Cultural [Re]Mediation: Evolving Reading Practices in the Digital Humanities – by “Brendan S”

I thought I would use this week’s blog post to give a rundown on some of the things I learned this past weekend at the “Past’s Digital Presence” Conference on the digital humanities which took place at Yale. I was lucky enough to be there all day recording video of the conference, and got to see almost a dozen presentations; several of them are, I think, quite relevant to themes we’ve been discussing in this course.

On a broad level, the conference was concerned with questions such as access to information, methods of sharing and analyzing culture, and our evolving roles – as researchers, librarians, readers – in consuming via these new methods. I’ll focus here on two of the talks, both of which fell under the session on “Evolving Reading Practices,” and dealt with how new technologies are altering how we interact with creative works via the Internet – particularly relevant to the topic of gatekeeping and online intermediaries,

Patrick Redding – “Viral Meters: Reading Frank O’Hara on YouTube”

In this talk, Redding talks about how digital media can blur the distinction between primary and secondary sources. Digital texts are mobile, and mutate frequently; we frequently interact with digital facsimiles and annotated hypertexts. In many cases, in fact, our initial interaction with a text is not in the traditional form of a book, paper, or film, but rather with text as multimedia hybrid. He illustrates these points through an analysis of various adaptations of and responses to Frank O’Hara on YouTube, presenting us with new ways of imagining traditional poetic concepts.

Redding presents five videos as examples. The first is a high school teacher’s take on “Having a Coke With You,” in which the teacher has inserted Google-imaged photos in order to provide students with visual context for concepts in O’Hara’s poem that might be unfamiliar.

The second, “As Planned,” incorporates music, type, and motion graphics to create not only a visualization of the poem, but also a visual reading, interpreting aspects of the poem such as its tone and syntax through visual forms. Third is “Lana Turner Has Collapsed,” a poetic riff on the mashup genre, set to a Nirvana song (a quick YouTube search turned up one with Madvillain as well). The last two are produced by independent filmmaker Joseph Fusco, and provide two very different interpretations of the same poem; the narrator, background music and visuals actually change the meaning of the piece.

(Here are the other three.)

I would guess that most (if not all) of these videos, are technically in violation of at least one copyright, but none has enough views to merit bothering with a takedown notice; it’s likely anyway that the copyright owners either aren’t even aware that these videos exist, or recognize their utility and cultural significance. Since none of the videos are direct, unaltered copies of creative work, each adds a new level of interpretation or understanding to O’Hara’s poetry, and even the songs fall under a loose definition of fair use, I can’t see any incentive for a copyright holder to want one of the videos removed. However if YouTube (through some hypothetical new technology) were to start preemptively identifying every case of infringement, it’s more than likely that videos such as these would get taken down for no good reason.

Rachael Sullivan – “Dickinson Meets DoubleClick: Remediating Poetry”

Sullivan’s talk was particularly interesting to me because it looked at how texts (in this case, literature) are altered not only by how they’re displayed and accessed online, but also by their context. Sullivan elaborates on two aspects of literacy in the digital age – immediacy, the act of looking at the text; and hypermediacy, in which the text is mediated by external elements. One of the most prominent among these external influences is online advertising.

DoubleClick (now a Google subsidiary), Google’s own AdSense, and other services provide targeted advertisements to many websites, including online repositories of literature and poetry such as Bartleby.com. The challenge that arises when looking at poetry online in this context is sifting through the “noise” that distracts from the text. In addition to advertisements surrounding a poem, for example, and influencing its reading, advertisements are sometimes even hyperlinked to words within the text itself, creating a potentially unreliable version of the text. Of course, this is not an altogether new issue – there are discrepancies in manuscripts vs. typeset poems, and a history of advertisements or other contextual influences in printed texts. But with the proliferation of digital media we’re seeing an exponential expansion of possibilities for remediating a text; with everything hyperlinked and searchable, practically nothing exists in isolation anymore.

The omnipresence of Google, through which it sometimes feels the whole Internet is filtered, raises many questions about the influence of online advertising in how we navigate and consume content. Advertising is of course Google’s bread and butter; everything from run of the mill search results to YouTube videos to maps and news are dished up to us alongside a healthy slough of linked advertising. I’m not sure to what extent this actually influence our online behavior, given that we’re so desensitized to ads that we hardly notice them anymore. Besides, Google’s ads are about as innocuous as they come, a far cry from pop-up cascades and insidious spyware.

