The Miller Test and the Value of Obscene Speech – by “Zachary B – YLT2012”

The Miller Test for Obscenity, and Strict Scrutiny

Obscene speech holds an unusual place in constitutional law. It is the only speech that the Court hasn’t granted First Amendment protections that does not harm individuals (1). Typically, restrictions on speech must pass strict scrutiny, which requires the government to prove a compelling governmental interest (such as the protection of national security) in the regulation of speech, but there is no such high bar for bans on obscene speech. Rather, the legislature is allowed to ban obscene speech simply because doing so protects “a social interest in order and morality” (2). However, the power to regulate speech must only be used against speech which complies with the Miller Test for obscenity established in Miller v. California. As defined in that case, obscene speech is speech that meets a particular three-prong standard. That standard is:

  1. The average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that such speech, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e. a morbid or degrading interest in sexual activity, as opposed to simply a curious interest).
  2. The speech depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law.
  3. The speech, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
(WARNING: Con Law Terms Appear!)
I want to question the unique position of obscene speech in American law. My position is not that obscene speech should never be banned, but that it should be entitled to the same protection as most other forms of expression under the First Amendment. Speech that is protected under the First Amendment cannot typically be banned on account of its content unless the government can meet the difficult standard of strict scrutiny, which is the standard usually used when the government is restricting the exercise of a fundamental right. That standard states that the government cannot restrict or ban speech based purely on its content unless:
  1. The restriction or ban is justified by a compelling governmental interest.
  2. The law is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest (i.e. the law is not overbroad).
  3. The law is the least restrictive means capable of achieving that interest (i.e. there is no  law that would achieve the interest which would allow for more rights to be protected)
Without getting into the nitty-gritty details between the comparative applications of each law, the precise definitions of particular terms, and the history of how each have been used, it isn’t easy to see exactly what the differences between the two are. Fortunately, there’s an intuitive explanation…
How Scalia Looks While Applying the Miller Test           … While Applying Strict Scrutiny



Strict scrutiny is much harder to pass, which is why bans on hate speech, requirements for Boy Scouts to include gays, and quota-based affirmative action have all been deemed unconstitutional. Some legal scholars say that strict scrutiny is ‘strict in theory, fatal in fact’ because of how hard it is to pass. However, I think that the main reasons for the use of strict scrutiny over the Miller test are actually not grounded in how much more difficult it is to pass, but problems with the idea of obscenity as a separate form of speech, and the special rules which are applied in the Miller test.

Problem 1:  What are Contemporary Community Standards?

Unlike in 1973, it is now quite easy to broadcast speech over large areas using few resources (I’m doing so now!). If I were to post an obscene picture like the one below, what community standards would regulate it?

Just kidding, folks

The community to which I belong and to which I’m addressing my message is quite different from the community of individuals who could possibly view it. This issue became clear in United States v. Extreme Associates (3), when a porn producer in California was charged with violating obscenity laws in Pennsylvania because officers were able to download it in that area. The court subsequently applied the community standards they were familiar with. This standard, if upheld, would lead to the law being applied with the community standards of the most conservative areas of the nation, because police departments and prosecutors could selectively apply the community standards of a particular area at a national level since content providers can’t easily stop their broadcasts at state lines.

Problem 2: What is ‘Value’, and Why Are We OK with Courts Deciding It?

The central concept enshrined in the third prong of the Miller test is that speech would not be obscene if it has some value. This conception of free speech is quite dangerous, because it contains within it an instrumental view of speech. Rather than seeing speech, even speech that is objectionable, as being inherently valuable, it views speech as just being instrumentally valuable to other goals, like  literature, the arts, politics, or the sciences. Speech certainly is valuable to those endeavors in many cases, but even when it is not, it still serves social values. If speech that is considered obscene was entirely valueless, why would people produce it, own it, or view it? The response of the court is that those people only view it because of a prurient interest. Here is the philosophical issue though, if the courts or the legislature has the power to decide what speech is valuable and what speech is not, rather than citizens, why aren’t larger bans on ‘value-less’ speech permissible? The Miller test opens the door for the government to deem speech value-less and then ban it because it upsets some people. Finally, this is simply inconsistent with the court’s existing philosophy on speech: What value does hate speech have? Why then, given that it is value-less and upsetting to some, is it protected?

