May 6, 2009

How To Lie With Statistics [7:59 am]

Life in the age of digital surveillance: Police using access to records to snoop in celebrities’ data (pdf)

The Criminal Offender Record Information system, with its massive databases of criminal records, driving histories, car ownership, and Social Security numbers, is intended to provide police and prosecutors with complete portraits of individuals who have been arrested or brought into the court system. Reports are available to other users such as landlords and some employers conducting background checks on prospective tenants and job seekers. Access is supposed to be restricted to authorized law enforcement users, who are specially trained.

But the yearlong review by state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci depicts a system repeatedly accessed by users “without any apparent work-related justification.”

Such unauthorized use could be considered fraud under federal law, and “disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal and/or criminal prosecution” could follow misuse of the system, DeNucci’s audit said.

Curtis Wood, executive director of the Criminal History Systems Board, acknowledged that inappropriate searches have been made over the years, but said the number is small.

“Compared to the 13 million transactions in the system a month, the number is a small representation of our user community,” he said. “I’m fairly comfortable in saying that 99 percent do not misuse the system.”

Let’s see — that’s one percent of 13,000,000/month — or 130,000 illegal invasions of privacy per month — or roughly 3 per minute.

But, of course, you shouldn’t care since, of course, you aren’t doing anything wrong, are you?

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May 5, 2009

OpenCRS [1:17 pm]

Effort Is Renewed for Public Release of C.R.S. Reports (pdf)

American taxpayers spend more than $100 million a year supporting the work of the Congressional Research Service, a little-known but highly regarded division of the Library of Congress.

But unlike the library itself, the research service is by law exclusively for the use of members of Congress. Only they and their staffs have access to the reports and memorandums it generates, and only they can decide to make its work public.

A nonprofit group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, is leading a fight to change that.

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E.U. © Proposal [8:04 am]

E.U. to Hear Proposal for Cross-Border Net Copyright (pdf)

Two European commissioners are proposing the creation of a Europewide copyright license for online content that could clear the way for cross-border sales of digital music, games and video — and lower prices for consumers.

The plan, to be offered Tuesday by Viviane Reding, the European telecommunications and media commissioner, and Meglena Kuneva, the consumer affairs commissioner of the bloc, would allow consumers to shop online for media from any retailer in the 27-nation European Union.

The two commissioners intend to outline their plan in Strasbourg, where the European Parliament is meeting this week, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by the International Herald Tribune. The commissioners would introduce legislation to create the license this year.

[...] Cross-border sales of online film and music is rare in the E.U. because most retailers generally do not want to deal with the complexity of satisfying 27 different national copyright systems, which are administered by semi-autonomous collecting societies that levy and collect fees on each sale.

To avoid selling abroad, online retailers often required customers to use a credit card issued in the same country as they are based.

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May 4, 2009

Save The Singers! [9:53 am]

Or something:
Singers tell Congress: Money (That’s What I Want)
(pdf)

Jack Ely, the singer whose 1963 version of “Louie Louie” still makes the rounds on oldies radio, lives with his wife in a mobile home on a horse ranch in Oregon. Ely says they share $30,000 a year from her teacher’s pension and his Social Security checks. They are paying down a mortgage.

So sometimes it bothers Ely, 65, when he hears his voice singing “Louie Louie” on the radio or in sports arenas, knowing he’s not getting paid.

[...] Since the advent of radio in the 1920s, songwriters have made a little money every time their tunes are played on stations in most industrialized countries. The six children of “Louie Louie” songwriter Richard Berry today share more than $100,000 in royalties every year.

But performers like Ely don’t get a dime.

A bill moving through Congress aims to change that. It would let performers and the recording labels get a share of the ad revenue that radio stations collect from playing their songs. This pool of royalties could be hundreds of millions a year — which would be crucial for the record industry, as compact disc sales plummet and digital song sales aren’t making up the difference.

Hmmm - I thought it was the *singers* who were supposed to get the money? Or, *shock*, did those sly execs get the singers to sign a contract that meant they don’t have the rights anyway?

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The Boston Globe’s Death Spiral [7:01 am]

You know, I wanted to read this article the way I usually do — reading a copy of the paper over an iced tea and a toasted bagel at my local Au Bon Pain. I’ve even made the concession to buying the paper each day from one of the newspaper vending machines that pepper my neighborhood because the delivery company for the Globe subscription service can’t seem to get it to my home before I leave for work (and routinely delivered it regardless of any request I made for vacation stoppages — even delivering it a full six months after the Globe had cancelled my subscription for non-payment because they changed the look of their bills and I kept throwing them out with the junk mail).

I even have made the effort to find the vending boxes that are filled early, because the one that is near the Au Bon Pain where I like to eat doesn’t get filled until after 8:00 AM, when I have been in my office working for over an hour.

But, this morning, I ended up having to read this article online because the vending machine wouldn’t take my $0.75 — probably because it was not reset from the Sunday price of $2.50.

Or maybe the machine was just broken — like the entire Boston Globe distribution model. *sigh*

Globe negotiations continue (pdf)

Boston Globe management was continuing to negotiate concessions with its major unions well past a midnight deadline, but said it was prepared to file a plant closing notice with the state today if they failed to reach agreement. That would allow the paper’s owner, the New York Times Co., to follow through on its threat to shutter the 137-year-old newspaper.

You know, when I changed my (fully paid up) subscription from daily to Sunday only, I wasn’t even asked “why?” — the person on the other end just took the necessary information and then let me go.

When you can’t even deliver the physical object in a timely fashion, what makes you think you can call it “news” anymore?

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May 3, 2009

Clearing, Reclearing, … [9:33 am]

WGBH reclears the way for more shows online - The Boston Globe (pdf)

It’s only 30 seconds out of a 90-minute film, fleeting glimpses of then-President Jimmy Carter as seen in a 1976 Playboy magazine interview. But to secure the rights to use these five photos in the documentary series “The Presidents,” which reaired last fall, WGBH had to pay Playboy $12,400.

That was all well and good for the show’s broadcast and even for its release on video. But now, in the age of digital downloads - when TV networks are hungry to find new ways to attract larger audiences - the challenge has started all over again. WGBH has to go back and strike a deal for the digital rights to each photo of Carter.

Multiply that by the hundreds of film clips and images used for the show. Now multiply that by the hundreds of previously broadcast documentaries the station wants to put online.

Doing that math will help you understand why the unheralded task of clearances is arduous, costly, and often the difference between documentaries that you can summon at your fingertips and those you need to visit a research library to see again.

Reclearing, as this process is called, involves the hair-raising task of gaining permission to reuse every piece of material found in an earlier program that did not belong to WGBH.

At issue are the controlling rights of each writer, singer, actor, voice, musician, network, union, every source of still photography and archival stock footage, literary work, you name it. [...]

[...] Surprises arise like flocks of birds: An original owner no longer owns the material, the original owner never owned the material in the first place, the original owner is dead. A photo agency no longer exists.

[...] Reclearing rights is a major priority today at WGBH because the station has seen the future and its name is streaming. This means putting online as many of its greatest hits as possible to snag more viewers who want to watch whenever they want.

The station has a trove of jewels aired over half a century that remain sequestered in its archives. WGBH wants to give them new life because it wants them to give WGBH new life.

[...] The success of this strategy will depend on the station’s ability to raise money from foundations, private donors, and the parent Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Finding money for initial releases is hard enough. Getting money for rereleases in this economy will be brutal.

And then the fun begins.

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