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15 Mar 18:16

Once at the vanguard of national policy, California plays defense under Trump

by Char Miller, W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pomona College
A San Diego rally against a scheduled visit by President Donald Trump. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

On March 13, President Donald Trump inspected towering border wall prototypes at the U.S.-Mexico border during the two-day trip to California – his first to the Golden State since the November 2016 election.

Surely he did not expect a warm welcome. Not only did Trump lose the state by more than 4 million votes, but his trip comes hard on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department against the state of California in federal court to strike down legislative initiatives to protect immigrants and block their enforcement.

It was Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, who offered a very public rebuttal to Washington’s move. Unfurling the Constitution’s 10th Amendment, he asserted that the states, not federal officials, are the final authority on public safety.

“We believe we are in full compliance with the federal constitution and federal law,” Becerra said.

This is the latest evidence that Becerra is the Golden State’s face of resistance to the Trump administration’s policies – especially its attempts to roll back progressive immigration and environmental policies that are central to California’s identity.

Becerra is mounting a rearguard action because he has little choice. Even so, his defensive posture runs counter to the no-holds-barred approach that defined California’s post-World War II drive for economic growth and social justice.

Challenging Trump

Becerra is the hardworking son of immigrants and the first in his family to go to college. He finished law school in 1984, was elected to the state assembly, and then served in the state’s Department of Justice before winning an impressive 12 terms to the U.S. House of Representatives.

California’s first Latino attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has taken a defiant – and, by necessity, a defensive – tone vis a vis Washington. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

His personal story is etched into his staunch advocacy for the poor and marginalized – a stark contrast to the president’s silver-spoon background. It is no wonder Gov. Jerry Brown tapped Becerra to replace newly elected Sen. Kamala Harris as attorney general in January 2017. Becerra became the first Latino to hold this office in California.

Becerra’s tough-minded approach to his latest job has made him a frequent and forceful critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. He has also championed a kind of states-rights environmentalism by attacking the administration’s attempts to gut clean air and water regulations, destroy California’s green energy economy, and undercut protections for national forests, parks, grasslands and refuges.

Becerra’s relentlessness earned him praise from the environmental magazine Grist as “The Planet’s Lawyer.”

California’s cultural clout

Becerra’s defensive strategy is born from what historian Kevin Starr argued in his magisterial study of California is the state’s particular genius: It is the “best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life.”

The Sequoia National Monument is one of the national monuments the Trump administration has put under review, which the state is fighting. David Prasad/flickr, CC BY-SA

Fueled by a generous stream of tax dollars, in the 1960s and 1970s the state’s educational systems became the envy of the world. Its high-speed highways, highly engineered water systems, agricultural productivity, artistic energy and technological creativity inspired visitors from near and far.

Today, its many benefits are broadly accessible: Beaches are public, parks and open spaces plentiful. Higher education is relatively cheap. Here, democracy has flourished, or at least it could do so. Where it has not, people fought to ensure that it would.

Since the mid-20th century, for example, thousands of migrant farm workers in the Central, Salinas and Imperial valleys have picked cotton, harvested fruits, nuts and produce. They have endured oppressive conditions for decades, but when they formed the United Farm Workers of America in the early 1960s and launched the first nationwide grape boycott, they gained an important measure of control over their lives.

So have Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women and people in the LGBTQ community. Although their struggle to secure increased rights and opportunities did not always originate in California, and although there were setbacks along the way, their arguments gained greater political visibility, social currency, and cultural clout when manifest on the coast. The state, as Kevin Starr once asserted, nurtured everyone’s golden dreams.

Setting pace on public health

Even those who dreamed of blue skies. It has also taken decades to scrub the state’s polluted air, as grassroots activists, educators, scientists and some public officials fought long and hard against entrenched opposition in the state capital, among Detroit automakers and within the federal government. But eventually they succeeded in securing what now are the nation’s toughest environmental controls.

It is not by happenstance that the air-monitoring EPA owes its existence to a Californian – President Richard Nixon signed it into law December 1970. Or that the Clean Air Acts grants California the right to institute stricter smog controls than the federal government requires of the rest of the nation.

For all its progress in ameliorating pressing racial, political, social and environmental problems, California today finds itself in a conundrum. To continue to advance what Becerra’s characterizes as the state’s “forward-leaning” mission, it must vigorously defend its past achievements. But the vigor of that defense may complicate its ability to plan for and invest in a future that expands on California’s democratic promise.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on June 17, 2017.

The Conversation

Char Miller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

15 Mar 18:05

Articulate US teenagers could finally force action on gun control

by George Rennie, Lecturer in American Politics and Lobbying Strategies, University of Melbourne

On Wednesday in the US, thousands of students left their classrooms in a national day of action designed to force political change on gun crime. Following the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, this walkout is part of an extraordinary national movement. Young people across the US are doing what countless others have tried and failed to do: using grassroots strategies to take on the powerful gun lobby.

The US has an epidemic of gun crime. Mass shootings occur every day, and school shootings have become so common that over 170 schools and some 150,000 students have been affected by school-based gun violence since 1999.

Beyond the psychological trauma such attacks inflict, these shootings have a profound effect on academic success rates.

Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

And yet, in spite of the overwhelming majority of Americans who want tighter gun control laws, very little is done to stem the presence of guns in schools, or the ability of Americans to access high-powered weaponry with relative ease.

Policy inertia and the NRA

The main reason for this inertia is the extraordinary influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Since it turned to a more aggressive lobbying strategy in the 1970s, the NRA has helped redefine the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, bestowed a divine blessing on guns, and bent half of Congress to its will.

The NRA succeeds because it has created powerful (and mostly false or distorted) narratives to support gun use. It deploys familiar tropes to distract from tragedies. When gun-related tragedy hits, NRA-backed politicians call for “thoughts and prayers”.

The reality of US gun deaths is set against such pro-gun arguments, and each tragedy widens the stark divide between those who associate guns with freedom, and those who see them as devices for terror. So, when others call for legislative action, as they did following the massacre at Sandy Hook and other mass shootings, the gun lobby scolds them for “politicising tragedy”.

But murdered kids are political. Sandy Hook exposed the US to the faces of erstwhile happy kindergarteners, their lives snuffed out by a disturbed young man with easy access to guns. It’s an all-too-familiar story for Americans and, by international comparison, a unique one at that.

Yet the resulting push for change soon turned to despair: many came to believe that if 26 deaths at an elementary school can’t bring Congress to act, nothing can.

Gun laws and the possibility of change

The last last major piece of gun control legislation to pass Congress was the federal assault weapons ban in 1994. It was specifically designed to reduce the incidence of mass shootings, and targeted the enhanced killing power of assault rifles. But, under sustained attack from the gun lobby, the ban expired under its “sunset clause”.

Since then, the one major piece of gun legislation in the US, in spite of the national rise in mass and school shootings, has been an act designed to protect gun manufacturers in 2005.

Now, for the first time in decades, there is a real possibility that some gun controls might be implemented. The NRA, as well as numerous politicians associated with it, are facing significant pressure to act.

Recent news footage showed Senator Marco Rubio and the NRA’s Dana Loesh publicly sparring with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, to a chorus of boos and jeers. Millions witnessed their discomfort.

This has already led to some action by states. Florida is looking to pass age restrictions and waiting periods for gun purchases, and Oregon has imposed gun prohibitions on domestic abusers and those with restraining orders.

Even President Donald Trump, who has been keen to show off his pro-gun credentials in the past, has recognised the public outcry. He has called for regulation of bump-stocks and age restrictions (though he is wavering on both).

The high school advocates

The reason gun control looks possible right now is largely due to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Beyond the pressure they have been applying directly to the NRA and politicians, the students have been busy using advocating on social media, writing op-eds, organising rallies and walkouts, making media appearances, and pressuring companies to drop support for the NRA or pro-gun politicians.

As a result of these efforts, the students are presenting important, emotionally powerful counter-narratives to those of the gun lobby. They are offering examples of successful gun control and pointing out that guns in schools are the problem, not the solution. They are also forming a coalition in opposition to the well-organised 2-4 million members of the NRA and affiliated organisations.

Whether these efforts are successful or not will depend largely on whether they are sustained. This is why the gun lobby calls for “hopes and prayers” and to not “politicise tragedy”. These are stalling tactics: if the NRA can wait it out, while at the same time applying pressure to its political allies, nothing gets done.