Problem 3: What is Obscenity? Problems with Vagueness

The overarching problem with the Miller test, however, lies in the debate about value and community standards. When the laws regarding obscenity are unclear, and the courts are unclear about whether or not the laws are constitutional, legitimate speech is chilled. Content producers will be hesitant to publish works which have only questionable value, because they want to avoid litigation. They will ensure that there works are consistent with the community standards of decency established in the most conservative areas of the country, rather than their intended audience or the nation as a whole, because they could be prosecuted, and even jailed, by courts in those conservative districts. The ultimate result of the Miller test is the elimination of not only obscenity, but much legitimate speech.

The Application of Strict Scrutiny

The application of strict scrutiny to these issues would solve these problems. Strict scrutiny requires that laws be specific and narrowly tailored so that legitimate speech is curtailed as little as possible. It also requires that true compelling interests be used to justify restrictions on speech. In some cases, such interests may exist to prevent actual harm to others, but a presumption that such an interest is always present with speech that is offensive or disturbing to some is not justified by constitutional theory or even basic reflection. Finally, strict scrutiny would require that laws be least-restrictive, giving content producers enough leeway to continue operating with borderline speech. Ultimately,  there is no compelling reason to treat obscene speech as different from any other kind of speech when it comes to the constitutionality of restrictions or bans, so why should it hold such a unique place in constitutional law.

References and Further Readings

  1. Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment, by Henry Cohen
  2. Roth v. United States, Majority Opinion, by Justice William Brennan
  3. United States v. Extreme Associates


Dr. Horrible’s Horrible Blog: Act IV – by “Hunter F – YLT2012”

Ahaaa ha ha-ah ha ha. Ha haaa ah ha! Ha ha haha ha. Ahem.

So, you know, my evil laugh has come a long way now that I’ve made it into the Evil League of Evil, as you can probably hear. I mean, you can’t actually hear it, since I can’t record it. But from the uh, transcription up there you should be able to imagine just how horrible it’s become.

And before people start sending emails saying that I’m just trying to hide my laugh, for whatever reason, let’s be clear: I can’t record it because Moist broke my webcam, not because I’m ashamed of the laugh or because it isn’t horrible. Because it most definitely is horrible. Horrifyingly… horrible. You’ll just have to trust me here.

Ah ha-ah ha ha!

SO I know it’s been a long time since my last video blog (4 years?), and I know I haven’t been able to respond to my fanmail either. But now, the wait is over. Dr. Horrible is back. Tell you friends. Anyway, ever since my famously successful victory over Captain Hammer, I’ve been working hard on a new scheme. Remember the freeze-ray? The one that stops time? With the Evil Genius grant I got from the league, I was able to steal enough Fluffletonium to bring it up to a whole new level. So now it doesn’t just stop time. Now it can change time too – rewind, fast-forward, everything. Which is big. Really big. Figuratively.

That was maybe a year ago. Since then I’ve had to figure out what to do with it. Which, you know, is a lot harder than it sounds. I have a public image now, so, uh, just committing whatever crime I choose doesn’t work anymore. I’ve got to stick to a theme. Which in my case is an evil inventor theme. But I finally did come up with something, a plan that is, and it’s got everything: mayhem, vast sums of money, destroying the status quo… that evil inventor theme, the one I mentioned earlier…. This is it, boys and girls. This is the one to be excited about.  Brace yourselves.

I’m going to become the world’s greatest, most evil inventor, by stealing all the royalties and rights from every major inventor that has ever lived. And I’m going to do it by going back in time and patenting their own inventions before they had the chance. Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Morse… all about to vanish from history. I will become the greatest inventor, ever. Next time you use your phone, or turn on a light bulb, or send someone a, uh, telegraph… you’ll have to pay. Just make those checks out to Dr. Horrible, P.H.D.

So here goes. See you at the aftermath.

PART II: Horrible’s horrible aftermath

Um. Well the plan was not fully successful. I said I was going to steal inventions, and uh,  I had every intention. But when I got there, to the past, things went, well, unsuccessfully. My original plan was to steal all of Benjamin Franklin’s inventions and patent them. Which I did do. Well, tried to do. I went back to the 18th century to steal his designs. I must have gotten the dates wrong because, he was supposed to be in France, not back in the states. Er, colonies. Didn’t realize he’d catch me stealing them, and I didn’t…

Benjamin Franklin threw the liberty bell at my head.

Not to worry though, I’m fine. Only the bell was damaged. Wow he was strong.

