Catching up

Damn I’ve got a lot of writing to do

Rather than write the 70-some ramblings that I have in the backlog, I’ve decided to cut away at it little by little, condensing what would otherwise take me forever to write…

Live Journal and the Law

Yeah, this one was a while ago. SixApart bought LiveJournal and shortly afterwards required that children under 13 get parental approval when signing up for a new account by having them fill out part of the registration. This is because of COPPA — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act — which requires parents to approve what youngsters do online. Many people complained — too easy to get around it, too many kids who are mature enough to decide for themselves what they want to do online are now impeded, kids in threatened homes who blog their predicaments would be blocked…

I looked at the numbers from late last year to now. The number of blogs for people under age 13 looks like it went down a bit, maybe 10% down in 10 months, so maybe there has been an impact (but why are there 681,594 blogs for people age 5?). As much as I want kids to have a sense of agency — a way to speak for themselves, do what they want — I really have to side on the law on this case. It’s not because of the threat to kids, but rather the threat to LiveJournal and their kind. Without clear limits of liability, companies won’t make things like LiveJournal, or a barrage of lawsuits could quickly put them out of business by parents who blame LJ for the terrible things that happen to their children as a result. Worse yet, without clear liability, companies will bitch and moan endlessly until they get that protection.

I’m not advocating more protection for companies either. There’s a fine line between how much companies like LiveJournal is responsible for what happens on their site versus how much freedom individual users have. You can wave this off, saying companies have control over the legislative process and decide what the law should be. I’m not that extreme, but I still think companies are rightfully scared of being sued. COPPA may not be ideal, but it represents the kind of debate we need to have about issues like liability for when children go online. Of course, parents should be aware of what their children are doing online in the first place, so maybe COPPA isn’t very useful at all…

The Fiona Apple Debacle

Does anyone remember Fiona Apple? That song “Criminal” that was her one hit wonder? Her latest album has hit the Internet before it was released to the stores. The funny thing is it’s not even on the slate for release. If you believe the rumors, Epic, her record label (owned by Sony), asked her to come up with a radio hit that she hasn’t been able to provide. Epic’s official statement is something like, “we’re awaiting the new album just like her fans.”

If the album still gets released, will it be a success? Who will buy it? If the album is a flop, then the spin will be because the songs were released online before its commercial release. If the album is successful, then it must have been because of online “marketing” — that is, its release on the file sharing networks. Nobody wins in situations like these. The reality is that the album will be successful if it has good songs and if the fans like it. Remember when Moby whined that nobody bought his album “18” because they were downloading it instead? The album sucked. That’s why we didn’t buy it. Similarly, Fiona’s album will be successful or not on its own merits, not because it was available online. By the way, has anyone heard from Fiona about this? She has remained surprisingly silent through this whole ordeal…

The iPod People

I don’t remember that much from high school. All the Spanish I learned back then has evaporated from my brain. There was band, AP classes. And there was physics. I don’t remember most of physics either except for this one tidbit. Those little earbuds people use to listen to music, like the ones that come with the iPod, is just like putting a fire hose to your mouth for a drink of water. So when I see all the people walking to UC campus with their little white earbuds dangling out of their ears, I can’t help but feel sorry that they’ll have to face the consequences of hearing damage for the rest of their lives. I’ve already damaged my eardrums enough. But given that I really love music, I’ve resigned myself to the lifestyle of the hard of hearing.

Some people complain that the iPod people have tuned themselves out of society by cranking their music, much like the “zombie effect” seen by my friend Sean in reference to people who are detached from reality while working on their laptops in coffee shops. It’s also a class identifier — the people who own an iPod probably also have a computer, Internet access, and more. And then there’s the issues about what iPod means in terms of sources of culture — whether it closes or expands individuals’ music horizons as a result. And what does this mean for radio when people can listen to music of their choice wherever they want?

I’m most worried about a generation of deaf people. It’s going to happen too — we’re already working on a generation of people with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Someday we’ll be able to understand the consequences of an iPod nation, but for now I’m content to speculate. Give it a little time and there will be iPods with extra volume boost for the hearing impared. And if someone can try and sue McDonalds for making him fat (and lose), someone will sue Apple for making him or her go deaf.

The Family Movie Act vs. the ART Act

The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 was just passed into law. Did anyone else notice this? ClearPlay is a company that makes systems that skip over naughty bits in DVDs so families can watch the movies without fear of exposing themselves or their children to sex, violence, and Michael Moore. Think of it like a template that knows when all the bad scenes occur then skips over them automatically. They were sued in 2000 by Hollywood (specifically by eight movie studios, sixteen directors, and the Directors Guild of America) because they thought ClearPlay’s system was violating copyright and trademark laws. The Copyright Office ruled that this wasn’t infringement because there was no modification to the underlying work, among other reasons.

Congress stepped in to clear this up. The Family Movie Act explicitly grants companies like ClearPlay exemption from prosecution as long as they don’t modify the original work itself — in this case, the DVD — among other guidelines. That’s nice if you don’t like four letter words, nudity, violence, or Jar Jar Binks. And I can’t really sympathize with the directors and Hollywood — this will probably open a new market for their movies, further adding to their wealth.

But this bill was more than the Family Movie Act. It also was the Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention Act of 2005 or ART Act. This smattering of legalese makes recording movies in a movie theater illegal including selling the resulting recording, reproducing the work, or distributing copies on a computer network. The best way to deal with a problem is to make it illegal rather than change your business model to accommodate the Internet, right?

Does anyone else notice the glaring differences between these two parts of the bill? One gives the movie industry strong prosecution rights against people trying to record movies in theaters. The other gives companies and individuals the right to “edit” movies for home viewing, to the dismay of the movie industry. You gotta wonder what was going on behind the scenes here. “We’ll give you the ART Act if the Fundies can have their sanitized DVD viewing.” Heh…

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