However, the gun lobby has not faced a political force like this before. While it is inevitable that media attention will eventually wane, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and around the country have access to tools — such as social media — that circumvent traditional outlets. They also have the ability to draw the national spotlight back, especially via their use of rallies and walkouts.

These tactics reinvigorate the Democratic base and ratchet up the pressure on the Republicans, already jittery following a string of shock political losses.

If the passion and dedication they have shown so far is sustained, especially as the congressional midterm elections approach, the young people of the US might just be able do what no one has done in decades, and force action on gun control.

This article has been update to correct the statement that the federal assault weapons ban followed the Columbine school shooting.

The Conversation

George Rennie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

15 Mar 17:49

Zero tolerance discipline policies won't fix school shootings

by Derek W. Black, Professor of Law, University of South Carolina
The Trump administration aims to revisit school discipline policies. Roman Bodnarchuk/Shutterstock

As outrage over the Parkland school shooting persists, lawmakers are looking for actual policy solutions. Unfortunately, they sometimes misunderstand or misuse the facts that should drive policy.

The Trump administration and its supporters are latching onto school discipline reform as the solution. But by reform, they do not mean improving school climate, ensuring fairness or getting students the mental and social services they need. They mean doing away with the school discipline reform the Obama administration helped spur. They mean doubling down on zero tolerance. Last week, Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio went so far as to write that “federal guidance may have contributed to systemic failures to report Nikolas Cruz’s dangerous behaviors to local law enforcement.” Cruz is accused of carrying out the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Rubio is referencing a 2014 memo by the Department of Education and Department of Justice under President Barack Obama. The memo placed some limits on zero tolerance and encouraged school districts to adopt proactive research-based approaches to student misbehavior. It took over a decade, but social scientists and educators began convincing policymakers that the country had made a mistake with its zero tolerance discipline policies.

Trump officials and supporters think — or would have people believe — that the new push to improve school discipline had something to do with the Parkland shooting. It didn’t. And getting rid of research-based approaches to discipline is, in my opinion as a professor of law and education policy, an even worse idea than arming school teachers.

What really works and doesn’t

But powerful stories drive perception and policy. The stories that get told and retold eventually come to matter just as much as research. So here’s a story that runs counter to the Trump adminstration’s current narrative that stronger discipline is the answer. On Sept. 28, 2016, a 14-year-old boy in Ashland City, Tennessee, entered his school with a gun. His plan was to kill teachers and a police officer. But he stopped by his guidance counselor’s office first. After 45 minutes, the guidance counselor, Molly Hudgens, talked him into giving her the gun. She said her training in de-escalation allowed her to persuade him. The local sheriff said: “She did something even the most experienced law enforcement officer might not do. Had she not been there, it could have been very different.”

The aftermath of Columbine also offers its own lessons. In the panic that followed, the nation ratcheted up its school punishments. Not only would students be expelled for bringing guns and drugs to school, they would be expelled for things like “habitual disruption” and disrespect. Some schools went so far as to suspend students for chewing Pop-Tarts into the shape of guns and for playing games like cops and robbers when they include imaginary guns.

As I detail in my book, “Ending Zero Tolerance,” the results of harsh discipline policies have been disappointing to say the least. If zero tolerance was an effective deterrent, it would have eventually caused suspensions to decline, while safety and achievement increased. But suspension rates steadily increased across time. By 2011, schools were suspending and expelling 3.5 million students a year. For African-American students, the rate of suspension increased by 60 percent. Most of these suspensions and expulsions were for relatively minor misbehavior. For instance, fewer than 10 percent of those suspensions and expulsions involved guns or drugs. And the incidental effects were equally disturbing.

How suspensions impact schools

Research has shown that high suspension rates are related to lower academic achievement, including for the well-behaved students that suspensions purportedly protect. One of the reasons is that when schools regularly suspend students for minor misbehavior, they alter the overall student body’s perception of school. Students no longer see school officials making the learning environment safe or orderly. They see school officials acting punitively toward their friends, family and peers.

And when students see a school’s discipline approach as overly strict or harsh, they see school authority as arbitrary and unfair. When student bystanders see schools suspend friends who are struggling due to factors beyond their control – such as homelessness, poverty, abuse or a disability — students come to see suspension and expulsion as downright perverse. These perceptions produce more chaos, not less.

Parkland, to its credit, had been providing students with services and support, rather than jumping straight to suspensions and expulsions. It had recognized the shooter’s struggles well before the tragedy and attempted to connect him with social supports, before finally expelling him last year. Regardless, students from Parkland aren’t claiming that the school’s discipline philosophy was related to this tragedy. It is politicians, who do not know what they are talking about, who make this claim. These voices would have us repeat the zero tolerance craze that followed Columbine.

Progressive versus punitive

As I warned in my book, “No matter how much progress is made at the federal, state, and local levels in the coming years, harsh discipline and zero tolerance will almost certainly persist.” So discipline reformers should not assume they had secured victory simply because the Obama administration had adopted a progressive school discipline memo. Now the fight for sane discipline has returned to their doorsteps.

Training and supportive approaches to discipline cannot guarantee school shootings won’t happen, but research says the best chance of reducing violence, and also improving the overall academic achievement and environment of schools, rests in rejecting punitive school discipline and replacing it with supportive systems. If we abandon the progressive steps that schools are taking, we will consign students to a darker world, not a safer one.

The Conversation

Derek W. Black does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

15 Mar 17:20

Google launches "plus codes": open geocodes for locations that don't have street addresses

by Cory Doctorow

In much of the world, addresses are difficult to convey because they refer to locations on unnamed streets, in unnumbered buildings, in unincorporated townships, sometimes in disputed national boundaries (I have often corresponded with people in rural Costa Rica whose addresses were "So-and-so, Road Without Name, 300m west of the bus stop, village, nearest town, region"). (more…)

15 Mar 17:18

Study finds that for-pay scholarly journals contribute virtually nothing to the papers they publish

by Cory Doctorow

In the open access debate, advocates for traditional, for-profit scholarly journals often claim that these journals add value to the papers they publish in the form of editorial services that improve their readability and clarity. (more…)

15 Mar 17:15

A high school teacher accidentally fired his gun in class, injures 3 students

by Jason Weisberger

Highly trained with firearms, Police reservist Dennis Alexander was teaching his high school class about gun safety when the handgun accidentally went off. Splintered fragments of the bullet ricocheted off of the ceiling and hit three students.

Guns do not belong on campus.

Via SF Gate:

A teacher who also serves as a reserve police officer accidentally fired a gun inside a Seaside High School classroom Tuesday, police said, and three students were injured.

Dennis Alexander was teaching a course about gun safety for his Administration of Justice class when his gun went off at 1:20 p.m.

Teachers are not legally allowed to have firearms in California classrooms, even if they have a concealed carry permit.

Alexander, who is a reserve officer for the Sand City Police Department, was pointing his gun at the ceiling when it fired. Pieces of the ceiling fell to the ground.

A press release from the Seaside Police Department said no one suffered "serious injuries." One 17-year-old boy suffered moderate injuries when fragments from the bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and lodged into his neck, the student's father, Fermin Gonzales, told KSBW.

The teacher had just told the class that he wanted to make sure his gun wasn't loaded, when the gun fired, according to Gonzales.

15 Mar 17:15

Scenes from today's national gun control student walkout

by Cory Doctorow

Today at 10AM local time, students across America walked out of their classes for 17 minutes, in memoriam of the 17 students murdered in the Parkland massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, exactly one month ago. (more…)

15 Mar 17:10

Someone tracked all the songs played on "WKRP in Cincinnati"

by Rusty Blazenhoff

Someone watched reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati, tracked all the songs played on the show, and then put them in this spreadsheet.

Dr. Johnny Fever played the first song played on the show, Ted Nugent's "Queen of the Forest," which marked the end to the previous radio station's format (Muzak/Swing) and the beginning of the new WKRP format (Rock, Punk and Top 40). All right, Cincinnati, it is time for this town to get down! You've got Johnny... Doctor Johnny Fever, and I am burnin' up in here! Whoa! Whoo! We all in critical condition, babies, but you can tell me where it hurts, because I got the healing prescription here from the big 'KRP musical medicine cabinet. Now I am talking about your 50,000 watt intensive care unit, babies! So just sit right down, relax, open your ears real wide and say, "Give it to me straight, Doctor. I can take it!"