Sullivan may appear to be overstating the significance of this particular way of remediating texts, but the questions she raises are worth thinking about, if only to develop a more conscious awareness of the Internet’s effects on how we read. The texts in question aren’t just poetry, but everything we interact with online – and the mediating elements are not confined to ads, but include complicated systems of hyperlinks connecting information in an untold number of ways. Intermediaries such as Google have a profound impact on how we navigate the web, not only through advertising, but most fundamentally through the search and ranking algorithms themselves.

Stealth Mode is Stupid: Why Your Ideas Don’t Matter – by “Michael W”

It’s a longstanding cliche in the world of tech start-ups. “I’d love to chat about my company, but we’re in stealth mode.” The concern is that sharing the idea is more dangerous than not sharing it. In my experience I have found the exact opposite to be true. Stealth mode is stupid for at least three reasons: 1) ideas are overrated, 2) execution is infinitely more important, and 3) freely sharing ideas can aid in their execution. This is an essential lesson for tech start-ups, but its implications reach far beyond Silicon Valley.

Ideas are Overrated

To start with, ideas are painfully overvalued, both anecdotally — by aspiring entrepreneurs, and formally — by our legal system. Right now thousands of people are contemplating the same, next big idea. But what separates these faceless masses from the one that will emerge as the next Google? In a word, execution. Ideas are everywhere, but great implementation is rare. New entrepreneurs, who have not yet gone through the most critical stage of a young company — its execution — are prone to undervaluing its importance.

The US patent system, meanwhile, similarly overvalues ideas. It protects the expression of ideas that are both “novel” and “non-obvious,” but realistically, in the digital age, for how long do new ideas remain “non-obvious”? In the Twitter age ideas spread nearly instantly. And because of our abundant access to information, in general, the process of trends converging to form new ideas is in plain view for almost anyone to see. Furthermore, the ideas that underly the most successful tech companies of the past decade — Google, YouTube, and Facebook — were neither novel nor non-obvious when they made their marks.

The Story of Facebook

Facebook, in particular, provides an excellent case study. The idea of social networking first emerged in the late 90’s. Live Journal started in 1999; Friendster in 2002; and Tribe.net in 2003. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t launch Facebook until the spring of 2004. At that point it would be unthinkable to label social networking as a new idea. But it was. In fact, two separate groups claimed that Zuckerberg had stolen the idea from them. Facebook had to settle one of the cases out of court (due to pressures stemming from contract law and public relations, not any valid IP concerns), but the very occurrence of the lawsuit, that someone could even think that the idea of social networking was somehow novel or non-obvious in 2003, underscores our societal misunderstanding of ideas.

Why did Facebook garner 400 million users, then, even though it wasn’t a new idea? Because of its execution. It was part luck, part skill, but regardless, it was the actualization of Facebook, not the idea of a social network (or even the idea of a college-centric social network), which created so much value. The same goes for every success story. Search was old news by the time Google entered onto the scene in 1997. But they implemented it much, much better than the competition. Hundreds of streaming video sites were sprouting up in 2004. But YouTube executed the idea better than anyone else.

And why were so many people working on these ideas in the first place? Because there were highly visible trends that were converging to create obvious new opportunities: the growth of the internet made search a necessity; increasing broadband penetration made internet video feasible; and in the wake of the success of the blogosphere, social media was emerging as the next major frontier on the web.

“Ideas are Just a Multiplier of Execution”

As the founder of CD Baby, Derek Sivers, put it, “ideas are just a multiplier of execution.”  He explains that varying degrees of execution are worth roughly between $1 and $10,000,000, but ideas are only worth between negative 1 and 20. Therefore, a weak idea with flawless execution can be worth $10,000,000, but the best idea in the world with poor execution is worth just $20. These numbers are obviously metaphorical proxies, but the concept is spot-on. And Sivers of all people would know: he took a relatively boring idea (selling independently-produced CD’s on the Internet), and turned it into a $20 million company.

If stealth mode was merely unhelpful it would be one thing, but it is actively harmful to new ventures. The people who appear most threatening in the stealth mode worldview — industry peers, talented coders, angel investors, etc. — are actually the people who could provide the most help. By closing themselves off to these potential resources, stealth mode companies are their own worst enemies.

What about Apple?

