More Jurisdiction

Yahoo defends obeying Chinese lawpdf

Yahoo Inc. on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the Internet company by civil rights advocates, arguing that it had become unfairly ensnared in a political debate over free speech in China.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company is fighting efforts to hold it accountable for the imprisonment and alleged torture of two Chinese citizens after it disclosed their identities to government officials. Yahoo says its Chinese subsidiaries did so to comply with the Chinese government’s rules.

[…] This is a political and diplomatic issue, not a legal one,” Yahoo spokeswoman Kelley Benander said. “The real issue here is the plaintiffs’ outrage at the behavior and laws of the Chinese government. The U.S. court system is not the forum for addressing these political concerns.”

Now *there’s* an interesting question!

You Have To Mean It If You Set It To Music

Unauthorized Enjoyment of Song Irks Law Firm

It sounds like the setup for a joke: a law firm picks a fight with a legal blogger over the leak of an internal song celebrating — well, itself.

First, the song: after the law firm Nixon Peabody was named to Fortune magazine’s 2007 list of the best companies to work for, the firm, which has 700 lawyers, commissioned a celebratory anthem with an infectious 1980s-style beat and a sing-along chorus, “Everyone’s a Winner at Nixon Peabody.”

The lyrics, sung in a kind of Earth, Wind & Fire style, include: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s all about the team, it’s all about respect, it all revolves around integrity.”

But what began as an innocent instance of corporate self-congratulation has turned into a minor Internet sensation and earned the firm a bit of a black eye, with bloggers poking fun at the song and criticizing Nixon Peabody’s response to its leak.

[…] Mr. Gerhard asked Mr. Lat to take down the song, but he refused, saying his playing of it fell under the fair-use provisions of the law. Though Mr. Gerhard said the firm did not “intend to let this thing lie,” Mr. Lat says he did not receive a cease-and-desist letter. By Friday, YouTube had removed the song, noting that it had received a copyright violation notice.

[…] But if Nixon Peabody had hoped to squelch the song’s spreading, it had acted too late. Scores of other blogs have since commented on the song and the firm’s response. Another YouTube user has created a second video, using only a minute-long snippet of the song and saying that his use was firmly protected by laws governing parody.

Like the video’s tagline says, “Fair use is a bitch.”

OT: I Wonder What Changed His Mind??

Embattled Attorney General Resigns

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not announced immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Also Attorney General Gonzales resigns: official; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Resigns

The Power of the Platform

When demand and distribution meet, businesses either face up to the change or lose out: ‘South Park’ Creators Win Ad Sharing in Deal

To Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators and executive producers of “South Park,” Comedy Central’s most lucrative franchise, the clip ought to have been blazing its authorized way around the Internet, its flouting of social norms picking up ad revenue with every set of eyeballs. Instead, the clip was easy to find, but it wasn’t making any money for its rightful owners.

“If I’m overseas and have to get an episode right away,” Mr. Stone lamented, “you literally have to go to an illegal download site.”

Because of the slow entry into the digital realm of Viacom, Comedy Central’s parent, and an almost crippling deal point in Mr. Stone’s and Mr. Parker’s contract, the lewd, rude, crudely animated and mordantly funny series — one that began with a viral video before the term even existed — has barely had a presence as an avalanche of user-generated entertainment hit the Web. Meanwhile, sites like YouTube met the demand for free “South Park” clips without paying for the privilege.

Now, however, Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker and their bosses at Comedy Central, a unit of Viacom’s MTV Networks, are attempting to leapfrog to the vanguard of Hollywood’s transition into Web. In a joint venture that involves millions in up-front cash and a 50-50 split of ad revenues, the network and the two creative partners have agreed to create a hub to spread “South Park”-related material across the Net, mobile platforms, and video games.

[…] [The deal] also creates an entity called SouthParkStudios.com, to be housed in the show’s animation studio in Culver City, Calif., that is intended to be an incubator not only for new applications for characters the likes of Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny, but for new comedy concepts that could one day mature into TV series of their own.