RIGHT, anyway I was able to make off with most of his designs and discoveries. So there was that. The US patent office didn’t exist yet, but that’s not a problem for, you know, a time traveler. Benjamin Franklin never patented any of his inventions, so I thought it’d be easy to get the credit myself.  Once I had the patent, anybody who was using a Franklin Stove would have to turn it in, and buy a replacement Horrible Stove from one of my licensed distributors.

I admit the product name could use some work.

But anyway, yeah! ahHHA! Evil mission accomplished…

"Your patent application for the 'Horrible Stove' has been denied..."

Except, turns out it doesn’t work that way. A statutory bar had been put in place to prevent copycats (or time travelers) from obtaining patents on inventions and discoveries already in use. SO… I’d just have to try patenting one of Ben’s less widely used inventions, right? Well, turns out that doesn’t work either. Even if nobody uses an invention, as long as publicly available information exists about it it’s not eligible for patent. Prior art, I think was the… uh, word. Term. Long story short, I came away empty handed.

So my first attempt was not 100% successful. Per se. Let’s hope second time’s the charm.


PART III: Second time is not the charm

No success this time either. I, uh..


There’s good news and bad news. And the bad news is definitely bigger, so …

I tried to steal Thomas Edison’s patents. I thought the light bulb was a good one to start off with, since everybody uses them. Or did, before CFLs. And at first things went well. This time I checked the dates carefully, so I got to the patent office well ahead of Edison with my application. Annnnd it worked. Sort of. Until Edison contested the patent, claiming that his invention of the light bulb predated my own. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, Edison accusing someone else of stealing his invention? Irony, am I right?  Anyway, the earlier filing date of my application, which, you know, was the factor I had been counting on, only gave me a slight advantage. Apparently, all Edison needed to do to steal the patent back was to prove that he had come up with the idea before I had. Alas, I’m not so easily beaten. Edison should have known that I would fight back. And prevail. Because I have a P.H.D. in horribleness.

Plus, I've got a hand-cannon.

Quickly, I jumped back forty years and created private documentation proving that I had first conceived of the lightbulb decades before Edison. Ha! Dr. Horrible 1, Edison 0. ….At least those should have been the scores. Once again, it turns out that the people who make laws have taken precautions against time-travelers. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who must have warned them. Anyway, earlier conception alone isn’t enough – I was told that I would also have to prove that during the time between my conception and Edison’s conception I had worked with “reasonable diligence,” whatever that means, in the preparation of my patent application.

So I was stuck. I had supposedly conceived of the light bulb decades before Edison. And there was no way I could have worked diligently for FORTY YEARS on my application. I had to leave empty handed. Again.

That was the bad news.

Good news! Right. So I’ve learned a lot from all this, and I’m going to use it. In just a few short hours I’ll be the most renowned and respected inventor you’ve never heard of. Why never? Because, boys and girls, I’m going to be famous in the future. I’ve identified the most valuable invention of the 21st century: the element Wonderflonium, first created in July, 2015.


I’ve already planted evidence in 2015 proving that I, Dr. Horrible, invented this new element myself in June, and that I worked diligently on  preparing my application between June and July of 2015. On the day after the real inventor files his patent, I’ll present my evidence and walk away with the patent. Easy. Like candy from a baby.






(Ripped off of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog)

Zombie Apocalypse: Teaching About Online Privacy – by “Amanda C”

Be careful though, because the Zombies are powerful enough to turn you into a Zombie even over the Internet.
Will Smith, zombie-killing expert, CPSC 183 final project

For our project, we created a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style learning course to teach about internet safety for younger generations and hosted it on a website.  The site visitor is cast in the role of a high school secret agent attempting to hold off a zombie apocalypse.  He or she must make a series of correct choices, which teach various lessons: password safety, login/logout basics, cyber-stranger danger, spam smarts, and spotting phishing.  After making a wrong decision, the user is infected and becomes a zombie, joining the ranks of the rest of his generation (who unthinkingly act unsafely on the web all the time).  We hope that the spy/ zombie storyline will help our target audience internalize the importance of using caution online.

The necessity for a game/course like this one lies in the fact that today’s moment is one dominated by the Internet. Websites like remind us just how reckless we’re becoming online―and in a society where young children often have access to the Internet, it’s imperative to educate them on the right way to use it. Our “zombie apocalypse game” is a logical extension of the stranger-danger videos shown in elementary schools in the 1990’s.

Preview: After making a wrong decision, the user is infected and becomes a zombie, joining the ranks of the rest of his generation.

We threw in a few CPSC 183 jokes, which would be removed if the video was sent to a broader audience. Without further ado, give it a try! Are you savvy enough to avoid being infected by the power-hungry zombies?


