStar to abandon this policy.”

But the General Motors Corp. OnStar service says customers are thoroughly informed of the new practice. If a customer says he or she doesn’t want to have data collected after service is ended, OnStar disconnects the tracking.

And although OnStar reserves the right to share or sell data on customers’ speed, location, use of seat belts and other practices, a spokesman says it hasn’t done so and doesn’t plan to.

… until OnStar gets a subpoena or a National Security letter, for example.

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September 25, 2011

Ya Think?! [2:19 pm]

Well, they’re still probably ahead of the music industry — Movie studios give up the DVD ghost, look to the Internet [pdf]

After desperate attempts to prop up the industrys once-thriving DVD business, studio executives now believe the only hope of turning around a 40% decline in home entertainment revenue lies in rapidly accelerating the delivery of movies over the Internet.

[...] “The days of baby steps on the Internet are over,” said David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures’ home entertainment unit. “It’s now critical that we experiment as much as possible and determine how to build a vibrant market for collecting digital movies.”

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September 11, 2011

New Advances in “Works for Hire” [2:37 pm]

Computer-Generated Articles Are Gaining Traction [pdf]

The company’s software takes data, like that from sports statistics, company financial reports and housing starts and sales, and turns it into articles. For years, programmers have experimented with software that wrote such articles, typically for sports events, but these efforts had a formulaic, fill-in-the-blank style. They read as if a machine wrote them.

But Narrative Science is based on more than a decade of research, led by two of the company’s founders, Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum, co-directors of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University, which holds a stake in the company. And the articles produced by Narrative Science are different.

“I thought it was magic,” says Roger Lee, a general partner of Battery Ventures, which led a $6 million investment in the company earlier this year. “It’s as if a human wrote it.”

Experts in artificial intelligence and language are also impressed, if less enthralled. Oren Etzioni, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, says, “The quality of the narrative produced was quite good,” as if written by a human, if not an accomplished wordsmith. Narrative Science, Mr. Etzioni says, points to a larger trend in computing of “the increasing sophistication in automatic language understanding and, now, language generation.”

As usual, the reason it’s impressive is that it works at all, not that it’s producing deathless prose. But, it seems like it would be a great tool for first pass writing, with a human cleaning it up afterward. Of course, at that point, the question of whose writing it is also starts to get very murky….

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August 31, 2011

A Nice Comment on the MPAA from Pajiba [4:47 pm]

A rant from one of my favorite websites for movie reviews: Box Office Records and Whining Twatwaffles of the MPAA discussing this MPAA infographic/propoganda [local copy]:

So according to the MPAA, piracy cost them $58 billion last year, making movie piracy a bigger industry than the GDPs of 10 American states. To put it even starker perspective, look at it this way. The film industry gets about $10 billion from the box office, and about $30 billion from the after market of DVDs, streaming, etc. So they’re claiming that piracy costs them almost two-thirds of their business. At $10 per DVD, every household in the United States would be buying an additional 50 DVDs per year if they weren’t so busy downloading. The technical term for a statistic like that is “fictional.”

[...] There are a couple numbers on that infographic though that do matter, the figures about employment and jobs. Sure, they’re victim to hyperbole as well, seeming to count every one who ever sold a cup of coffee to an actor, but there’s a hint of truth in there. The film industry is one of the rock solid cornerstones of the American economy. 96% of tickets sold in America are for American films, and even more tickets are sold overseas. Industries have faded, factories have closed, but movies still get made here. That’s the angle the MPAA should take instead of this exhausting and alienating shame show. Play to the pride and patriotism of being the place that makes the world’s dreams.

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August 29, 2011

For Your Daily Dose of Irony…. [1:39 pm]

Kind of like discovering that Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is not a part of the public domain; another piece of “owned” culture: Masked Anonymous Protesters Aid Time Warner’s Profits [pdf]

When members appear in public to protest censorship and what they view as corruption, they don a plastic mask of Guy Fawkes, the 17th-century Englishman who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Stark white, with blushed pink cheeks, a wide grin and a thin black mustache and goatee, the mask resonates with the hackers because it was worn by a rogue anarchist challenging an authoritarian government in “V for Vendetta,” the movie produced in 2006 by Warner Brothers.

What few people seem to know, though, is that Time Warner, one of the largest media companies in the world and parent of Warner Brothers, owns the rights to the image and is paid a licensing fee with the sale of each mask.

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More On Recording “Works for Hire” and Termination Rights [1:35 pm]

This is a strange one. Certainly, Rep. Conyers has been around long enough to know how difficult it is to legislate around copyright law (see Jessica Litman’s Digital Copyright) So you have to wonder what’s the real agenda here — is it really just about pre-empting judicial review and limiting the associated transactions costs for everyone?: Representative John Conyers Wants Copyright Law Revision [pdf]

Arguing that Congress has an obligation “to preserve fairness and justice for artists,” the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee has called for a revision of United States copyright law to remove ambiguities in the current statute about who is eligible to reclaim ownership rights to songs and sound recordings.

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August 15, 2011

Termination Rights and Recordings [2:54 pm]

Springsteen and Others Soon Eligible to Recover Song Rights [pdf]

When copyright law was revised in the mid-1970s, musicians, like creators of other works of art, were granted “termination rights,” which allow them to regain control of their work after 35 years, so long as they apply at least two years in advance. Recordings from 1978 are the first to fall under the purview of the law, but in a matter of months, hits from 1979, like “The Long Run” by the Eagles and “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer, will be in the same situation — and then, as the calendar advances, every other master recording once it reaches the 35-year mark.