One common retort to this critique of stealth mode is, “what about Apple?” This of course refers to the fact that Apple, Inc., the fifth largest company in the US, uses intense secrecy as part of their unquestionably successful product development and marketing efforts. The short answer is: you’re not Apple.  They are a thirty-five year-old company with hundreds of retail locations, tens of thousands of employees, and tens of billions of dollars in the bank. Their sophisticated use of secrecy has no bearing whatsoever on a small start-up. [Note: this isn’t to suggest that Apple has a healthy attitude towards intellectual property, because I don’t think they do, but that is for a different blog post.]

Fear of Sharing: Broader Implications

The concept that overprotecting ideas can actively hurt companies is something that applies to all firms, not just start-ups. Media conglomerates, for instance, closely guard their content, because, like rookie entrepreneurs, they think not sharing it is less dangerous than sharing it. But they’re wrong.

This mistake is perhaps best illustrated by the band Ok Go, whose lead singer wrote a scathing op-ed in the NY Times this past weekend, which chronicled his band’s tumultuous experience with a major record label. Ok Go was signed by EMI in 2000. They floundered for years, until in 2005 the band used their own funds to make a low-budget music video — without the aid nor the permission of their label — that went on to become a YouTube sensation. The label, though, viewed the video as illegal, despite the fact that it singlehandedly propelled the band to international stardom, resulted in millions of legally sold records (most of the profits of which went to the label), and even earned the band a Grammy. Recently EMI disabled embedding on this video so that it can no longer be shared across the Internet, even in light of how it being shared in the first place is precisely what proved to be such a boon for the band and the label. Consequently, EMI is preventing the next Ok Go from ever emerging. Consumers lose, bands lose, and EMI loses. Why are they doing it? It’s really unclear.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a lone hacker or a Fortune 500 media company: your ideas don’t really matter. So stop trying to protect them, and start trying to implement them better.

Friend or Foe – by “Reynolds H”

Snake

The main issue with the myriad of user generated content sites(Youtube, Vimeo, etc) are that they offer a highly efficient network for the use and spread of copyright infringing content, obviously. The entire Viacom vs. Youtube lawsuit is based upon Viacom’s belief that Youtube, as a business, benefits from the availability and use of infringing content on the website. Viacom is pursuing Youtube on the basis that they are failing to adhere to the criteria for protecting under Act § 512, complaining that Youtube is neither “act[ing] expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material” nor “not receiving a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity”. Viacom claims that Youtube has not put enough effort and technology into making sure that unlicensed copyrighted content is removed from the site. That is why, in the midst of a legal battle, the timing of Youtube’s revelation of the beta version of their new Video and Audio Identification software is so beautifully bratty.

Like a stubborn middle schooler, who only wants to do it their way, Youtube, after being sued, is taking a step toward efficiently handling infringing content. However, they want to make it know that they don’t have to do it. In a recent blog post, Youtube product manager, David King stated that the new Video and Audio Identification “goes above and beyond our legal responsibilities”. But like a stubborn middle schooler, Youtube’s creation may prove to further the reach of the copyright “take-down” abusers, they are currently fighting in court.

Youtube’s Video Identification uses copyright owner submitted material as a template for an automated system which matches the audio and/or video to user uploaded content. When matches are found, copyright owners have the option to block that content, track that content, or monetize the content. Youtube has essentially given greedy copyright owners an easy system to enact frivolous takedown’s on any videos that have any semblance to their copyrighted content. The idea of the software is justifiable and obviously the monetary motivation is at the heart of the system., Video Identification allows for copyright owners to, in effect, license their content to Youtube for monetary return. The system also allows Youtube to take a backseat to takedown claims, giving full onus to the system and the copyright owner. However this passive stance provides the opportunity for the unbridled abuse of the system. With what seems like little room for appeal from the user, the software deals a serious blow to any petitions of fair use. At the heart of the Lenz v. Universal case was how Universal was not acting in “good faith” and did not consider the application of fair use when it issued a takedown notice for her “use” of Prince’s “Lets go crazy”. This new software may take takedowns to an even further level. Imagine the potential of this software. What if a video is posted of a car ride conversation, which happens to involve the background car radio playing a famous song. This software potentially has the power to take match that background song, which has nothing to do with the video itself, and issue a takedown at the will of the copyright holder. Takedowns could begin to be issued even more frivolously than ever before, all while allowing the full burden of “good faith” and fair use consideration to rest on the shoulders of Youtube and its new software.