Ben Barnett
Amanda Chang
Alexandra Slade
Dan Turcza
Yael Zinkow

The Specialists of the Future – by “Jake E”

For my final project for CPSC 183 this semester, I wanted to explore the possibility of creating a website that auto-generates a continuous music mashup from song files downloaded from the Internet.

Before I jump into the details of its implementation though, let’s take a step back for a moment.

First, what is a mashup?

A mashup, loosely defined, is a song that is itself composed of several other songs played simultaneously. The songs are played on top of each other in synchrony so that beats match up across songs and, if done well, the result is extraordinary.

Some mashups are simply two songs cleverly woven together and played all- or almost-all-the-way-through, while others feature hundreds of song clips all interleaved over the course of half and hour or more. It is the latter category that I most enjoy (and that I like to fold my laundry to); I find it fascinating how mashup artists can create an entire musical landscape that shifts dramatically over time through the subtle use of other people’s music.

The end of a good mashup is like the last few pages of a great book, or the final minute of your favorite movie: once you get to it you realize how sad you are to have it all come to an end, knowing that no new exciting plot twists or tempo changes await. So, I thought, what if there was a mashup-generator that created mashups on the fly, generating a completely original mashup that could, in theory, run forever?

The mashup is one of the rare mediums in which the consumer (i.e. the music listener) becomes the creator. Mashups, and remixes of all varieties in the general case, take control away from the original musician and give it to anyone with even a passing interest in the medium and access to a computer. I find it fascinating that modern music mashups are entirely dependent upon modern music-editing software, and yet the creators of Logic Pro or Garageband would never be considered even partial creators of a mashup. This is fair—we are a society that rewards output and not the process leading up to it, and it would in one sense diminish the creative effort of the mashup artist to say his/her creation was partially made by a software developer at Apple. These rules extend to all creative processes, and inherently make sense—should the woodworker have to send royalties to the creator of the cross-cut saw and the lathe? Should Mr. Lathe then give money to the inventor of the knife, or the electrical motor; or to Nikola Tesla, or the discoverer or the electron? Clearly this would be absurd.

But the question then becomes: if I could successfully make this mashup machine (cleverly coined “MashupMachine”), who would own the mashups it produces? True, my website wouldn’t save copies of any mashups produced, but 1) one could still record its output relatively easily, and more importantly 2) even fleeting works of art have owners and creators. It’s not as if a sand mandala wasn’t created by a monk just because it won’t last forever.

So is all MashupMachine output inherently my creative work? On the one hand, it’s just a piece of software, a tool, akin to a Garageband. I can certainly be credited for the tool itself, but not for everything created using it. But at the same time, the difference between this program and other tools is this would be completely uninteractive (at least in the initial implementation)—just sit back and listen. In that sense, the situation resounds with the ethical dilemmas of artificial intelligence—if researchers use a genetic algorithm to permutate pieces of computer code until one code produces a new mathematical discovery, most people would say the researchers get the credit. But once you put a face and human-like limbs on the program and have it walk around like in an Asimov novel, I think most people would say the robot gets credit. Is autonomy a factor here? Does the robot need to be able to solve the problem entirely on its own? In that case, what if MashupMachine had vague controls for things like tempo shifts or incorporated song genres?

I think the real dividing line is sentience—the difference between the “weak” artificial intelligence of the genetic algorithm on its own and the “strong” artificial intelligence of Sonny. But I don’t think it’s out of any sort of universal human understanding so much as it is one of practicality: if the creator of a work is sentient enough to claim ownership, he/she does. If not, someone else does because our laws demand that everything have an owner.

As we become more and more dependent upon machines and automated processes for everything we do, we increasingly face this question of who is ultimately in control. Sure, Isaac Asimov and Francesca Coppa argue that we’re moving towards a future dominated by specialist producers of “content,” be it music or software or education. And yet what happens when these specialists are resigned to the consumer role, when all content is created outside of human control? Clearly this is an extreme situation not in the near future, but we’re already in a time when automated processes can make inventions and discoveries on their own. I expect in the next few hundred years we’ll see a shifting of the laws governing ownership, patents, and copyrights in one way or another, though it’s unclear where the courts and legislators will rest their gavels and pens.

Will non-human created content belong to a related human? Will it go straight to the public domain? Will it be government property? Will it be something else entirely, not confined to traditional copyright and property laws? We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, why not let computers make us some music?

If you want to know more about how I implemented MashupMachine (to avoid having a gigantic blog post), go here.

