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Tim Cook to climate deniers: get bent

The National Center for Public Policy Research, group of climate deniers with stock in Apple, tried to force a motion to terminate Apple's use of renewable energy (and failed miserably). At the company's AGM, an NCPPR spokesdenier asked Apple CEO Tim Cook to defend the profit-maximization nature of green energy. Cook told him -- more or less -- to go fuck himself: "If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock." Cory 28

Disney drops $4.8M in Boy Scouts funding over anti-gay policy


Disney has dropped the Boy Scouts of America from the roster of charities eligible to benefit from its Voluntears program, through which the company donates money to charities when its employees do volunteer work in their communities. The Scouts have a policy banning gay people from serving as scout leaders, and Disney has a policy banning charities that are "inconsistent with Disney's policies on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, marital status, mental or physical ability, or sexual orientation."

Last year, the BSA received $4.8M in funding through the Voluntears program.

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King no longer claims to own "candy," still claims it owns "saga"

King Games, makers of Candy Crush, have backed down from their insane campaign to trademark the use of "Candy" in connection with games, a gambit that brought them ridicule and opprobrium (for example, a game jam where all the games made use of "candy"), not least because the company bullied competitors who had created candy-themed games years before Candy Crush came to market. However, the company still asserts a trademark over the use of the word "saga" in connection with games, and is trying to shut down The Banner Saga. Cory 21

Pies Are Round: why a big pizza is a better deal


The "squared" in Pi(R)^2 means that the area of a pizza grows exponentially polynomially in relation to its diameter. As an interactive graph on Planet Money demonstrates, pizza places generally underprice their bigger pies relative to the amount of food contained in each. This is probably because energy and labor inputs account for the largest slice of the pizza-baking ahem pie, and ingredients are way down on the balance-sheet. Whatever the reason, if you're interested in getting more food for less money, larger pies are almost always a substantially better deal.

74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Bigger Pizza [Quoctrung Bui/Planet Money]

(via IO9)

Crowdfunding Without People: a photobook of deserted places

Marko Rakar writes, "Croatian journalist and editor Oleg Mastruko visited more than 47 countries in the past 10 years and made a number of postapocalyptic pictures in deserted places. Pictures include abandoned airforce bases, Cairo's City of the Dead, old military factories, a Nevada ghost town, were markedly void of people, 'a vision of failed civilization,' as Mastruko describes it. Oleg is currently running a campaign at Indiegogo in order to fund a picture book called 'Without people.'

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Kickstarting an anthology of World War 3 Illustrated

Stephanie writes, "PM Press has launched a Kickstarter fundraiser to publish a glorious, hardcover, full-color, 320-page anthology of the 35-year-running political comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated. Founded in 1979, WW3 was one of the first American magazines (along with Raw and American Splendor) to treat comics as a medium for serious social commentary and journalism. Contributors include Sue Coe, Eric Drooker, Fly, Sabrina Jones, Peter Kuper, Kevin Pyle, Spain Rodriguez, Nicole Schulman, Chuck Sperry, Art Spiegelman, Seth Tobocman, Tom Tomorrow, Susan Willmarth, Peter Bagge, and dozens more."

WW3 has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager, and PM is a great press with a solid track record of producing beautiful, well-made books (they did one of mine). A $40 pledge gets you a copy of the WW3 anthology.

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How Youtube's automated copyright system lets big music screw indie creators

Nerdcore rapper Dan Bull earns a good living from his Youtube videos, but he is constantly being dragged away from the studio to fight fraudulent copyright claims from major labels, who are able to censor his work with impunity. The video for his 2010 song I'm Not Pissed has been removed ten times by automated, fraudulent claims from the likes of BMG Rights Management and PRS, who face no consequences for lying about their involvement with his work.

In a new song called Fuck Content ID, Bull slams Google's automated Content ID takedown system, documenting his woes at the hands of Big Content, and with Google, who collaborate in a system of copyfraud that neither one seems to care about.

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Whatsapp abused the DMCA to censor related projects from Github

Prior to Whatsapp's $19B acquisition by Facebook, the company sent a large number of spurious takedowns against projects on Github. In a DMCA notice served by Whatsapp's General Counsel to Github, a number of projects are targeted for removal on the basis that they are "content that infringes on WhatsApp Inc.'s copyrights and trademarks."