It will be interesting to see how Youtube chooses to implement this new technology. According to its website, this new software will make money, increase fan interaction, reduce infringement, and provide market data. With the rapid increase in ads, iTunes plugs, increase in competition, and a deal with Universal resulting in the creation of Vevo (Youtube’s music video channel), hopefully money making is still second to the users on Youtube’s priority list, but if not this may be the end of Youtube’s reputation as a place to “Broadcast Yourself”, hurting itself in the long run.

Insurance hikes, privacy risks, for social media users – by “Jacob A”

The Huffington Post recently reported on an prediction made by the website confused.com, which helps insurance payers navigate and compare different rates, about a probable rise in insurance premiums for social media users. Why would social media users see home insurance hikes? Because the status-updates and other information they furnish on the social media services they use, such as Twitter or Foursquare, alert burglars as to when they’re home, and when they’re not.

http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/images/0217_pleaserobme/7409270-1-eng-US/0217_PleaseRobMe_full_380.jpg

Tweeting something as benign as “great tilapia tacos @ Drew’s Taco Shack” is potentially unsafe as it alerts burglars to the fact that whoever is currently eating a taco with Drew is also not home. A new wesbite, pleaserobme.com, hopes to increase awareness about the dangers of publicly providing too much information, so it collects tweets and Facebook status updates and displays them to the world for anyone to see.

Pleaserobme.com means to make people realize the dangers of constantly updating and disseminating their location at all times, but it does so by letting robbers know when you’re not home, which is, although an admittedly pretty funny way of getting thoughtless social media users to think twice before tweeting “I’m I’m at Cali Yogurt,” also a lawsuit waiting to happen.

That said, it really is easy enough to find out where a sizeable chunk of the population lives by using Google’s phone number look up on a number or address. Consider also the enormous amounts of information provided by Google Earth or Streetview, and the extent to which digital technologies empower house robbers (or identity-thieves or other poorly intentioned individuals) becomes abundantly clear.

But even admitting that “criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their information gathering… to plan their burglaries with military precision,” as Darren Black, the head of home insurance at confused.com, has pointed out – does this justify insurance hikes? What standards of burglar-sensitive stupidity (e.g. “Oh no! In Mexico for three days & think I forgot to turn the heat off at home!”) will insurance providers use? How does one gauge burglary (or other) risks from a tweet or Facebook status update?  And isn’t the very purpose and function of social media to disseminate opinions, constantly updated personal information, microstatements about daily life and wherabouts? Insurance hikes might make sense if there is an actual increase in risk because of social media use, but they also go against the nature of these services. The Huffington Post article refers to a news clipping from 1983 warning telephone users about the dangers of voicemail. “If you have an answering machine that tells callers you are not at home it could alert potential burglars, advises Family Circle magazine.”

http://images.huffingtonpost.com/gen/143131/PHONE-BURGLARS.jpg

Isn’t the fear over the disclosure of too much information via Twitter et. al. unsubstantiated, given the fact that a great portion of tweets are sent via mobile (and hence out of the home) anyway? Wouldn’t home insurance hikes for social media users be just as silly as if they were applied to phone-owners who didn’t change their voicemail?

But the kinds of information we propagate online through 4square and Facebook and Twitter also point to the kind of information ecology we would like to live in. Sure, it’s easy enough to make your entire Facebook page private – but was privacy ever the point of social media? Is privacy, as Mark Zuckerberg (in)famously recently stated, “no longer a social norm.”

But, then, where does one draw the line between stupidity and paranoia? There are undeniable dangers to giving away too much of our privacy, but what might those be? Is it more reasonable to be worried about burglars robbing your home, or about the larger privacy or security implications of geolocative (social) media? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about national security compromises that arise when the heads of national intelligence disclose too much information online? For the average person, disclosing too much information may not be a security risk, but it certainly remains a privacy risk. Forget robbers – what about data trawllers, or hostile intelligence networks, or government agencies, or corporate interests, who amass our geolocative (and all our other) social media information?

By default, Facebook makes you publically searchable by everyone, and publically visible by everyone in your networks. Default settings go more often unchanged then not. Privacy is not a default setting. The question is whether it still remains a social standard.

Social media is still a new technology. It will have direct implications on things such as hikes in home insurance premiums, as well as much larger cultural consequences. Is a social media universe where it is considered unsafe to post birthdates, pets names, phone numbers, photos a friendly one? A social one? We may have to value privacy and friendliness against each other.

ACTA: Globalizing the DMCA – by “Elie C”

Arrr, YouTube! Where be my videos??