All told, people involved in the deal confirm that it is worth some $75 million to Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone over the next four years. But what is likely to draw the most attention in Hollywood is not the richness of the pact, but the network’s willingness to share its advertising revenue.

Television networks have long maintained a wall between ad revenue and the compensation they pay the talent.

Later: Digital ‘South Park’

Micropayments?

This article makes a weird claim that I frankly don’t buy, but it is an interesting exploration of the rhetorical games surrounding the deployment of new technologies: In Online World, Pocket Change Is Not Easily Spent

The idea of micropayments — charging Web users tiny amounts of money for single pieces of online content — was essentially put to sleep toward the end of the dot-com boom. In December 2000, Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program, wrote a manifesto that people still cite whenever someone suggests resurrecting the idea. Micropayments will never work, he wrote, mainly because “users hate them.”

But wait. Amid the disdain, and without many people noticing, micropayments have arrived — just not in the way they were originally envisioned. The 99 cents you pay for a song on iTunes is a micropayment. So are the tiny amounts that some operators of small Web sites earn whenever someone clicks on the ads on their pages. Some stock-photography companies sell pictures for as little as $1 each.

“Micropayments are here,” said Benjamin M. Compaine, a consultant and lecturer at Northeastern University who specializes in media economics, “they just have not evolved in the way that everybody expected.”

If you say so, I guess. But it’s hard to argue that what’s discussed here is micropayments, unless we want to redefine the term entirely.

A Jurisdiction Spat

Humane Society Has Its Sights on Amazon.com

The online bookstore sells subscriptions to two cockfighting magazines, The Feathered Warrior and The Gamecock, even though cockfighting has been declared illegal in all states (until Louisiana’s ban takes effect next summer, the activity remains legal in parts of the state).

After trying in vain to persuade Amazon to stop selling the publications, the Humane Society filed a civil lawsuit in District of Columbia Superior Court asserting that the Web company violates animal cruelty laws and that the magazines, which run advertisements for blades that attach to birds’ legs, are effectively catalogs for illegal goods.

But Amazon says the suit amounts to censorship. “These materials are legal to sell, and we do not believe we should act as a censor because their message is objectionable to some people,” said Patty Smith, a spokeswoman for Amazon, adding that her company sells subscriptions to more than 90,000 magazines. “With our incredible selection of titles, we’re bound to sell something that someone will find objectionable.”

SEO, Newspapers and Persistence of Memory (updated)

When Bad News Follows You

A BUSINESS strategy of The New York Times to get its articles to pop up first in Internet searches is creating a perplexing problem: long-buried information about people that is wrong, outdated or incomplete is getting unwelcome new life.

People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.

[…] Kraus’s situation is an unhappy byproduct of something called search engine optimization, which The Times has been using to make money by driving traffic to its Web site. Technically complex, search engine optimization pushes Times content to or near the top of search results, regardless of its importance or accuracy.

[…] But what can they do? The choices all seem fraught with pitfalls. You can’t accept someone’s word that an old article was wrong. What if that person who was charged with abusing a child really was guilty? Re-report every story challenged by someone? Impossible, said Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor in charge of the newsroom’s online operation: there’d be time for nothing else.

[…] Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has a different answer to the problem: He thinks newspapers, including The Times, should program their archives to “forget” some information, just as humans do. Through the ages, humans have generally remembered the important stuff and forgotten the trivial, he said. The computer age has turned that upside down. Now, everything lasts forever, whether it is insignificant or important, ancient or recent, complete or overtaken by events.

Following Mayer-Schönberger’s logic, The Times could program some items, like news briefs, which generate a surprising number of the complaints, to expire, at least for wide public access, in a relatively short time. Articles of larger significance could be assigned longer lives, or last forever.