Now someone just needs to make this into a Spotify playlist. Who wants to volunteer?

Previously: WKRP in Cincinnati redacted to save on license fees

Thanks, Christopher Bickel!

15 Mar 17:07

Chris Slane's privacy-oriented editorial cartoons are painfully funny

by Cory Doctorow

Online privacy is pretty much a dumpster-fire, but it's a funny dumpster fire in the world of Kiwi editorial cartoonist Chris Slane, whose one-panel strips are hilarious in a kind of oh-shit-we're-doomed kind of way. (more…)

15 Mar 16:35

What are Sorbian Easter Eggs? How are they made, & who are the Sorbs?

by karenanne

Some of the most beautifully decorated Easter Eggs that I’ve ever seen are Sorbian Easter Eggs. My mother introduced us to them when we were children, and she remembered them from her childhood. You see, my Opa, her father, is from Weißwasser… a town in eastern Saxony, Germany..,a town that once belonged to Upper Lusatia [...]

The post What are Sorbian Easter Eggs? How are they made, & who are the Sorbs? appeared first on A German Girl in America.

13 Mar 18:26

Here are five signs that universities are turning into corporations

by Sioux McKenna, Director of PG Studies & Higher Education Studies PhD Co-ordinator, Rhodes University
When paperwork, forms and bureaucracy start to dominate, universities suffer. Stock-asso/Shutterstock

Universities in many parts of the world are buckling under multiple financial, societal and political demands. This has led to increasingly loud calls for what are called “enhanced efficiencies” – a term drawn from the business world.

And some institutions are heeding those calls. They’re drawing wholesale on the logic of the market in their bid to survive. They are becoming administrative universities without truly understanding how such initiatives chip away at the very purpose of higher education: the academic project.

The nature of the academic project differs from institution to institution – some will focus more on workplace employment, others on critical citizenship, and so on. But it will always be about the furthering of knowledge and the development of knowers.

In 2011, Benjamin Ginsberg, political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, argued that US universities were losing hold of the academic project by becoming administrative institutions.

He also showed that as student numbers increased across the US, the number of academics being employed to teach them and guide their research rose at the same or a slightly slower pace. But there was an astounding simultaneous increase in executive positions, usually people with business rather than academic acumen.

Despite these warnings, other countries have followed the US’s lead. South Africa is among them. This is cause for concern for both those inside universities and those in broader society who benefit from having a strong academic sector that fosters sustainable development, builds democracy and contributes to various other public goods.

It is crucial to ensure that the academic project at South African universities is vigorously and bravely safeguarded.

Five signs

South Africa’s universities are turning into administrative institutions for several reasons. They’re dealing with crippling financial constraints; their costs are rising, but state funding is not matching these increases. There’s also a need to decolonise the structure and content of the curriculum.

Massification – the rapid growth of student numbers – is another issue. More than 20% of South Africans aged between 18 and 23 are now at university. The system has to attend to a diverse student body with highly uneven schooling and other prior experiences.

Leaders at many institutions seem to think the solution lies in learning from the world of business and putting more administrative structures in place.

There are five tell-tale signs of the administrative university:

1. New executive positions (and salaries): These positions, almost always prefaced by the words “executive director”, are becoming increasingly common. Their roles are related to everything from human resources to strategic planning to quality assurance. Each comes with a number of support staff – and a lot of meetings.

Individually such posts seem reasonable. Collectively, they shift the institution from university to corporation.

2. Appointments, not elections: In administrative universities deans are appointed by a selection committee, usually with a strong focus on their management skills. They must implement management decisions down into faculties and are often hired on contract with clearly stated performance targets.

Gone is the elected dean, chosen by a specific faculty to offer academic leadership, defend the academic project, and represent the needs and concerns of staff and students to management.

3. Decisions and policies: The moment the “executive management” team is made up of more administrator positions than academic ones, it is unlikely that decisions will primarily serve the academic project. Administrative efficiency, legal compliance and financial sustainability are all vitally important. But decisions and policies around these issues must first and foremost follow the logic of the academic project

4. Regulatory frameworks: Administrative universities love a politically correct catchphrase. In South Africa, the current favourites are transparency and social justice. These terms are then used to justify the implementation of many one-size-fits-all regulatory frameworks which govern every process from admission through to graduation.

Of course decisions need to be transparent, recorded and justified but we also need to make sure that decisions are based on what is fairest in a particular context. It cannot be considered social justice when processes become swathed in bureaucracy with no flexibility to take individual contexts into account in a very uneven society.

5. Quick fixes: Because these administrators set themselves up as being responsible for instilling efficiency into every aspect of the system, there is significant role confusion.

Soon, as Ginsberg showed in the US, administrators are commenting on issues which are entirely entwined with the academic project. Proposed common sense “interventions”, like add-on remedial classes, are advocated as being supportive. But they actually fly in the face of well documented teaching and learning research.

Bureaucratic bloat

This article is not an attack on the dedicated individual administrators who help universities run smoothly. They are as crucial to keeping institutions going as academic staff. And they, just like academic staff, become badly overburdened in an overly administrative university. The issue is that introducing significant, expensive administrative structures too often comes at the cost of the pursuit and development of knowledge.

The blame for this bloat of bureaucracy doesn’t only rest with executive administrators. Academics have ceded the academic project to the empty rhetoric of efficiency. For academics to collectively resist these processes, they need to put up their hands to take on leadership roles and to participate in processes aimed at keeping the academic project as their university’s central driving logic.

The Conversation

Sioux McKenna receives funding from the National Research Foundation for research on institutional differentiation in South African Higher Education.

13 Mar 18:16

Trump's military parade planned for Veterans' Day. No tanks. And, no thanks.

by Xeni Jardin

President Donald Trump's fantasy war parade will come to life on Veterans Day, and you're paying for it.


13 Mar 18:13

Why Youtube's algorithms push extreme content on every possible subject

by Clive Thompson

Zeynep Tufekci was researching Trump videos on Youtube back in 2016 when she noticed something funny: Youtube began recommending and autoplaying increasingly extreme right-wing stuff -- like white-supremacist Holocaust-denial videos.

So she did an interesting experiment: She set up another Youtube account and began watching videos for the main Democratic presidential contenders, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The result? As Tufecki writes in the New York Times:

Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with.

Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons.

It seems as if you are never “hard core” enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.

This is an incredibly interesting and subtle point: That the problems of Youtube's recommender algorithms might be that they overdistil your preferences. Since they're aiming for "engagement" -- a word I am beginning to loathe with an unsettling level of emotion -- the real problem with these algorithms is they're constantly aiming to create an epic sense of drama and newness. At the tail-ends of this bimodal attentional landscape, only the Xtreme can survive. And of course, this precisely leverages our novelty-seeking psychology, which really does snap to attention when we're presented with intense stuff.

So it's not that Youtube radicalize politics specifically. It radicalizes everything, and politics just gets swept along in the slurry of zomg.

Read the rest of Tufecki's piece -- she's one of the best critics of our algorithmicized world, and this one really nails it.

(CC-licensed image above via Pixabay)

13 Mar 18:05

After copyright wrangle, Scholastic promises better deal for competition entrants

by Rob Beschizza

After 8th-grader Sasha Matthews posted here about the copyright-swiping terms and conditions imposed in Scholastic's annual Art & Writing Awards, the group says it will no longer demand legal ownership of youngsters' submissions.

Scholastic's competition is a marquee annual event celebrating the creative work of schoolchildren, but its rules assign the company copyright ownership of entries forever. This would allow Scholastic to reuse and profit from the work without the creators' permission--and prevent the creator from stopping them or doing likewise.

Now the company is planning a revision to its rules so that it can use the work, but the kids still own it. Though Scholastic hasn't said exactly what form the new terms and conditions will take, similar events require only a license to use the work.

Nicole Brown writes:

Matthews wrote about the copyright issue for a school assignment and got it published in February on the blog Boing Boing.

Shortly after, the alliance reached out to her dad, letting him know they would review its terms and conditions before next year’s contest.

“The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that administers the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, is currently exploring a revision to the program’s terms & conditions for participants,” McEnerney confirmed.