This is grossly improper. DMCA takedown notices never apply to alleged trademark violations (it's called the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and not the "Digital Millennium Trademark Act"). Using DMCA notices to pursue trademark infringements isn't protecting your interests -- it's using barratry-like tactics to scare and bully third parties into participating in illegitimate censorship.

The letter goes on to demand takedown of these Github projects on the basis that they constitute "unauthorized use of WhatsApp APIs, software, and/or services" -- again, this is not a copyright issue, and it is improper to ask Github to police the code its hosts on this basis. It is certainly not the sort of activity that the DMCA's takedown procedure exists to police.

So what about copyright infringement? In the related Hacker News thread, a number of the projects' authors weigh in on the censorship, making persuasive cases that they software did not infringe on any of Whatsapp's copyrights -- rather, these were tools that made use of the Whatsapp API, were proof-of-concept security tools for Whatsapp, or, in one case, merely contained the string "whatsapp" in its sourcecode.

There may well have been some legitimately infringing material on Github, but it's clear that Whatsapp's General Counsel did not actually limit her or his request to this material. Instead, the company deliberately overreached the bounds of the DMCA, with total indifference to the rights of other copyright holders -- the creators of the software they improperly had removed.

Unfortunately, there are no real penalties for this sort of abuse. Which is a shame, because Whatsapp has $19B in the bank that a smart lawyer who wanted to represent the aggrieved parties could certainly take a chunk out of.

(via Hacker News)

Obama's top Trans-Pacific Partnership officials were given millions by banks before taking the job


The top Obama administration officials working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership came to government from investment banks who will benefit immensely from its provisions, which severely curtail countries' ability to pass laws regulating banks and other corporations. These top advisors, who came from Bank of America and Citigroup, were given multimillion-dollar exit bonuses when they left their employers for government. For example, the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, was handed $4M from Citigroup as a goodbye gift on his way into his new job.

This is standard operating procedure for America's financial industry, where the largest players all have contracts guaranteeing millions to employees who leave the firm for government jobs.

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Frontier takes over Verizon's network, complaints fall by 68%

Since 2010, the lucky people of West Virginia have gotten their local phone/Internet service from Frontier Communications, who bought the business from noted shit-shovelers Verizon. In a mere four years, complaints about phone service have plummeted by 68 percent, and 88 percent of their customers now have access to broadband. The company has also installed a 2,600-mile-long fiber loop. There is nothing intrinsic about operating a phone network that makes your company into a horror-show, but once the telcos get big, they turn into some of the worst companies in the world. Cory 16

Detailed analysis of Syria's network censorship with logs from Blue Coat's surveillance boxes


In Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF], researchers from INRIA, NICTA and University College London parse through 600GB worth of leaked logfiles from seven Blue Coat SG-9000 proxies used by the Syrian government to censor and surveil its national Internet connections. They find that the Assad regime's censorship is more subtle and targeted than that of China and Iran, with heavy censorship of instant messaging, but lighter blocking of social media. They also report on Syrians' use of proxies, Tor, and Bittorrent to evade national censorship. It's the first comprehensive public look at the network censorship practiced in Syria.

Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF] (Thanks, Gary!)

American citizen and EFF sue Ethiopian government for installing British spyware on laptop

A US citizen had government-grade spyware placed on his laptop by the Ethiopian government, who proceeded to monitor his Skype calls, instant messages, and his whole family's Internet use. Finspy, the software the Ethiopian regime used was provided by Gamma Group, a British company that makes and sells spyware exclusively to governments. They attacked the US citizen's computer while he was in the USA.

The victim of the attack -- who is being called "Mr. Kidane" in order to protect his family in Ethiopia -- is suing the Ethiopian government in a US court, and is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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Sochi's black-market Starbucks, courtesy of NBC


NBC's Sochi headquarters includes a secret, prohibited Starbucks with a crew of 15 imported baristas that keeps the NBC crew fuelled and in good spirits.

NBC and Starbucks say that having drinks dispensed by a non-sponsoring organization (Starbucks) doesn't violate the Olympics' corporate lickspittlery rules because the Starbucks, being located inside the private NBC pavilion, is a "personal item." The Starbucks presence at the Olympics is larger than 57 of the national delegations, and there's a whole elaborate supply-chain of beans being specially imported.