Edit: you can see the website here. It definitely works in Chrome but possibly not other browsers, and be patient… it can take a little while to start. Enjoy the cacophony!

Fun to Stay at The DMCA! – by “Misbah U” 

Have you ever been excited to watch a video online only to click it and realize that it’s been taken down for copyright issues? Us too, which is why we decided to do our project on the topic of the DMCA and fair use circumvention. Conveniently, the song “YMCA” by the Village People was ripe for a parody on the topic. The goal in creating the “DMCA” song, music video, and website was to present the DMCA and certain safe-harbor law in an easily digestible format. Too many videos are taken down without true cause, and understanding of fair use arguments as well the the word and intent of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act could lead to more counter-notices and hence a greater pool of video entertainment available to the public.

While the video is not necessarily a parody of the YMCA, per say – it doesn’t comment on the source material itself – we believe the the creation is significantly transformative. In addition to this, we created it for non-commercial purposes and as an educational tool, which makes the fair use argument fairly easy.

Hopefully this website and video will spread awareness of fair use rights. The website and the information and links on there aim to teach viewers the specifics of the law–and fair use, specifically since it’s a concept that is often confused. As Brad proved this semester in our class, often humor is the best way to make learning effective and fun. While our video is certainly a bit silly, we believe the overall message is an important one worth addressing.

The lyrics for the video are as follows (they can also be found on the website):

Young man, I see your video’s down.
I said, young man, there’s no reason to frown.
I said, young man, there are tricks all around
To help get your vid reposted.

Young man, there’s a place you can turn.
I said, young man, there’s no need for concern.
I said, young man, there are loopholes to learn
You can fight that takedown notice.

Well have you heard of the D-M-C-A?
Have you heard of the D-M-C-A.
If you want your work back, well you know there’s a way
In the O-C-I-L-L-A
Have you heard of the D-M-C-A.
If you think in good faith, that their actions were wrong
Listen up to our awesome song

Young man, there’s a problem at hand,
I said young man, you could get yourself banned
So let’s face it, why don’t you take a stand
And just send that counter notice

Young man, you’ll be mocked by your friends,
I said, young man, be like Stephanie Lenz,
And just sue them, then they’ll make their amends
And you’ll be a web sensation

You’ve got to study the D-M-C-A (x2)
If you’re stealing the work, just to sell it yourself
Then your venture won’t turn out well.
You’ve got to study the D-M-C-A (x2)

Just make sure that your use still remarks on the source,
Or the takedown could  be enforced

[Music cuts out and video shows a DMCA takedown notice by the Village People]

[Music comes back with a counter-notice on the grounds of non-profit, transformative, educational use!]

Good thing we knew of the D-M-C-A!
Good thing we knew of the D-M-C-A!
Now our work’s back online for the public to see
But there’s problems ahead for me

Too bad we knew of the D-M-C-A
Cause this video sucks, and I know it will stay
On my digital dossier

Group: Misbah Uraizee SM’13, Jerome Luo TD’13, Nick Letizio TD’13, Michael Holkesvik TD’13

Final Project: So You Wanna Be A Founder? Get Into An Accelerator? Study STEM – by “Miles Grimshaw”

In case you aren’t hip and up to date with the booming tech scene, YCombinator and TechStars are the two best startup accelerator programs in the US. Together, since YCombinator’s first class in 2005 and TechStars’ in 2007, an accumulative 377 new tech companies have passed through their doors. These companies don’t just receive space, free food, and mentorship; earlier this year Yuri Milner, a Russian “Tycoon” whose already invested in Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify, announced that his fund, StartFund, and SV Angel would offer every new Y Combinator startup a $150,000 convertible note. TechStars has followed suit and in September announced that it raised a $24mm fund from the likes of Foundry Group, investors in MakerBot (see classmate Nick’s final project), and RRE Ventures, investors in companies like HowAboutWe and Betaworks, so that every new TechStar’s company receives a $100,000 convertible note upon acceptance into the program. This is tuppence though compared to the combined $759 million they have all raised over the past 6 years.

So you’re thinking about applying? Well you aren’t alone. You might have gotten into Yale but YCombinator and TechStars take exclusivity to a whole new level. Yale just accepted 15.7% of early applicants to the class of 2016. YCombinator though has an acceptance rate of around 3%. TechStars’s first NYC class had a shockingly low 1.1% acceptance rate. Now how about that for exclusivity!