Although the public has been denied access to negotiations (note: RIAA and MPAA don’t count as ‘the public’), drafts of the ACTA’s internet enforcement section leaked online last week, providing a chilling glimpse into the covert negotiations among world leaders and the possible future of global internet policing. Introduced by the US Administration in 2007, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) proposes making ISPs liable for content that subscribers transfer using their networks, forcing ISPs to “operate “automatic technical processes” to detect copyright-infringing activities.” While section 512 of the DMCA already establishes third party liability in the US, the ACTA extends the liability of intermediaries beyond notice-and-takedown to possible Deep Packet Inspection (bye bye net neutrality?) to the contentious three-strikes rule (which France passed in 2009, banning three-time accused file-sharers from the internet),  thus exacerbating and spreading shortcomings of the DMCA internationally – namely the E.U., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

The current digital gatekeeping model established by the DMCA promotes a ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ approach to handling allegations of copyright infringement. While the DMCA imposes the burden of proof on copyright holders and outlines the necessary elements to a notification of copyright infringement, the court found in ALS Scan, Inc. v. Remarq Communities, Inc. that copyright owners do not have to identify all infringing material (“imperfect notice”), thus shifting this responsibility to service providers. Although the complaint of infringement does not prove that infringement took place, the DMCA allows ISPs to takedown content without investigating whether the material was truly infringing before taking it down, thereby shifting the burden of proof onto subscribers.

The only recourse that subscribers have is filing a counter-notice of a “good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of mistake or misidentification…” Intermediaries risk losing their safe harbor if they do not take down infringing works whereas the consequences of wrongful takedowns amount to little more than disgruntled bloggers. In practice, there is no enforcement of fair use considerations prior to takedowns; section 512 of the DMCA explicitly imposes burden of proof on copyright holders, but third party provisions ultimately shifts the burden to subscribers.

Need to brush up on copyright law? Check out this video before it’s taken down…

As the amount of information online far exceeds copyright holders’ ability to monitor the dissemination of their works, they are becoming increasingly reliant on targeting internet hubs managed by intermediaries. In turn, intermediaries like YouTube are going “well above and beyond our legal responsibilities” by turning to automated technologies to keep up with this inundation of user-generated and uploaded content; its ContentID system enables copyright owners to automatically identify their works in YouTube hosted videos, and subsequently monetize, track or block the content. Technology that automatically screens for the presence of copyrighted material inevitably steamrolls over fair uses in favor of ease for copyright holders and intermediaries. As a standard rather than rule, fair use cannot be identified by an algorithm (real lawyers have enough trouble accomplishing that as it is) and technologies such as ContentID will further contribute to mass takedowns, leaving subscribers guilty until they prove themselves innocent.

Gatekeeping is the new Boston strangler – by “Brian W”

In the early 1980s when the MPAA was trying to stop Sony from distributing the VCR, Jack Valenti was quoted saying:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.

We all know that if anything, the VCR only helped the movie industry rather than destroy it. Today, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to assume that the MPAA—along with the RIAA, Viacom, et al—would again compare a new technology—YouTube—to the Boston strangler.

Similar to the initial reaction of the VCR, Viacom and other media corporations are pushing against new trends in content creation and distribution which seems to be creating a strange distance between their original intentions—to promote and profit from the media they produce. For instance, the band OK Go—the one that basically became famous when they released this video on YouTube—recently released a new album with a couple videos. However, this time around the record label disabled the ability for users to embed and share the video on other websites. Due to the popularity and viral quality of the first video fans were curious as to why the same feature that practically made the band  famous had now been disabled. Eventually, the band wrote an open letter to the fans explaining the situation, here is an excerpt:

See, here’s the deal. The recordings and the videos we make are owned by a record label, EMI. The label fronts the money for us to make recordings – for this album they paid for us to spend a few months with one of the world’s best producers in a converted barn in Amish country wringing our souls and playing tympani and twiddling knobs – and they put up most of the cash that it takes to distribute and promote our albums, including the costs of pressing CDs, advertising, and making videos. We make our videos ourselves, and we keep them dirt cheap, but still, it all adds up, and it adds up to a great deal more than we have in our bank account, which is why we have a record label in the first place.