Photo: Scott Matthews

13 Mar 17:53

A "digital rosetta stone" for translating obsolete computer files

by Rob Beschizza

It's not for the public ("accessible in the Yale library"), but researchers are working on a "universal translator" for old computer files that might otherwise be lost to obsolescence. Jessica Leigh Hester, at Atlas Obscura:

When one CCA visitor wanted to take a look at a CD-ROM-based “multimedia website” produced in conjunction with a 1996 exhibition of work by the architect Benjamin Nicholson, Walsh needed to wind back the clock. He tracked down an old license for Windows NT and installed Netscape Navigator and an old version of Adobe Reader. This all enabled decades-old functionality on a two-year-old HP tower.

This strategy works, but it has drawbacks. “These environments are time-intensive to create, will only run on a local computer, and they typically require a lot of technical know-how to set up and use,” Walsh says. Ad hoc emulation is not for the novice or the busy.

Researchers at Yale are working to solve this problem by creating a kind of digital Rosetta Stone, a universal translator, through an emulation infrastructure that will live online. “A few clicks in your web browser will allow users to open files containing data that would otherwise be lost or corrupted,” said Cochrane, who is now the library’s digital preservation manager. “You’re removing the physical element of it,” says Seth Anderson, the library’s software preservation manager. “It’s a virtual computer running on a server, so it’s not tethered to a desktop.”

Image: Euan Cochrane/CC by 2.0

13 Mar 11:41

You Can Soon Own a HAL 9000 Replica That Uses Amazon Alexa to Control Your Home, Dave

by Andrew Liszewski on Gizmodo, shared by Matt Novak to Paleofuture

As I vaguely recall, 2001: A Space Odyssey might have been trying to tell us something about the dangers of artificial intelligence. But I haven’t seen the movie in years, and instead of morals, all I can remember is how cool HAL9000 seemed, so I’m already fantasizing about making room on my wall for this replica of…


09 Mar 20:46

100 years later, the madness of daylight saving time endures

by Michael Downing, Lecturer in Creative Writing, Tufts University
Unfortunately, there's not an unlimited amount of daylight that we can squeeze out of our clocks. igorstevanovic/

One hundred years after Congress passed the first daylight saving legislation, lawmakers in Florida this week passed the “Sunshine Protection Act,” which will make daylight saving a year-round reality in the Sunshine State.

If approved by the federal government, this will effectively move Florida’s residents one time zone to the east, aligning cities from Jacksonville to Miami with Nova Scotia rather than New York and Washington, D.C.

The cost of rescheduling international and interstate business and commerce hasn’t been calculated. Instead, relying on the same overly optimistic math that led the original proponents of daylight saving to predict vast energy savings, crisper farm products harvested before the morning dew dried and lessened eye strain for industrial workers, Florida legislators are lauding the benefits of putting “more sunshine in our lives.”

It’s absurd – and fitting – that a century later, opponents and supporters of daylight saving are still not sure exactly what it does. Despite its name, daylight saving has never saved anyone anything. But it has proven to be a fantastically effective retail spending plan.

Making the trains run on time

For centuries people set their clocks and watches by looking up at the sun and estimating, which yielded wildly dissimilar results between (and often within) cities and towns.

To railroad companies around the world, that wasn’t acceptable. They needed synchronized, predictable station times for arrivals and departures, so they proposed splitting up the globe into 24 time zones.

In 1883, the economic clout of the railroads allowed them to replace sun time with standard time with no legislative assistance and little public opposition. The clocks were calm for almost 30 years, apart from an annual debate in the British Parliament over whether to pass a Daylight Saving Act. While proponents argued that shoving clocks ahead during summer months would reduce energy consumption and encourage outdoor recreation, the opposition won out.

Then, in 1916, Germany suddenly adopted the British idea in hopes of conserving energy for its war effort. Within a year, Great Britain followed suit. And despite fanatical opposition from the farm lobby, so would the United States.

From patriotic duty to moneymaking scheme

A law requiring Americans to lose an hour was confounding enough. But Congress also tacked on the legal mandate for the four continental time zones. The patriotic rationale for daylight saving went like this: Shifting one hour of available light from the very early morning (when most Americans were asleep) would reduce the demand for domestic electrical power used to illuminate homes in the evening, which would spare more energy for the war effort.

On March 19, 1918, Woodrow Wilson signed the Calder Act requiring Americans to set their clocks to standard time; less than two weeks later, on March 31, they would be required to abandon standard time and push their clocks ahead by an hour for the nation’s first experiment with daylight saving.

It didn’t go smoothly. In 1918, Easter Sunday fell on March 31, which led to a lot of latecomers to church services. Enraged rural and evangelical opponents thereafter blamed daylight saving for subverting sun time, or “God’s time.” Newspapers were deluged by letter writers complaining that daylight saving upset astronomical data and made almanacs useless, prevented Americans from enjoying the freshest early morning air, and even browned out lawns unaccustomed to so much daylight.

Within a year, daylight saving was repealed. But like most weeds, the practice thrived by neglect.

In 1920, New York and dozens of other cities adopted their own metropolitan daylight saving policies. The Chamber of Commerce spurred along this movement on behalf of department store owners, who had noticed that later sunset times encouraged people to stop and shop on their way home from work.

By 1965, 18 states observed daylight saving six months a year; some cities and towns in 18 other states observed daylight saving for four, five or six months a year; and 12 states stuck to standard time.

Actress Barbara Lawrence reminds television viewers to set the clock ahead, from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m., on April 29, 1956. AP Photo

This wasn’t exactly ideal. A 35-mile bus trip from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passed through seven distinct local time zones. The U.S. Naval Observatory dubbed the world’s greatest superpower “the world’s worst timekeeper.”

So, in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which mandated six months of standard time and six of daylight saving.

Great for golf – but what about everyone else?

Why do we still do it?

Today we know that changing the clocks does influence our behavior. For example, later sunset times have dramatically increased participation in afterschool sports programs and attendance at professional sports events. In 1920, The Washington Post reported that golf ball sales in 1918 – the first year of daylight saving – increased by 20 percent.

And when Congress extended daylight saving from six to seven months in 1986, the golf industry estimated that extra month was worth as much as US$400 million in additional equipment sales and green fees. To this day, the Nielsen ratings for even the most popular television shows decline precipitously when we spring forward, because we go outside to enjoy the sunlight.

But the promised energy savings – the presenting rationale for the policy – have never materialized.

In fact, the best studies we have prove that Americans use more domestic electricity when they practice daylight saving. Moreover, when we turn off the TV and go to the park or the mall in the evening sunlight, Americans don’t walk. We get in our cars and drive. Daylight saving actually increases gasoline consumption, and it’s a fallacious substitute for genuine energy conservation policy.

Lawmakers in Florida, of all places, ought to know that year-round daylight saving is not such a bright idea – especially in December and January, when most residents of the Sunshine State won’t see sunrise until about 8 a.m.

On Jan. 8, 1974, Richard Nixon forced Floridians and the entire nation into a year-round daylight saving – a vain attempt to stave off an energy crisis and lessen the impact of an OPEC oil embargo.

But before the end of the first month of daylight saving that January, eight children died in traffic accidents in Florida, and a spokesperson for Florida’s education department attributed six of those deaths directly to children going to school in darkness.

Lesson learned? Apparently not.

The Conversation

Michael Downing does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

09 Mar 18:47

Florida students succeed where so many have failed, force state legislature to pass gun control rules despite ferocious NRA lobbying

by Cory Doctorow

On March 7, the Florida legislature passed a gun control bill in a bipartisan 67-50 vote, banning bump-stocks and imposing a 3-day waiting period on long-gun purchases and raising the minimum age for their purchase to 21; the legislation is a mixed bag as it also includes millions to arm and train school employees. (more…)

09 Mar 18:46

Florida lawmakers just approved to keep Daylight Savings Time all year long

by Carla Sinclair

Florida might become the third state – after Hawaii and Arizona – to be done with the hassle of changing their clocks twice a year. Yesterday the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Sunshine Protection Act in under one minute, with only two dissenters. The House had already passed it 103-11 last month. Now it has to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

If Scott passes it, however, it still has to go through Congress before Florida has Daylight Savings Time all year long.

What spurred the creation of this bill? Via Popular Mechanics:

According to the Tampa Bay Times, state senator Greg Steube came up with the idea when he walked into his local barbershop right after the clocks changed last fall. "One of the barbers had young children and it had such a negative impact every time they set their clocks back [that they had trouble] getting their kids up for school," he told the Senate Community Affairs Committee meeting. He said since introducing the idea, he’s heard from people across the state that the change could boost tourism dollars and save money, too.