A lot of people have compared TechStars and YCombinator based on startups’ fundraising and exits. A post on TechCrunch last weekend did exactly that and stirred up a heated debate about the respective merits of each program among devoted alumni and fans. Funding though is a metric by which to measure success, rather than an important factor for success.

Time and time again entrepreneurs and VCs say that the team is the most important factor for success. Five time serial entrepreneur turned VC David Skok says that the management team is of critical importance: “A players attract other A players. B players attract C players. Therefore the starting team should ideally be all A players.” Steve Blank, 8 time serial entrepreneur and author of the startup bible, “Four Steps to Epiphany,” says that “team composition matters as much or more than the product idea.” Why? Because “the best ideas in the hands of a B team is worse than a B idea in the hands of a world class team.”

So if YCombinator and TechStars are more exclusive than the Ivies, just who are these A player founders forming the “world class teams” of the future? To answer this we dug up Linkedin profiles for 254 out of the 377 total companies from the past 6 years and documented founder’s college and major. In the process we also have empirically helped answer a long-time question plaguing many aspiring entrepreneurs: can you really be a non-technical co-founder?


  1. If you want to get into TechStars or YCombinator, and are a Freshman or Sophomore in college, you might want to jump of the cool-kid bandwagon and actually study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).
  2. There is definitely little such thing as a non-technical team.
  3. The accelerators might tout that they are more exclusive than Yale, Harvard, MIT, Stanford etc but those graduates make up a non-insignificant portion of startup founders the accelerators accept.
  4. Higher ed is under attack right now by a growing number of people who wonder if it is all worth it. When it comes to YCombinator and TechStars it just might be:
  • Of all the founder’s whose Linkedin profile we found only a handful explicitly said they were self-taught
  • 25% of co-founders attended the same college – your college network is a powerful community to tap into when you want to find that second A player to start a venture.

Here are more details of the breakdown:



From an investor’s perspective all of this looks like great news: these incubators take an overwhelming majority of true tech people, with higher ed backgrounds, and shower them for 3 months with top-notch mentorship and a wealth of resources that help drastically lower the chance of failure. Oh, and there are clear runaway success stories like Heroku, and AirBnB and DropBox are in the pipeline.

Investors have definitely taken note. In fact, so many have that the whole thing is turning into a feeding frenzy. The number of investors scrambling to participate in early stage rounds has ballooned. Each dot below is a specific company. On the x-axis is when they attended the accelerator, and on the y-axis is the total number of investors throughout the lifetime of the company. Despite being much younger companies, recent accelerator grads have on average more investors even though they will have had the opportunity to raise fewer rounds.


So if you haven’t already switched majors / started watching Stanford’s online CS courses while simultaneously filling out an application to both TechStars and YCombinator, here is one last fun fact: if accepted, there is a chance you could be both the next Steve Jobs and a TV docudrama superstar:

TechStars Bloomberg TV Trailer

If you want to see the dataset we put together click here.


Miles Grimshaw (@milesgrimshaw)
Michael Anderson
Tate Harshbarger

Final Project – by “Benjamin H”

We mixed popular songs to make a mix that contains pairs of opposites: day and night, American boy and American woman, Monday and Saturday, etc. The mix highlights the fact that many popular songs touch on the same common themes but often from divergent perspectives. In this sense, our video is akin to the art of vidding. Francesca Coppa defines vidding as “an art in which clips from television shows and movies are set to music to make an argument or tell a story. The song is used as an interpretive lens; the music and lyrics tell us how to understand what we see.” In this case, our video juxtaposes songs about similar themes and the images are used to draw the viewer’s attention to the argument. For instance, the successive images of a calendar month showing “July” and one showing “August” highlight the opposing lyrics of the two songs paired with them.

We think the music in the video constitutes fair use. The Copyright Act allows copyrighted materials to be used if “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.” This video arguably falls into both the criticism and comment categories; it juxtaposes parts of songs to comment on the nature of popular music more generally and in doing so is a type of cultural criticism. The other factors considered in fair use also seem to confirm that the music used in our video falls under fair use. For instance, the purpose of the video is not commercial, and though the material used is copyrighted only a small portion of each song—about ten seconds—is used. It seems reasonable to conclude that people would not listen to the music in this video instead of any of the individual songs. The effect of our video on the potential market value for the originals songs is minimal; people can appreciate the argument made in the video and still listen to and enjoy popular music, and the video might even expose people to music they hadn’t before heard and subsequently buy. Last, though the song clips aren’t themselves transformative, their placement of opposite songs next to one another makes the video generally transformative. The purpose of the original music is entertainment, whereas the purpose of the video is commentary or argument. Ultimately, the purpose of copyright laws is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. We think this is a useful commentary on popular music, and it’s unlikely that the video, even if it went viral, would negatively effect the production of music generally or any of these songs specifically.