For me, the bewildering thing about this whole deal is that they went to all this trouble to import what is ultimately pretty shitty coffee. I mean, go big or go home -- bring in some beans from Tonx or Intelligentsia or Square Mile, get some of those badass baristas from Melbourne or Wellington, and really go to town. It'd probably be cheaper, and it'd taste about ten million times better. (via Super Punch)

(Image: Starbucks: Breeds Like Rats, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hillaryandanna's photostream)

The UK Gold: riveting documentary on the deep, ingrained corruption of the UK's banking centre, the City of London

Jeff writes, "Featuring a brand new soundtrack from Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Massive Attack and Elbow, and narrated by Dominic West (The Wire), journalist Marke Donne has put together a riveting documentary exposing the tax avoidance 'industry' operated by the highly secretive, centuries old institution, The City of London.

With a permanent office in Parliament, a budget of $1.2 billion and the media-avoiding tactics of the super-rich, the City relies on lobbying and silence to carry out it's offshore tax avoidance, robbing the state of tens of billions in revenue every year."

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Self-published ebooks: the surprising data from Amazon


Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling, indie-original science fiction series Wool, has published an eye-popping, and important data-rich report on independent author earnings from ebooks sold on Amazon. Howey makes a good case that the "average" author earns more from a self published book than she would through one of the Big Five publishers, and, what's more, that this holds true for all sorts of outliers (the richest indie authors outperform the richest Big Five authors; less-prolific indies do better than less-prolific traditionals, etc).

Howey's report includes a lot of raw data and makes a lot of very important points. It certainly is an aid to authors wondering whether to do business with major publishers or go it alone. I read it with great interest.

I think that there are a couple of important points that Howey skirts, if not eliding them altogether. The most important of these is that all the authors Howey studies live and die by the largesse of one company: Amazon. This is the same company whose audiobook division, Audible, requires authors to lock their products to its store with non-optional DRM, and which has no real competitors in its space. So it is neither an angel by nature, nor is it subject to strong competitive pressures that would cause it to treat authors well when its own self-interest would cause it to treat them badly. As bad as it is to have a publishing world with only five major publishers in it -- a monoposony in which a tiny handful of companies converge on terms and practices that are ultimately more to their benefit than those of authors, it's even worse to have a world in which a single company controls the entire market. That's not just bad, it's catastrophic.

The second point is the opportunity cost of being your own publisher: almost all successful authors have to do things that aren't writing in order to sell their books (all the hustling, touring, etc that comprises the writerly life in the early 21st century), but if you're your own publisher, there is an order of magnitude more non-writing stuff that becomes your job. Going the traditional route makes sense for writers who can earn more by writing another book than they can by spending that writing time being a publisher; it also makes sense for writers who just aren't any good at that stuff.

Now, this second point does not militate against self-publishing per se -- rather, it suggests a new kind of service-bureau/publisher that provides services to authors that sit somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Companies like Lulu, Bookbaby and Smashwords already do this, and many of the big literary agents are starting to do this for their authors, especially with their backlists.

But the first point is a significant concern. In the 1980s, when the midlist collapsed and the number of mass-market distributors in America fell from 400+ to three, and the trade retail channels for mass-market books were dominated by Barnes and Noble and Borders, authors discovered that their careers could be suddenly and totally ended, merely because the mass-market distributor stopped carrying them, or one of the retailers stopped selling them. Writers who'd published a new novel every year for decades suddenly found themselves with no one willing to publish, distribute or sell their next book, or carry their backlists.

That's what concentration begets. It's a major problem, and an existential risk to the market that Howey has identified. There are ways to improve the odds for indie authors -- a plurality of payment systems, lots of different search- and recommendation services, more companies providing services to authors. These, of course, are exactly the sort of thing that extremist copyright proposals like SOPA and the TPP work against: by making the companies that serve authors and their audiences bear the liability for infringement, we shrink the number of companies that supply authors and ensure that only big players like Amazon, Paypal, Apple and Google can occupy those niches.

Pro-competitive ground-rules won't solve the competition problem on their own, but without them, no solution is possible. As creators -- and as audiences -- we are all best served by a churning and chaotic retail and publishing channel, in which many companies compete to offer us all the best possible deal.

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