“Today, one of the biggest cons [of daylight saving time] remains sunrise as late as 8:30 a.m. in parts of Florida, which means it would be pitch dark for school kids and early commuters,” author David Prerau, author of Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time, told the Miami Herald. “People do not like dark mornings and that’s the main reason daylight saving time has not been adopted year-round.”

There are a few drawbacks to the bill. For instance, some parts of Florida would be pitch black until 8:30am during the winter – a terrific motivation to get out of bed for school and work. And Florida would be out of synch with the rest of the East Coast, but besides having TV shows start at a different time than their neighbors, does that really matter? Long sunny (or at least light) evenings appeal to me, and I hope that if this passes, California is next.

Image: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

08 Mar 18:17

Explore Disney's parks in 360-degree panoramas via Google Street View

by Rusty Blazenhoff

Fans of Disney theme parks, prepare to fritter your day away.

Google announced Tuesday that its Map's Street View feature is now available to explore all of Disney's U.S. theme parks, from California to Florida, in 360-degree panorama.

The parks included are, as follows: Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Magic Kingdom at WDW Resort, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Pandora – The World of Avatar, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, and Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park.

Street View is also available to explore the shops and restaurants at Disney Springs and Downtown Disney District.

Disney Parks Blog writes:

To create the 360-degree imagery at Disney Parks, Google used Street View Trekker, a wearable backpack with a camera system on top. The Trekker is worn by an operator and is moved through walkways and structures, automatically gathering images. Imagery is then stitched together to create the 360-degree panoramas you see today.

Here's a look: [googlemaps!4v1520363231812!6m8!1m7!1sxY-92b3QB95onQcJ2zMl3g!2m2!1d28.37556859304486!2d-81.54939944313455!3f179.47!4f37.81999999999999!5f0.7820865974627469&w=600&h=450] [googlemaps!4v1520363173380!6m8!1m7!1sCAoSLEFGMVFpcE5TYWpUTWs5Z3Z4eUI2QUhCUWFDRURNOW92WXVycHlaUWtueVN5!2m2!1d33.8117711!2d-117.9219843!3f97.67618429051737!4f10.227160496998493!5f0.40061038045730807&w=600&h=450] [googlemaps!4v1520368715794!6m8!1m7!1ssNRStU-93bOKBA1czBmyHA!2m2!1d33.8057733434638!2d-117.921658200242!3f204.13!4f0!5f0.7820865974627469&w=600&h=450] [googlemaps!4v1520368562373!6m8!1m7!1svlXS5W-lSh3-0p7hbptVCA!2m2!1d28.41873198548226!2d-81.58130058417836!3f0.72!4f0!5f0.7820865974627469&w=600&h=450] [googlemaps!4v1520368743214!6m8!1m7!1spxmyMt5AYotO913f0lnoGg!2m2!1d28.36591256173146!2d-81.530620497769!3f352.09!4f0!5f0.7820865974627469&w=600&h=450] [googlemaps!4v1520360590335!6m8!1m7!1sQrIH0qHOOtaoiUVj3qynvg!2m2!1d33.81105993029063!2d-117.9212686018844!3f163.95035280429528!4f0.7603271723746445!5f0.7820865974627469&w=600&h=450] [googlemaps!4v1520369150265!6m8!1m7!1s5eB6RznHD-0AAAQ3iSj1AA!2m2!1d33.8118966054785!2d-117.9173915690018!3f167.12!4f0!5f0.7820865974627469&w=600&h=450]

image via Disney Parks Blog

08 Mar 15:44

Suggested Media Diet

by Mark Frauenfelder

'What's the right balance for a healthy mind?"


08 Mar 14:39

Fair use – what more can I say?

by Carrie Russell

I can say that we have come a long way. Back in the late 1990’s, most librarians did not know the four factors of fair use. I know because I asked them. Today, I can give a copyright workshop and when I ask “have you heard about fair use and the four factors,” all hands are raised. We can congratulate ourselves on a job well done in helping librarians understand the value of fair use and assure them it is not the complex brainteaser that some would lead us to believe. Six lightbulbs, one with the copyright symbol inside

We have great copyright publications to refer to, written by librarians, and by librarians with JDs that focus specifically on library and education issues and how they relate to copyright. One no longer must pore over Title 17 —unless you want to—with no guidance. We have copyright tools that help us determine fair use like the Fair Use Evaluator and tools to help us determine the public domain status of works like Peter Hirtle’s copyright term and public domain chart and Elizabeth Townsend-Gard’s Durationator. We have the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use. We have the Copyright Advisory Network, run by admittedly, copyright geeks who respond to copyright questions from the field. We have done a lot of work, and it has paid off. Except….

For school librarians. Many are still stuck on fair use guidelines which are arbitrary and do not have the force and effect of law. (They are, however, easy to apply). Rights holder groups continue to provide materials to school librarians about copyright that range from “not quite right” to just plain wrong. Even if these efforts are well-meaning, there is a tendency to encourage librarians to first (not last) ask permission “just to be on the safe side.” My response is the “safe side of what?” Copyright law is not about picking one side or another. It’s about advancing learning to benefit the public.

Some progress has been made, but school librarians generally find themselves the sole librarian in the school (or schools) without colleagues to serve as sounding boards. Copyright comes up when a teacher wants to make copies or show a film. Copyright is not topic generally deliberated. And school librarians fear that a wrong answer to a copyright query will put the school in legal jeopardy. School librarians are required to get an educational certificate to be a librarian in a school. Rarely is copyright or any public policy study part of the curriculum.

So we can’t pop the fair use champagne cork just yet. Let’s get the school librarians on the team!

The post Fair use – what more can I say? appeared first on District Dispatch.

08 Mar 14:36

A new type of authors' organization: an exclusive interview with the Executive Director of Authors Alliance

by (Neil Wilkof)

IPKat is always interested in private sector initiatives regarding IP rights. One that recently attracted his furry attention is the establishment of Authors Alliance, here, located in Berkeley, California. IPKat has invited Brianna Schofield, its Executive Director, to engage in a written interview so we can learn more about the organization and its activities.

Question 1—Brianna, why don't begin with describing why Authors Alliance was established, who is its target audience, and what are its principal initiatives and activities?
Authors Alliance is a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 to represent the interests of authors who want to take advantage of the opportunities now available to make their works more widely available through digital networked environments. Other authors’ organizations have not been focused on authors’ interests in having their works found and read, or in the long-term preservation of their works. Authors Alliance fills that void. We give voice to these authors by providing educational resources and advocating for sound copyright policies that help them get—and keep—their works in the hands of readers.

Because authors would generally rather be writing than combing through statutes or unpacking contract terms, our educational efforts aim to make the process of understanding and managing copyrights as painless as possible! We provide tools and resources for authors that are both prospective (such as helping authors make sound publication decisions) and retrospective (such as helping authors regain rights to previously published works and make them newly available). You can find our suite of resources here. We are currently working on a guide to book publication contracts. It aims to demystify common clauses and provide suggestions about kinds of terms that authors may want to consider negotiating for with their publishers.

One of our longstanding projects in this space is helping authors get the rights back (often called rights reversions) in their works, often for books that are no longer commercially active. Rights reversion is a win-win for authors, for the public, and for publishers, as authors can get their books in the hands of readers again and the public gains access to historically and culturally important works. And we’ve found that publishers are often quite willing to revert rights, particularly for books that are no longer commercially viable, so they no longer have to maintain records about those books.

We also represent authors whose voices have long been absent in public policy debates. Through activities such as submitting public comments to the Copyright Office, participating in rulemakings, and weighing in as amicus curiae in litigation, we support sound policies that help authors create their works, make them accessible to the public, and ensure their preservation. As a recent example, we’re petitioning the U.S. Copyright Office for an exemption to anti-circumvention provisions in U.S. law that prevent some authors from making fair use of video clips in multimedia e-books. You can read more about our policy efforts here.

Question 2—The 2017 Annual Report states that "the mission of Authors Alliance is to further the public interest in facilitating widespread access to works of authorship by assisting and representing authors who want to disseminate knowledge and products of the imagination broadly." Can you please elaborate on this?
The part of our mission statement that you quote guides our work helping authors make sure that copyright law and their publication decisions do not get in the way of these goals. Although copyright law is intended to balance the interests of the public and creators, it can sometimes get in the way of both.

