July 2008

How far is Wisconsin from Sacramento?

US man charged for shooting mower

A 56-year-old man from the Midwestern US state of Wisconsin has been arrested after shooting his lawn mower in his garden because it would not start.

Dead Kennedys - A Child And His Lawnmower

Our appetite for alarm

Jonathan Calder recommends Matthew Parriss A-Z of scare stories:

Video Nasties. Tremendous alarm about these in the 1980s, leading to fairly pointless legislation on certification. The replacement of videotape with DVDs has robbed headline writers of a slick hyphenation opportunity.

I cant comment on the cider, though.

Fixing a broken model

The UK government has brokered a deal between ISPs and the music industry in which ISPs will send angry letters to people who download music illegally. The letters won’t include any threats and, if people choose to ignore them nothing will happen. So it all looks like a pretty pointless exercise.

The deal also obliges ISPs to develop their own legal online music services although why they think anyone will use them – especially when you consider that several such services already exist – is unclear, to say the least.

It should go without saying that if someone creates content professionally they should be able to draw an income from their work. It’s also clear that the current music industry model of distributing music on physical objects is looking increasingly broken.

It’s also worth noting that ISPs have expressed concerns about rising bandwidth demands caused by – among other things – filesharing.

It strikes me, therefore, that there is an opportunity here to kill two birds with one stone by recognising that filesharing will continue and building a business model around this fact.

Such a scheme would involve ISPs offering two packages: a cheap, limited bandwidth one which would be sufficient for general use and a more expensive, very high or unlimited bandwidth package. The ISPs would then need to negotiate with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) so that a percentage of the revenue is handed over to the PRS to be distributed to musicians in the same way that they handle licensing fees from TV and radio.

Such a scheme would need no policing – either you stay within your bandwidth quota or you pay more – and would ensure that musicians are paid for their work without anyone having to be threatened with anything.

Theres always one

With hindsight it was probably inevitable that, following the news that the current mayor of Aberystwyth, is trying to overturn a near 30-year ban imposed by the town on Monty Python’s Life of Brian, some ignorant fundamentalist would demand that the ban be kept in place. So step forward Reverend Stuart Bell, Rector of St Michael’s Church.

The reverend hasnt seen the film, and doesnt want you to either. Of course, if he hasnt seen the film it does beg the question of what exactly he finds offensive about it.

(Reposted from Gagwatch)

Star Trek headline of the week

Borg seeks to cut overcapacity in the European fishing fleet


The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a treaty being negotiated by Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United States. Despite the name, the treatys main concern is not just the protection of brand names against generic knock-offs, but also the protection of intellectual property.

The problem is that this treaty is being negotiated in secret, so no-one knows what is going to be in it. That said, the few available indications are so ominous that the Free Software Foundation has launched a campaign (via) to raise public awareness of the possibilities.

Although the proposed treaty’s title might suggest that the agreement deals only with counterfeit physical goods (such as medicines), what little information has been made available publicly by negotiating governments about the content of the treaty makes it clear that it will have a far broader scope, and in particular, will deal with new tools targeting “Internet distribution and information technology”.

What we know so far is that the proposed agreement would empower security officials at airports and other international borders to conduct random searches of laptops, MP3 players, and cellular phones for illegally downloaded or ripped music and films. Travellers with infringing content would be subject to a fine and may have their devices confiscated or destroyed.

A document leaked to Wikileaks also includes a provision to force Internet service providers to provide information about suspected copyright infringers without a warrant, making it easier for the record industry to sue music file sharers and for officials to shut down non-commercial BitTorrent websites.

As it stands, the proposals look very much like a shopping list from groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, both of which have been lobbying governments in the United States and other countries for similar measures for years. And the agreement is completely out of control even before the negotiations are concluded as it would create its own governing body. So existing international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations would have no oversight.

Viacom: We own EVERYTHING

Not content with going fishing for potential copyright violations on YouTube, Viacom are also claiming copyright for videos they don’t own (via).

Juxtaposer is an original animation made by Joanna Davidovich for her senior project. She copyrighted the film in 2006 and says that she only entered into distribution agreements that were nonexclusive.

And now she’s received a notification from YouTube that Viacom has made a copyright ownership claim to the film. She is, of course, disputing the claim and has documentation to support her case but – while the dispute is in progress - Viacom gets access to her video statistics.

Digging around a bit, it looks like the claim is a result of over-reliance on automated copyright claiming - either on the part of Viacom itself or a result of YouTubes Video Identification Tool casting its net too widely. But Viacom does have form with these sorts of claims.

With Viacom sending more than 160,000 DMCA takedown notices, it may not even be aware which videos it told YouTube to remove, said the EFF. If thats right, then Viacom will inevitably end up censoring some perfectly legitimate videos—surely, the MoveOn/Brave New Films video is not the only example of a fair use that got caught in Viacoms driftnet.

Obviously, copyright owners do have every right to protect their intellectual property. However, the approach being taken by groups such as Viacom and YouTube is to assume that everyone is stealing everything; and when they start automating on this basis, these sorts of false positives become inevitable.

Being on the receiving end of a baseless accusation isnt pleasant and this sort of behaviour is going to deter creators from sharing their content.

Ultimately, the burden of proof has to be on the copyright owner, not the accused, and accusing everyone and hoping for the best is neither a viable nor a reasonable approach to protecting intellectual property.

Judith Iscariot attempts to save Brian

The actress who played Judith Iscariot in Monty Pythons Life of Brian became the mayor of Aberystwyth this year. And in one of those quirks of fate, it turns out that the film has been banned in this particular seaside resort for the past 30 years.

Not surprisingly, Sue Jones-Davies (for it is she) is seeking to overturn the ban.

It appears that the ban was recommended back in 1979 by a committee made up of church leaders and, once the fuss had died down, no-one in the councils licensing department remembered it was in place. But its always useful to remind ourselves where pandering to religious sensitivities leads - doubly so as Aberystwyth was where I spent my student years.

Found at Pharyngula

Anglicans embrace the Dark Side

The Wes Craven Project

Sarah, from the Shameless Films forums is embarking upon a PhD that will be focusing on Wes Craven as both a director and a producer, looking at the influence his career has exerted over the American horror film industry as it stands today. Her research will be taking in both close textual analysis of the films and industrial-economic research in order to look at Craven as both an artist and a business. As part of this is Craven as a brand name and public reactions to him as a director and producer.

Part of this research includes a blog (via) on which she will discuss Cravens films and musings on how they fit into the American horror genre and invite comments and feedback. Go take a look.