Although the music probably falls under fair use standards, the images used in the video may not. The images used aren’t transformed from their original contexts, as they appear just as they did when first displayed. They are also used in their entirety, as many of the images appear by themselves in their original contexts. Moreover, the purpose of the pictures is arguably also not transformative. Assuming they were originally intended for entertainment, they are also used in our video for essentially the same purpose. They do aid in the argument posed by the video—as the contrasting images highlight the contrasting lyrics in the songs—but they also serve as a pleasant visual complement to the songs that isn’t actually necessary for the argument in the first place. However, the other factors considered under fair use standards are still largely met. The purpose of using the images is noncommercial and it’s unlikely that the use of the images in this video will affect the market for the original images. Despite their aiding a cultural argument, then, it seems like the images would not fall under fair use.

Will Horowitz, Amarto Bhattacharyya, William Smith

Final Project: Mental Health on the Go – by “Bryan B”

As part of my final project, I was interested in the way health care and health care related information is provided on smartphones. Because I am interested in mental health care, I looked at apps relating to mental health care in particular. Moreover, because Google’s Android system and Apple’s iPhone currently dominate the majority of the smartphone market, I compared the results of my project on both markets. One purpose of my research is to investigate how people access apps in pursuit of mental health services. To investigate this, I compared results for various search terms related to popular mental health concerns. These included general symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, as well as specific searches for ten of the most common mental disorders, such as major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and anorexia.

Once the search was initiated, I took inventory of several factors: total apps returned, total relevant apps returned, total apps that were free, and for the specific disorder searches, a count of how many apps were directly related to the disorders in question. The most important results of my project are here:

Graphical Results
Side by side comparison of results between the Android Market and the iPhone App Store. Average utility refers to the number of relevant apps compared to total apps for all searches.
Android Full Results
iPhone Full Results

First, the Android surpassed the iPhone in how many total apps were produced for each search term and in each search category. This reflects the fact that, for each search term, I found that the Android was generally much more responsive to general terms in producing associated applications, however, the iPhone was better at returning more relevant apps, as indicated by it’s higher utility value.

Though the Android was much more generally responsive to search terms, it appears as though the iPhone was much better at only returning relevant apps. It seems as though the Android may bloat the number of relevant apps presented to the individual conducting a search. This could frustrate users seeking help, which in turn may repel individuals seeking help from doing so on the Android platform. iPhone users, and in turn, developers, may appreciate the ease of use and lack of clutter provided by the App Store.

Apple's App Review Guidelines may have something to do with this. The Android Market currently has no equivalent.

Another important result to highlight is that the Android surpassed the iPhone in the availability of apps tailored to the alleviation of a specific disorder. In nearly every case, the Android returned more overall apps than the iPhone did. The case of GAD and Major Depression were most notable in that the iPhone failed to recognize any relevant results, while the Android proved mildly successful. Because the iPhone did respond to and produce results tailored specifically to “depression,” this may not reflect an availability issue, but rather an accessibility issue with the way the search engines return information.

Because there were significant differences between both platforms, and some clinicians acknowledge this to promote the use of one platform like the iPhone, there are several potential implications. A clinician I work with told me that the iPhone is the preferred platform, for him and for others, in releasing mobile mental health care services mostly because of the ease of use and accessibility of the iPhone. But Apple products are typically more expensive than Android equivalents, and this difference in population may further promote the divide between individuals who seek mental health care. Financial concerns are one of the obstacles to accessing mental health care. If the iPhone comes to dominate the use of mobile mental health care, then this could alienate individuals who seek access to mental health care on apps but for whom financial troubles prevent access to both the iPhone and professional mental health services. In this regard, it is also worth mentioning that the Android market provided more free apps. If developers move to the iPhone, accessibility for those who have an Android device may further decrease.

Though these apps may be useful, developers must be cognizant of demographics of iPhone and Android users

Moving forward, one thing that would be important to look at is issues of legitimacy of apps like these. In professional mental health care, government law and agencies, high barriers to entry into mental health care fields, and peer review processes help us determine who is a trusted clinician and what forms of therapy are valid. For example, Twitter provides an excellent example of this: Twitter allows users to mark their profiles as “Official” in order to prevent fraud or misattribution of information. Such a similar feature could likely be presented in the future for apps mental health apps, as they are a sensitive issue. For now, however, most likely most people will rely on proxy sources like official consumer reviews and news, such as from the New York Times, and suggestions from doctors or therapists on which applications to seek.