For example, its automatic protection means that many more works are protected than necessary to incentivize their creation, and its long duration means that many works are at risk of becoming orphans. Routine terms in publication contracts, such as provisions that ask authors to give their copyrights to the publisher for the life of copyright, can also work against these dual purposes when the commercial life of a work is much shorter than the grant of rights.

Our resources and policy efforts aim to address these issues, by, for example, explaining to authors how to work around default copyright protection by applying Creative Commons licenses to their works, how to negotiate for limited-term grants in their publication contracts, or how to get their rights back through rights reversion or by exercising termination of transfer rights. All of these things serve not only the authors who want their works to have long and productive lives, but also the public, whose access to these works is not more restricted than the author would like.

Question 3—This Kat likes to think of copyright law as a dynamic system that seeks to balance the interests of the creator, the commercializer and the public. How does Authors Alliance, with its eponymous focus on authors, fit within this tri-partite framework?
One of the ways that Authors Alliance serves authors is by helping them understand when their interests align with the traditional framework of author-commercializer-public, and when their interests may be better served by taking advantage of new avenues for dissemination enabled by new technologies. While publishing through traditional means is still the right choice for many authors, authors now have more venues than ever before to share their works with the public. Some may choose to take commercial interests out of the equation completely, while others may wait until a work’s commercial life is over before harnessing these opportunities. Still others work with commercial publishers to distribute their works and simultaneously release their works freely to the public. There is no one “right” way, but Authors Alliance empowers authors with the information they need to rethink traditional practices and make their works available in the ways they want.

Question 4—Two of the five members of the Board of Directors are university librarians. This suggests a narrow focus for the kinds of creative works that are of particular interest for Authors Alliance. Is this impression correct?
Although many of our members are authors of academic works, our membership also includes writers of fiction and nonfiction, poets, journalists, and publishers—some of whom are members of our advisory board. Our members are united by their desire to see their works widely read, and to understand and manage their rights so as not to inhibit that goal. Of course, how different authors are able to implement these ideals varies. Academic authors typically already have an income, and as a result may be more inclined and able to release their works on open access terms, for example. Authors who rely on their writing for an income may benefit more from our resources that help them understand and negotiate for author-friendly contract terms, or to get their rights back when their publisher is no longer exploiting their work. As we continue to build our suite of resources and tools for authors, we are mindful of the broad range of authors we serve.

Question 5—The place of "fair use" in the work of Authors Alliance particularly grabbed this Kat's attention, because from an author's perspective, it is a double-edged sword: the user welcomes a broad interpretation, while the author whose contents are being used may be less inclined. How does Authors Alliance navigate between these two poles?
There are more shared interests between authors as users of copyrighted works and authors whose works are being used than first meets the eye, so these poles may not be as far apart or difficult to navigate as one might initially assume. As content creators themselves, authors tend to be responsible fair users, and many intuitively understand the difference between using works in a way that is a substitute for the original and using works in a way that adds new meaning or understanding.

In fact, many of our members encourage fair uses of their works, in part because they understand that some fair uses will help put their works in front of new audiences. For example, our members have spoken out in favor of fair use in the Authors Guild v. Google Books case and in Cambridge University Press v. Albert (the Georgia State University case). In the Google Books case, we submitted an amicus brief on behalf of our members that argued in support of the fair use defense. In part, the brief emphasized the broad social benefits that Book Search creates for authors and the public by opening up new ways for readers to find books. In the Georgia State case, we submitted an amicus brief that includes statements from several authors with works at issue in the case who explained why they welcome fair uses of their book chapters in classroom settings and described how these uses enhance their incentives to create. These are just a couple of examples of the ways Authors Alliance highlights how fair use can benefit authors whose content is being used by others.

Question 6—The Annual Report states that it seeks to encourage the availability of one's work while not sacrificing the author's reputation and integrity. That sounds a lot like moral rights protection. How does Authors Alliance intend to accomplish this in a legal environment such as the U.S., which offers only thin moral rights protection?
Moral rights, or “non-economic rights,” are important to many authors, and particularly to those who write to contribute to knowledge and culture. Authors don’t enjoy strong moral rights protection under U.S. law, but values such as attribution and integrity are nevertheless supported through authorial norms.

Authors Alliance’s educational resources for authors reflect this expectation. Our open access resources, including our guide to Understanding Open Access, help authors navigate when and how to license works to the public, while still ensuring they get credit for their work. (When Creative Commons launched the 2.0 version of its CC licenses back in 2004, it made its “BY” condition standard because its stats at the time indicated 97-98% of licensors opted to require attribution!) Our guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors describes how authorial communities consider it good manners to acknowledge sources and suggests that it is good practice, even when making a fair use – this despite that even though U.S. copyright law does not require attribution.

In addition to promoting authors’ non-economic values in our educational efforts, we also weigh in at the policy level. Last year, we responded to a notice of inquiry from the U.S. Copyright Office, which is undertaking a public study on moral rights for authors. In our comment, we described why we support creators’ rights to integrity and attribution (subject to some limitations and exceptions that protect downstream creative reuse), and why we believe that these non-economic authorial rights should be formally recognized in U.S. copyright law. In line with our mission, we also encouraged the Copyright Office to consider recognizing other non-economic author rights, namely, the right to revive one’s work if it is no longer available commercially and the right to revise one’s work over time.

Question 7—Where do you see Authors Alliance by 2025?
By 2025, I hope Authors Alliance is the one-stop shop for educational resources and tools for authors who write to be read, and that we will continue to help authors take advantage of opportunities presented by the rapidly changing publishing ecosystem. We’ve been steadily growing our membership, our resources, our staff, and our operation since our founding four years ago – I have no doubt the same will be true over the next seven years! I imagine we’ll also continue to have strong partnerships with like-minded organizations and institutions, and perhaps develop formal training materials for these partners to further amplify our reach.

Brianna, thanks for sharing your thoughts with IPKat.

It is my pleasure; thank you for your interest in Authors Alliance and membership, here.

Interview by Neil Wilkof

Picture on lower right, "The Brontë Sisters by Patrick Branwell Brontë", restored, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 1725.
07 Mar 12:41

The Worst False DMCA Notice I’ve Seen

by Jonathan Bailey

Super Seducer LogoNote: Due to the nature of this article, there is some coarse and offensive language below. While there’s nothing overtly graphic, it’s still more vulgar than a normal post on this site.

To be clear, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is far from a flawless law. Creatives complain that it doesn’t do enough to prevent piracy, creating a game of Wac-A-Mole that never ends and users complain that the law doesn’t do enough to prevent false takedown notices.

But for all of the controversy around the act, the vast majority of people participating it are doing so in good faith. This includes hosts that are working to remove content and DMCA filers seeking to get infringing material removed.

Though false DMCA notices generate headlines, they are rare. Most cases of incorrect DMCA notices deal not with malicious attacks, but cases of mistaken identity errors in sending or disputes over fair use. While that doesn’t alter the harm they can do, it at least shows most people are trying to be good actors when using it.

But, there are exceptions to every rule and, last week, we ran into one such case. In this case, the individual not only knowingly filed a false DMCA takedown on a YouTube video, but admitted after the fact and even hinted that he was going to do it before he he did it.

It’s a very bizarre story but is one that’s well worth analyzing from both a copyright and an ethical perspective.

The Case of the Super Seducer DMCA Takedown

Super Seducer is a dating simulator/instructional game launching on Steam and PS4 today. Created by Richard La Ruina, who claims to be the world’s top dating guru, it’s a game that aims to teach men how to talk to and pick up women.

Obviously the subject matter of the game was going to up it up to ridicule, especially in the current climate. As such, when La Ruina’s PR department handed out review keys to the game to YouTube reviewers, many lampooned the game including VideoGameDunkey and ProJared among others.

One of those users was IamPattyJack (real name Chris Hodgkinson), a reviewer who operates a smaller channel with about 17,000 subscribers. Hodgkinson included the game in his series entitled “_____ is the Worst Game Ever”. In his video Hodgkinson criticized not just the gameplay and the videos it was based on, but the questionable advice given.

La Ruina, at a time where the video had barely 100 views, took to the comments both to fire back at some of the points Hodgkinson had to say.

The fight spilled off on Twitter where La Ruina took still more shots at Hodgkinson (tweet now deleted, image below from Hodgkinson).