Fifteen years ago, when the terms of contracts like ours were dreamt up, a major label could record two cats fighting in a bag and three months later they’d have a hit. No more. People of the world, there has been a revolution. You no longer give a shit what major labels want you to listen to (good job, world!), and you no longer spend money actually buying the music you listen to (perhaps not so good job, world). So the money that used to flow through the music business has slowed to a trickle, and every label, large or small, is scrambling to catch every last drop. You can’t blame them; they need new shoes, just like everybody else. And musicians need them to survive so we can use them as banks. Even bands like us who do most of our own promotion still need them to write checks every once in a while.

http://okgo.forumsunlimited.com/index.php?showtopic=4169

It seems odd to me that this would be the label’s solution to the problem. You would think based on the effectiveness of the original video and how widely it was shared the label would embrace this aspect of distribution rather than lock it up. OK Go argues that the reason they do this is because they need to make money via ads which doesn’t happen when the video is embeddable on other websites. However, I would argue that more often than not users watching embedded videos on other websites tend to end up on YouTube at some point within that session anyhow. Furthermore, allowing a video to be embeddable creates an opportunity for exposure via blogs, forums, and other social media. After all, their video for Here it goes again—which was embeddable—had “50 zillion” hits on YouTube so obviously users aren’t abandoning the original source when watching these embedded videos. Ironically, the letter ends with the source code to embed the video through Vimeo which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Anyone?

In the Viacom v YouTube complaint the main argument is that YouTube was intentionally making it increasingly more difficult for copyright holders to find uploads that infringe on their works because YouTube profits off of the popularity of these works via web advertisements. This claim ultimately led to the implementation of YouTube’s automated ContentID system.

It seems that this system goes completely against Judge Jeremy Fogel ruling that fair use must be considered before take down notices are sent in order to counterbalance misuse. Browsing YouTomb and reviewing Chilling Effects letters from the RIAA shows that these corporations are abusing their power structure to scare users out of what might otherwise be rightfully theirs. Furthermore, I’m curious as to how this algorithm works and how precise it is. What happens when an artist samples a portion of another artist’s song verbatim, legally? Is it possible that this technology would wrongfully take down the artist’s works? This all comes back to the basic principle that these situations are based standards and not rules. Only human beings can assess context and other factors that are less quantitative. Automated processes simply do not work and seem counterproductive to the artists—the group that these laws allegedly protect.

Can the Government Really Save You From Yourself? – by “Thad D”


Court Photo
The Plaintiffs Appear in Court, Represented by the ACLU

On January 15th, 2010, the case of Miller v. Skumanick continued in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  For those of you unfamiliar with the case, in Pennsylvania, Tunkhannock School District officials discovered cell phone photos of high school girls posing “provocatively” in late October 2008.  The two photos discussed in Miller’s suit involve one depicting a teenager with a towel wrapped around her waist and her breasts exposed (like she just took a shower), and another depicting two girls in training bras making “peace signs” for the camera.  School officials handed the cell phones over to the office of the District Attorney, George Skumanick, who decided to meet with all students involved and offer them a deal: either they would take an education course or face prosecution on charges of distributing child pornography.  Parents would have to pay the course enrollment fee and the course itself would discuss, among other things, “what it meant to be a girl in today’s society” and an essay each student would have to write describing why what they did was wrong.

[Notice that, in last month’s proceedings, the defense refers to the admission of guilt as having to write an essay about why it was “unwise to send those photographs” – the word ‘wrong’ being intentionally omitted].

At any rate, the plaintiffs, feeling that their constitutional rights were being infringed upon, filed an injunction to prevent District Attorney Skumanick from taking prosecutorial action.

Although this case touches on a host of today’s hot issues, what is interesting to note is the concept consistently raised by the defense that Skumanick’s office was “protecting the children from themselves”.  This post is a mixture between a response to and an analysis of an article from Reason.com (aptly titled “Ruining Kids in Order to Save Them”).

So, what do the defendants mean in describing their prosecutorial discretion as ‘saving the kids from themselves’?  In this, the defense is very clear: “Children are immature, children are vulnerable.  The entire basis of the juvenile code is to protect children from themselves…When kids disseminate pictures of themselves through the Internet they are putting themselves and other children at risk.” (Miller – Oral Arguments, pp. 15-16).

The defense is adamant and clear in its stance.  What is more important though is to ask whether or not this line of thinking applicable.  What are we really trying to accomplish in doing this?  Certainly, children who are abused and exploited become victims the moment the action takes place.  Disseminating images of this child pornography does create a huge problem in our society, and provokes and encourages this socially unacceptable behavior.