The provision also permits songwriters to reclaim ownership of qualifying songs. Bob Dylan has already filed to regain some of his compositions, as have other rock, pop and country performers like Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits and Charlie Daniels, according to records on file at the United States Copyright Office.

[...] With the recording industry already reeling from plummeting sales, termination rights claims could be another serious financial blow. Sales plunged to about $6.3 billion from $14.6 billion over the decade ending in 2009, in large part because of unauthorized downloading of music on the Internet, especially of new releases, which has left record labels disproportionately dependent on sales of older recordings in their catalogs.

“This is a life-threatening change for them, the legal equivalent of Internet technology,” said Kenneth J. Abdo, a lawyer who leads a termination rights working group for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and has filed claims for some of his clients, who include Kool and the Gang. As a result the four major record companies — Universal, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner — have made it clear that they will not relinquish recordings they consider their property without a fight.

“We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,” said Steven Marks, general counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America, a lobbying group in Washington that represents the interests of record labels. As the record companies see it, the master recordings belong to them in perpetuity, rather than to the artists who wrote and recorded the songs, because, the labels argue, the records are “works for hire,” compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, their employees.

Independent copyright experts, however, find that argument unconvincing. [....]

An update — one of the contenders for termination rights going to court soon, apparently: A Village Person Tests the Copyright Law [pdf]

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July 25, 2011

Aaron Swartz and JSTOR [2:03 pm]

This is a peculiar bit of press on the Aaron Swartz case. Given that, from what I’ve read, Larry Lessig’s comments in the press have been very careful, it’s interesting to read this headline. Is it the NYTimes making this connection just because Aaron worked in Larry’s center, or has Larry been blogging about this/quoted about this in such a way as to suggest common cause here? Aaron Swartz’s Web Activism May Cost Him Dearly [pdf]

Like the penny opportunist, Mr. Swartz was invited to sample the wares of the nonprofit online collection Jstor, and he interpreted that invitation quite expansively. Using a program that automatically paged through each issue of more than 1,300 journals, he was able to methodically download their contents, making a copy of almost everything in the collection.

Yet this episode is hardly a joke. Mr. Swartz was arrested last week in Boston on a series of felony counts including wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. If convicted on all counts, the Justice Department said he could face up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

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July 8, 2011

Our New Content Overlords… [8:48 am]

A dream no longer deferred: content providers now get to be their own judge and jury for alleged copyright infringement. And an emerging communications lifeline is now subject to judgments by ISPs that used to be considered part of the judicial domain: To Slow Piracy, Internet Providers Ready Penalties [pdf]

The companies took pains to say that the agreement did not oblige Internet providers to shut down a repeat offender’s account, and that the system of alerts was meant to be “educational.” But they noted that carriers would retain their right to cut off any user who violated their terms of service.

In bringing together the media companies and Internet carriers, the deal demonstrates how the once-clear line separating those two businesses has been blurred. Eight years ago, the Recording Industry Association of America had to sue Verizon to try to uncover the identity of a customer who was sharing music online. This year, Comcast completed its merger with NBC, bringing an owner of digital content and a conduit for it under the same roof.

Now the Internet providers are hoping to profit as they pipe music and video of the nonpirated variety to their customers.

“The I.S.P.’s want to cooperate with Hollywood because the carriers recognize that their own growth depends in part on bundled content strategies,” said Eric Garland of BigChampagne, which tracks online media traffic. “They don’t want to be just utilities providing Internet access, but premium content distributors as well.”

A tragic allegory for the current climate in the US for so many things; surveillance, war-making, etc. As David Malki! points out, “The Revolution Will Not Be Telegraphed.”

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June 27, 2011

CA Ban on Sale of Violent Video Games to Minors Overturned [10:52 am]

On First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds — decision: Brown, Governor of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al.

Given that Breyer and Thomas each file dissents, one might expect a colorful opinion. On except from Scalia’s majority opinion:

California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read—or read to them when they are younger—contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 198 (2006 ed.). Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. Id., at 95. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven. Id., at 54.

High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. [...]

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June 22, 2011

Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone - NYTimes.com [12:17 pm]

This article went up a couple of days ago, Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone [pdf], but now there’s also a discussion that’s worth a look. Maybe not earth-shattering, but at least it acknowledges that there are a lot of eddies in this particular swirl of internet technology and policy:

Not too long ago, theorists fretted that the Internet was a place where anonymity thrived.

Now, it seems, it is the place where anonymity dies.

The discussions:

  • The Virtues of Anonymity; Daniel J. Solove [pdf]

  • The Rage of Being Right; Philip Smith [pdf]

  • Promoting Repression; Kashmir Hill [pdf]

  • The Glue of Civility; Christine Pearson [pdf]

  • Practicing Self-Regulation; Peggy Post [pdf]

The Smith–Post axis of discussion is notable, and I am generally surprised by the frequent excuse in these articles that incivility is (mostly) thoughtless. (And Hill inelegantly raises the very important issue of what it means to delegate the interpretation of civility to institutions.)

The way I see it, the very root of incivility is almost always thoughtlessness. “Conscious incivility” evokes something entirely different — consider your likely responses to these two common situations: (1) Being cut off in traffic by an inattentive driver and (2) Hearing the car horn of the vehicle immediately behind you the split second the traffic light changes from red to green, possibly accompanied by a rude gesticulation by the driver. The first is incivility, the second is an act of aggression.

(Note that there *are* cultural referents that can matter. In Morocco, the second act listed is, in fact, common practice, because the car at the head of the line at a red light is expected to have pulled far enough into the intersection that the car’s driver can’t even see the traffic light — there, the honk of the horn is a practical requirement of all courteous drivers.)

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