Hodgkinson, for his part, fired back on Twitter warning other reviewers that, if they trashed the game on YouTube, La Ruina was likely to attack them too…

La Ruina then responded saying that his objection was the game being called the “worst game ever”.

Hodgkinson responded again, this time reminding La Ruina that he (or his PR department) had sent him a review code for the game despite the fact he had a series entitled “_____ is the Worst Game Ever.”

At this point La Ruina apologized to Hodgkinson and admitted that he was being “pretty dumb”.

If the story had ended here, there wouldn’t have been much interest in it. Disagreements happen online all the time and, this would have been fairly unremarkable.

However, when another Twitter user applauded La Ruina for doing the right thing and apologizing instead of filing a false DMCA request, La Ruina responded by remembering his “DMCA subscription.”

(Note: Many people have asked what a DMCA subscription is, especially since one doesn’t need a subscription to file a DMCA notice. While I didn’t reach out to him to ask, he most likely meant a subscription on a service such as, which isn’t needed to file a DMCA notice but many use to simplify the process.)

Hodgkinson then responded saying that wasn’t something La Ruina wanted to do and La Ruina responded saying that he had decided not to.

Hodgkinson then tweeted one final time, saying that La Ruina really wanted to, but had learned his lesson of other developers who had done something similar.

La Ruina, however, had obviously not learned those lessons. Shortly after that, he filed a DMCA takedown notice with YouTube that resulted in Hodgkinson’s review being removed from the site.

Hodgkinson learned about this not because of an email from YouTube, but an email he received from La Ruina’s PR department apologizing for the DMCA notice. The email not only said that they had already filed a retraction of the notice but also offered to pay any money lost due to demonetization of the video.

Hodgkinson, in his video on the topic, said that, due to the size of his channel, that lost revenue would be significantly less than a dollar.

Despite the swift response from La Ruina’s people, the internet did not take the issue lightly. Polygon covered the takedown on their site as did GameRevolution as well as YouTubers such as Jim Sterling.

As for why he did it, La Ruina sent a series of direct messages to Hodgkinson via Twitter that said the following (Images from Hodgkinson):

In the end, the video was restored and, if you wish to see it, I’ve embedded it below.

What Does the Law Say?

With the whole mess seemingly resolved, it gets difficult to autopsy what happened because it’s difficult to know just where to begin.

However, as with many things, the law is as good a place to start as any.

To that end, the law is pretty clear. When you send a DMCA notice you aren’t simply pointing out an infringing piece of content, you’re filing a notice, under the penalty of perjury and lying while filing such a notice can carry consequences.

Section 512(f) of the copyright act covers misrepresentation under the DMCA. It reads as follows:

(f) Misrepresentations.—Any person who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section—
(1) that material or activity is infringing, or
(2) that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification,
shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the alleged infringer, by any copyright owner or copyright owner’s authorized licensee, or by a service provider, who is injured by such misrepresentation, as the result of the service provider relying upon such misrepresentation in removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing, or in replacing the removed material or ceasing to disable access to it.
(g) Replacement of Removed or Disabled Material and Limitation on Other Liability.

Basically, what it says is that knowingly misrepresenting anything when filing a DMCA notice (or counternotice) opens you up to damages, attorneys fees and other costs. Those damages can be significant. Diebold, for example, was ordered to pay $125,000 to cover attorney’s fees when it sent a false DMCA over leaked memos.

However, the challenge in these cases is usually proving that the filer of the false DMCA notice did so knowingly. As we saw in the Michael Crook case and are seeing in the Lenz v. Universal “Dancing Baby” case, proving that someone knew they were wrong or acting so recklessly that they should have known they were wrong is difficult.

However, this case is a strange exception. La Ruina not only knew Hodgkinson had a license, but admitted that copyright wasn’t the reason he filed the notice both before and after filing the notice. Best of all, he either posted about that knowledge publicly or sent it directly to Hodgkinso himself.

In short, this is a rare case where someone is not only malicious enough to file a false DMCA notice but foolish enough to actually admit doing it in writing. Though La Ruina sent Hodgkinson $50 via PayPal, it doesn’t constitute a settlement and could be further evidence against La Ruina if this matter did go to court.

However, court is not a likely destination for this case. No matter how clear the evidence is, the video is already back online and Hodgkinson, by his own admission, suffered no real financial harm. A lawsuit just wouldn’t be practical.

This is highlighted by the Lenz v. Universal case, where the 9th Circuit ruled Lenz can only collect nominal damages and a small fraction of her attorneys fees, specifically the advice she received before filing the lawsuit. This is because she wasn’t financially harmed by the removal and the video was restored before she filed the lawsuit.

But, even if no lawsuit is forthcoming, it’s still a hall-of-fame calibre example of DMCA misuse that will likely have strong impacts on the DMCA landscape.

The Ethics and Other Implications

Ethically, La Ruina should have left things alone from the beginning. Yes, Hodgkinson’s review was negative but to get in a fight over a negative review, especially one on a relatively small YouTube channel, is not just childish but a waste of energy.

However, to let that battle escalate to the point that you file a false DMCA notice and openly acknowledge that you know it’s false is beyond the pale. It’s an overreaction that not only violates basic ethics, but makes La Ruina appear thin skinned.

But the strangest part of this is that La Ruina’s profession hinges entirely on his ability to predict how other people (specifically women) will react to what he does and says.  Yet, he read this situation 100% wrong.

Not only did he ignore the potential legal consequences for filing a false DMCA notice, but he ignored the practical ones too including the Streisand Effect and the strong backlash against false DMCA notices.

And this was after La Ruina was directly warned about precisely those consequences. Hodgkinson directly referenced Digital Homicide, who used improper DMCA takedowns against YouTuber Jim Sterling and ended up not only losing their case but having their company “destroyed”.

While La Ruina will, almost certainly, escape this situation much better (in large part because didn’t follow the DMCA notice with aggressive lawsuits), this outcome was predictable to anyone who follows these issues or simply understands human nature.

It seems the only one who didn’t see it coming was the person who claims to be able to predict how people will react.

Bottom Line

To give La Ruina some credit, he has admitted that his actions were “childish” and has made it clear that it not his policy to DMCA negative reviews. Has has not taken action against any other negative reviewer and has even retweeted some of them.

I can understand a negative review getting under your skin, it hurts to have things you’ve worked on not be universally loved. Still, this response isn’t just childish, it’s dangerous.

It’s dangerous not just to reviewers and those covering other people’s work, it’s dangerous to rightsholders, including La Ruina himself.

When the topic of copyright and DMCA reform comes up, examples such as this one are pointed to as proof that any tightening of enforcement is dangerous. Furthermore, cases such as this are why hosts often drag their feet when working with creators on copyright issues.

La Ruina’s actions have consequences not just for himself and Hodgkinson, but for everyone on the internet. While he may not face any major consequences from this due to the way the current law is written and the nature of the situation, many already want to see changes to the law so he (and others like him) would.

Fortunatley, La Ruina is still an outlier when it comes to the DMCA. But outliers often have a major impact on both public perception and policy, something La Ruina may not have taken into account.

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The post The Worst False DMCA Notice I’ve Seen appeared first on Plagiarism Today.

06 Mar 20:31

Blunt Measures on Speech Serve No One: The Story of the San Diego City Beat

by Jillian C. York

It’s no secret: Social media has changed the way that we access news. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans report getting at least some of their news on social media. Another study suggests that globally, for those under 45, online news is now as important as television news. But thanks to platforms’ ever-changing algorithms, content policies, and moderation practices, news outlets face significant barriers to reaching online readers.

San Diego CityBeat's recent experience offers a sad case in point. CityBeat is an alt-weekly focusing on news, music, and culture. Founded in 2002, the publication has a print circulation of 44,000 and is best known for its independence and no-holds barred treatment of public officials and demo tapes. The site is also known for its quirky—and, it turns out, controversial—headlines.

It was one of those headlines that caused CityBeat to run afoul of Facebook’s censors. In late November, the platform removed links posted by CityBeat on their own page to a piece by popular columnist Alex Zaragoza. Her piece, entitled “Dear dudes, you’re all trash,” critiqued men for their complacency and surprise in the light of several high-profile sexual assault and harassment scandals. Zaragoza's similar post on her own timeline was also removed.