But what if a teenager posted a picture to Facebook of herself posing in a bikini, or himself not wearing a shirt on the beach, or some other scenario where the youth was, simply put, not dressed in accordance with Sharia law.  We may laugh at the ridiculousness of calling such a photo pornography, but I should remind you that two of the girls facing prosecution had opaque training bras on, and no genitalia or breasts exposed, in the “pornographic” photo.

From the reaction of the girls in this case, it’s clear to see that they felt no more victimized by these photos than if their parents had taken pictures of them on the beach in two piece bathing suits.  In fact, District Attorney, in his meeting with the children, had commented that he could prosecute teenagers who appeared in pictures wearing bikinis, based on his enforcement of the Pennsylvania statute on child pornography.

Given what I’ve said, it’s easy to dismiss Mr. Skumanick as a reactionary zealot, and these photos as incredibly innocent and, more importantly, victimless.  But, perhaps the plaintiffs are truly too immature, and unable to understand whether or not they are being victimized.  Whether one buys the argument that until one is older than 18 years old they are not mature enough to make serious decisions is an entirely different issue, one too lengthy to delve into here.

However, if these children are indeed too immature, are their parents wrong in deciding that the photos of their children are not obscene?  Do public officials have the right to enforce their judgment over the head of parents? And if so, where do we draw the line on what issues those officials have the right to meddle in?

In this case, at the very least, it would seem that the prosecution is making a mountain out of a molehill.  And honestly, since Skumanick pursued prosecution against the teenagers at the beginning of an election year, it’s pretty transparent to see what he was trying to accomplish (Hint: it rhymes with “me-election”).  However, in noting all the shortcomings of our legal system, and the loopholes that a few avaricious public officials will claw their way through to assume the national spotlight, we should reflect on the importance of the laws that occasionally harm our citizens.

Stockholm syndrome, a serious psychological effect, occurs when a hostage falls in love with the person who has captured them.  Related, but slightly different, is when a victim falls in love with their tormenter.   Hypothetically, if a child had had photos taken of them by a parent or guardian where they appeared fully clothed, but in provocative poses, and had willingly disseminated those photos at the request of the parent or guardian (because they still loved and obeyed him or her), the state would have no recourse against said parent.  Although contrived, the case still applies; as in the scenario no physical abuse would take place, but inappropriate photos of a juvenile would be distributed, and the crime would not be “victimless”.

The issue of government intervention in parenting has always been contentious.  But as kids get access to newer, more powerful technological tools at earlier and earlier stages of life, the issue of morality, parenting, and technology will more often rear its ugly head.

Google and its endless list of privacy issues – by “Aditya K”

(There should be a video below. For some reason, embedding it isn’t working. Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon. In the meantime, click here to watch it!)

“At Google, we make privacy a priority in everything we do.” Except when it comes to rushing to launch a new product.

Not too long ago, Google launched a new product called Buzz, as I’m sure you all know. If Twitter and Flickr and WordPress and maybe even Facebook had a lovechild that was raised by Google (custody issues…), you’d have Buzz. As of now, Buzz is kind of a mess. People have the typical knee-jerk “I’m-going-to-hate-this-because-it’s-new” reaction. Most people who use it are simply having their Twitter posts feed directly into it. People are using it as kind of a public-pseudo-Facebook wall, amassing people who don’t know each other into conversations that are not related to the original post (or the original poster). Eh hem. Case in point. (There are potential privacy issues in that too, although many are brought upon oneself—exposing email addresses, sensitive information in a public setting, etc.)

When Google unveiled this new feature (on everybody at once), they overlooked a pressing privacy issue. Essentially, the service made you automatically follow your most frequent contacts, and vice versa. People had access to your feed and information without your consent. This leads to instances like this one (via Techcrunch):

I use my private Gmail account to email my boyfriend and my mother.

There’s a BIG drop-off between them and my other “most frequent” contacts.

You know who my third most frequent contact is?

My abusive ex-husband.

Which is why it’s SO EXCITING, Google, that you AUTOMATICALLY allowed all my most frequent contacts access to my Reader, including all the comments I’ve made on Reader items, usually shared with my boyfriend, who I had NO REASON to hide my current location or workplace from, and never did.

This privacy breach led to folks being able to determine who their friends, employees, spouses, and more were contacting frequently. As Nicholas Carson of Business Insider discovered, Buzz could expose marital infidelity, anonymous sources, private emails in the workplace, and more. The defaults guessed at who you wanted to expose your information to; Google assumed it knew your friend circle. It was even difficult/impossible to opt out.