See also Rewriting history: Should editors delete or alter online content?; also Slate’s counterpoint: Blaming the Times for Your Bad Reputation; also Blaming the Times for Your Bad Reputation, Part 2

As I previously wrote, you may think reputation belongs to you, but it doesn’t. It lives inside the heads of other people, and now inside Google. It’s their possession. If you want to change it, do something to convince people and the Web that you aren’t who they think you are.

The Mechanics of Testing Surveillance’s Legality

Spying Program May Be Tested by Terror Case

Lawyers for Mr. Aref say they have proof that he was subjected to illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency, pointing to a classified order from the trial judge, unusual testimony from an F.B.I. agent and court documents concerning the calls to Syria.

If they are right, the case may represent the best chance for an appellate ruling about the legality of the N.S.A. program, which monitored the international communications of people in the United States without court approval. Unlike earlier and pending appeals disputing the program, all of them in civil cases, Mr. Aref’s challenge can draw on the constitutional protections available to criminal defendants.

In the civil cases, appeals courts have confronted significant threshold questions, including whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue.

“There are dodges available in civil cases that just aren’t available in criminal cases,” said Corey Stoughton, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has filed supporting briefs in the case. “This case might be able to put this issue to the test.”

[…] The case is significant in a second way, as a vivid illustration of a new form of pre-emptive law enforcement intended to stop terrorism before it happens, even at the expense of charges of entrapment.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has an obligation to use all available investigative tools,” prosecutors wrote in a brief urging the court to impose harsh sentences in February, “including a sting operation, to remove those ready and willing to help terrorists from our streets.”

[…] Terence L. Kindlon, a lawyer for Mr. Aref, saw the matter differently.

“The F.B.I. case was a hoax that grew out of the Bush administration’s misuse of fear to turn our democracy into a dictatorship,” Mr. Kindlon said.

A Look At Steampunk “Artifacts”

The age of steampunkpdf

Steampunk has its roots in science fiction literature, where it describes a corner of the genre obsessed with Victoriana and the idea that the computer age evolved alongside the industrial. Steampunk stories, which started appearing with regularity in the 1980s, eschew clean and orderly visions of the future in favor of gas-lighted streets, steam engines belching toxic smoke, and dastardly villains inventing strange technologies. Dirigibles rule the air, and the upper classes employ clockwork servants to serve their meals.

In the past two years, though, steampunk has emerged in the real world, as Datamancer and a growing number of enthusiasts build steampunk objects and then share photos of them on the Internet. One of the first was the appearance last summer of a group of robots designed by the San Francisco Bay Area artist I-Wei Huang: They look like 19th-century locomotives with legs and are literally steam powered. This year alone has produced steampunk watches from Japan (bizarre assemblages of rusted brass, cracked leather, and antique watch faces) and a steampunk tree house (a steaming metal tree that houses a main room with all manner of secret compartments and drawers) at the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. There is even steampunk fashion, such as a combination dress/overalls adorned with gears and belt loops for every lady’s steampunk tools.

In their embrace of the toothy cog and the sooty pipe, this guild of steampunk hackers represents a rebellion of sorts against our iPhone moment. […]

A Reminder

A nation of outlawspdf (for insights into American’s resolution of these issues, see Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism)

Politicians are belatedly putting China on notice. Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia delivered one of the more stinging counterattacks last month, warning that the United States “must be vigilant about protecting the values we hold dear” in the face of China’s depredations.

His anger reflects the mounting disgust with how recklessly China plies its trade, apparently without regard for the things that make commerce not only dependable but possible: respect for intellectual property, food and drug purity, and basic product safety. With each tawdry revelation, China’s brand of capitalism looks increasingly menacing and foreign to our own sensibilities.

That’s a tempting way to see things, but wrong. What’s happening halfway around the world may be disturbing, even disgraceful, but it’s hardly foreign. A century and a half ago, another fast-growing nation had a reputation for sacrificing standards to its pursuit of profit, and it was the United States.

See also A tragic lessonpdf