Ryan Bradford, the web editor of CityBeat, said that Facebook notified him about the post on a weekend. “It didn’t really occur to me how serious it was” at first, he says. “We’d been flagged for content before, [such as] artistic images that contain nudity.”

He had posted the link to CityBeat’s Facebook page a few days prior, even including the article’s sub-hed—“Even the “good ones” are safe in their obliviousness and complacency.” The message he received from Facebook pointed him to the Community Standards, but—as was the case with Egyptian journalist Wael Abbas—did not explicitly state which rule the content had violated. Users frequently complain that Facebook provides scant explanation for its removals.

Bradford thought of appealing but, he told us, “Sending a complaint seemed futile. It feels like you’re sending it out into the ocean.” And in this case, appealing wouldn't have been an option, as Facebook only allows users to appeal account deactivations, not removals of individual items.

By not notifying users about how their content has violated the rules, the company is setting up users for failure. Users must receive clear information about the rules they've violated and how they can appeal content decisions.  

As we’ve said previously, private censorship isn’t the best way to fight hate or defend democracy. Corporations are often in a tough position when it comes to dealing with hate speech and other content, but blunt measures that classify a nuanced article in a reputable publication about sexual assault as verboten due to harsh language serve no one. Although corporations have the right to make their own decisions about what types of content users can post, they should seek to maximize freedom of expression. CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims that the company stands for freedom of speech, but the decision to ban Zaragoza's piece says otherwise. 

Or, as Bradford puts it: “To start censoring innocuous stuff that ultimately sends a positive message is a detriment to the online community.”

You can read more about our position on private censorship here, and learn more about the issue at

06 Mar 17:38

This pocket-sized gadget takes the guesswork out of matching colors

by Boing Boing's Shop

Our world is a colorful one—and not just in the metaphorical sense. It's filled with vibrant, lush colors that many of us would like to replicate when it comes time to repaint a room or design a website. Of course, as any designer will tell you, matching colors with just the human eye takes a lot of guesswork and can often end with mixed results. The Nix Mini Color Sensor removes this gambling from the color-matching process, and it's on sale in the Boing Boing Store for $69.

Roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, the Nix lets you scan any color critical surface, like vinyl, leather, and plastic, save it to your phone or tablet, and match it to an existing color library of more than 28,000 brand name paint colors, as well as RGB, HEX, CMYK, and LAB colors. You can browse and match to leading paint brands like Benjamin Moore, Dulux, Farrow & Ball, and Sherwin Williams, and the Nix even lets you share colors with customers, colleagues, and friends via social media or email,

The Nix Mini Color Sensor is on sale for $69 in the Boing Boing Store.

05 Mar 15:30

As students take the lead in the gun control fight, check the ACLU's resources for students and their First Amendment rights

by Cory Doctorow

The ACLU's Josh Bell just wrapped up a livestreamed training session for students on their free speech rights and then released the video and slides; these are a great complement to the ACLU's existing know your rights guide for public school students. (more…)

05 Mar 15:30

Who may swim in the ocean of knowledge?

by Carl Malamud

I've written an op-ed on The Wire, a prominent nonprofit publication in India about access to knowledge. Access to scientific knowledge has been colonized by a few publishers who have improperly laid claim to the ocean of knowledge. This situation is morally untenable and contrary to law. It must change because education is a fundamental right.

The parallels between companies such as Reed Elsevier and the exploiters of old such as the East India Company are remarkable. Scientists are the new indigo farmers. Journals are the railroads built, not to benefit the population of scholars, but to ship raw materials back to England and high-priced goods back to the universities. Paywalls and DRM are the new salt taxes.

The decolonization of knowledge is a great opportunity for our times and I believe India is poised to lead that revolution.

In India, the principle that copyright does not apply for materials used in the course of instruction was recently affirmed by the Delhi high court in the Delhi University copy shop case. The Rameshwari Photocopy Shop is located on the premises of Delhi University, and was selling students course packs with copies of journal articles. At the behest of three large publishers, the shop was raided by armed police and charged with high crimes for violating copyright. After an intervention by an association of students and an association of academics pointed to the “for the purposes of instruction” exception to the copyright, the court said no wrongs had been committed. The right to education triumphed over the baseless claims of the publishers.

Despite this principle of law, students in India are being forced to go to Sci-Hub in Russia to find the materials they need to educate themselves, and forcing them to do so is a wrong being committed against the students. Students should be able to access these materials with the full blessing and support of their institutions and professors instead of being forced to fend for themselves in the wilds of the Internet. I believe this situation should be changed.

Who May Swim in the Ocean of Knowledge? [Carl Malamud/The Wire]

05 Mar 15:18

Earth Wind Map

by Rob Beschizza

Earth Wind Map shows the winds blasting over a beautiful, rotatable 3D animated globe. Various modes (click the text on the bottom left) show air, oceanic, particulate and even auroral maps.
05 Mar 14:12

Fair Use Protects So Much More Than Many Realize

by Katharine Trendacosta

With copyright being abused to shut down innovation and speech, and copyright terms lasting for generations, fair use is more important than ever. Without fair use, we’d see less creativity. We’d see less news reporting and commentary. And we’d see far less innovation.

Fair use allows people to use copyrighted materials for certain purposes without payment or permission. If something is fair use, it is not infringing on a copyright.

A video remix or a story that critiques culture by incorporating famous characters and giving them new meaning or context is an example of fair use in action. Culture grows because creators are constantly reworking what’s in it. If Superman is portrayed as someone other than a white man, that is clearly a commentary on the symbol of “truth, justice, and the American way.”

Commentary also relies on fair use. Criticism is made stronger when the material being interrogated can be included in the critique. It is difficult to show why someone was wrong or add context to someone else’s report without including at least part of it. We recently wrote about the Second Circuit’s decision that part of the service offered by TVEyes, a subscription company that provides searchable transcripts and video archives of television and radio, was not fair use. In particular, the court seemed to say that what makes TVEyes so objectionable was that it made material available without Fox News’ permission. One of the reasons fair use is so important to the First Amendment is because it doesn’t require permission. Who would let researchers, academics, and journalists get access to their material for the purpose of saying if and how they’re wrong?

The ways fair use improves our creative culture and our commentary are apparent every time we see fan art on the Internet or watch news commentary. The ways fair use protects innovation can be more subtle.

Copyright also covers software, which is working its way into every part of our life. We’re entering a world where your lights, toothbrush, coffeemaker, and television are all connected to the Internet. And transmitting all sorts of information all the time. But if you want to ask an expert how to change that, you’re probably going to need fair use.

Much of the problem lies with Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which bans breaking restrictions on copyrighted works. That means, for example, that if someone wants to develop an app that better secures your phone but doing so means breaking the digital lock the manufacturer put there, then that inventor faces trouble. Or, say you want to pay a mechanic to fix your car, but that requires them to break the encryption on the computer in it, then Section 1201 would prevent you from getting that help.

Section 1201 can prevent access to things that fair use allows people to use. For example, you may want to make fair use of a clip from a DVD but be banned from breaking a lock to rip the clip. And because of the impact that could have on fair use, there is a process for securing an exemption to it. The exemption process occurs every three years, and we’ll get a new set of exemption in 2018.

Because fair use is important for creativity, commentary, and innovation, and because the ban on circumvention makes that so much harder, convincing the Copyright Office to issue common-sense exemptions is necessary. In 2018, EFF is asking for exemptions for:

  • Repair, diagnosis, and tinkering with any software-enabled device, including “Internet of Things” devices, appliances, computers, peripherals, toys, vehicle, and environmental automation systems;
  • Jailbreaking personal computing devices, including smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and personal assistant devices like the Amazon Echo and the forthcoming Apple HomePod;
  • Using excerpts from video discs or streaming video for criticism or commentary, without the narrow limitations on users (noncommercial vidders, documentary filmmakers, certain students) that the Copyright Office now imposes;
  • Security research on software of all kinds, which can be found in consumer electronics, medical devices, vehicles, and more;
  • Lawful uses of video encrypted using High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP, which is applied to content sent over the HDMI cables used by home video equipment).

It would be even better if hoops like this didn’t exist for fair use to jump through, but while they do, it’s important to keep showing how important it is.

This week is Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week, an annual celebration of the important doctrines of fair use and fair dealing. It is designed to highlight and promote the opportunities presented by fair use and fair dealing, celebrate successful stories, and explain these doctrines.