Even though Google has fixed most of these issues, it was still a case of awful foresight on their part. Computers are getting smarter and are perhaps decent at choosing who your friends are or who you’re most interested in, but even if this technology is flawless, making these lists public and available to those around you is just stupid. Gmail, which Buzz is loosely connected to, is often what people use for private communication. By tacking on this very public feature, without allowing people to opt in, Google crossed some lines that should not have been crossed.

And now for a loose but related connection:

James Grimmelmann, professor at New York Law School and all-out smart guy, posted an awesome recap/analysis of the Google Books Settlement fairness hearing today, where a bunch of parties presented their cases to the judge either supporting or opposing the settlement. Many of the arguments raised against the settlement (from the EFF and EPIC and other digital rights groups) dealt with privacy. Google Books would in essence have access to a large corpus of data—”It can track not just what books you read, but which pages, and what you scribble in the margins”—that would perhaps allow them to tailor ads or sales to an unheard of degree. This would also bring up questions of law enforcement and how this data would be handled by a single entity.

Privacy issues will always be a concern, especially when it comes to Google, but there is perhaps good reason why it should be a top concern. Hadrian Katz, who spoke for the Internet Archive against the settlement, ended his argument with this: Google claims to have taken privacy into account, but perhaps the recent Buzz fiasco is a good example of how seriously Google actually takes the issue.

Update: Technology Review has a cool article on how Google Buzz has changed since its release. Check out the multimedia timeline too!

Public Domain Hell – by “Heather R”

Lou Lumenick, the cheif film critic for the New York Post, recently blogged about a Zane Grey film called “To the Last Man”.  The majority of the article is analysis and praise of this obscure 1930’s Paramount film, but he also discusses the “Public Domain Hell”.  His discussion of the Public Domain is brief, but it is raises interesting questions about the nature of a (hypothetical) healthy Pulic Domain.

In the second paragraph of his post, Lumenick laments that “a significant number of titles that have fallen into that gray area many film buffs call Public Domain Hell.”  He doesn’t elaborate on that statement, perhaps because most of his readership fall into the “film buff” demographic.  Later in the post, however, Lumenick elaborates.  He explains that when a film enters the Public Domain it usually doesn’t get restored.  The film can be legally copied, so there are a lot of poor qualities floating around.  The studios can’t justify the cost of restoration, because once they restored the film it could be legally copied and distributed.  Lumenick’s interest is apparently in having high quality prints of obscure movies available, not having those films open to remix and reinterpretation.  Films that enter the Public Domain don’t get restored, so Lumenick would apparently prefer that they don’t enter the Public Domain.  Lumenick praises Paramount’s ability to reclaim the copyright to “It’s A Wonderful Life” and offer exclusive access to NBC, which justified the “considerable cost of restoration”.  Lumenick’s doesn’t analyze the merit of the Public Domain, he simply laments the fact that films in the Public Domain rarely get restored.  His post made me wonder how a healthy Public Domain would function.  If works were routinely entering the Public Domain, which ones would we value enough to restore?  Would we restore any of them?

It seems that the Public Domain would preserve those films that the public values.  If the public has access to them, and values them, then they can be catalogued and organized and protected from abandonment.  That may apply to the relatively easy process of scanning books, but it may not apply to films.  Scanning books is relatively cheap and yields a high quality copy.  The process of restoring a 35mm print is tedious and expensive, which makes it difficult to crowd source the way book scanning can be.  Perhaps the films would enter the Public Domain, only to be lost due to lack of preservation.

Lumenick argues that Paramount won’t restore films that are in the Public Domain because once they released the DVD of the remastered “To the Last Man”, it could be copied endlessly.  However, if Paramount, or anyone else, instead restored the film and made additional 35mm prints, they could still sell the physical prints to film buffs and museums.  This apparently is not enough incentive to restore an obscure film like “To the Last Man”, but what if the film in question was a Paramount classic like Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”? (interstingly, ownership of most of Hitchcock’s films, with the exception of Psycho, reverted back to him) If “Rear Window” had entered the Public Domain, and no high quality copies were available, would someone have restored it?  If Paramount hadn’t “rescued ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ from PD Hell”, would it ever have been restored?  If works entered the PD on a regular basis, who would preserve them?  Would it be econcomical to preserve them?  Would we gain access to thier intellectual property only to lose them to physical degregation?