The Latest Buzz in EU Privacy Regulations: The Right to be Forgotten Online – by “Jonathan H”

Out of a flurry of fights in recent years over online privacy and personal data in the European Union has emerged an interesting – and extremely popular – concept: the right to be forgotten online.  Essentially, the right to be forgotten online is the right to force a website to cease hosting, linking to or storing personal information about yourself.  According to a recent poll commissioned by the European Union, 90% of Europeans support the right to be forgotten online.

Warning label distributed with this right: you may forget who you are without a Facebook profile to remind you (image created by Flickr user Guudmorning!)

So what exactly does the right to be forgotten online mean for Europeans?  According to the latest draft of upcoming changes to the EU data privacy regulations, it is:

the right that their personal data will be erased and no longer processed, where they have withdrawn their consent for processing or where they object to the processing of personal data concerning them.

More concretely, it is also defined in the draft as:

the right to obtain erasure of any public Internet link to, copy of, or replication of the personal data relating to the data subject contained in any publicly available communication service

On its face, this sounds like a good thing!  People should have the right to remove their personal data from public circulation, right?  Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleisher suggests that the right to be forgotten is not the answer, pointing out:

  • This right raises difficult-to-resolve issues of personal privacy vs. freedom of expression in cases where others retweet or repost something you have put online and later regretted – for example, it could be a photo of you and a friend, which the friend then reposts.  When you ask Facebook to remove the photo from your friend’s album where he reuploaded it, citing it as your personal data, how does Facebook decide whether to support to your right to be forgotten or your friend’s right to free speech?
  • What about journalism and the historical record?  Where does one draw a balance between public interest in knowing the news and the personal “right” to anonymity – and should it really be up to the content provider to decide?
  • To whom should these regulations apply?  To websites hosted in the EU?  To companies with headquarters in the EU?  To websites with users in the EU?  The regulations may be so difficult to enforce as to be worthless.

Although the right to be forgotten online sounds noble and is extremely popular, it is fraught with difficult moral questions, the burden of which current draft regulations place squarely on the shoulders of content providers.  It is encouraging that EU citizens are enthusiastic about their privacy online, but it is clear that more work is needed before the right regulatory solution is found.

Final Project: What are our reasonable expectations of privacy? – by “Carla G”

My project was set up as an experiment to test our awareness and expectations of online privacy. My hypothesis was that Internet users are largely unaware of the amount of information accumulated and aggregated about them online. We have an “anonymity of Manhattan” mindset: we believe that no one will pick us out from the crowd of billions of users. Everyone publishes their name, email, birthday, and address for sign-ups. Everyone has incriminating pictures on Facebook, follows the Jersey Shore cast on Twitter, buys embarrassing books on Amazon, and looks up basic concepts on Wikipedia. We seem to think that it is a slim chance that someone, one day, would use our information against us. And even if they did, the cost of this chance does not outweigh the multitude of benefits the Internet gives us. For this reason, I predicted that while most people hope for some level of privacy online, they are largely apathetic to understanding and enforcing it.

To test that hypothesis, I focused on the privacy policies of five websites: Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Wikipedia. I chose these sites for two reasons. First, they are all, of course, in the top 10 most visited sites globally. Second, searching myself on a site called PeekYou, which helps you find people online, I discovered a profile of myself that included links to my Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia accounts, as well as a list of my most recent Amazon purchases (and for $39.99 I could order a full background check on myself). Bewildered by how this information had been leaked on to PeekYou (and what could possibly be in my background check), I decided to focus on the policies of these five sites—I found these policies to be overwhelming similar.

I then wrote a survey on the website SurveyMonkey of 29 yes/no, fill-in, and multiple-choice questions, designed to be easily and quickly completed. Questions were divided to address four issues: demographics, knowledge and awareness, descriptive activity, and normative opinions. 173 responses were collected and I then underwent simple statistical analysis on Excel to identify possible correlations as well as discrepancies with the relevant privacy policies.

The results confirmed that we have very different assumptions about websites than their privacy policies stipulate and, overall the project  provides a basis to begin answering the broader question of how we can engineer norms, laws, and code to make the architecture of the Internet fit our descriptive and normative desires, and not the other way around.

Happy holidays! -Carla