Banksy's classic "taking the piss" essay (adapted from an essay by Sean Tejaratchi) is a moving, important screed about the colonization of public space by advertising.
The Zen Pencils illustrated version gives very welcome visual component to Banksy's words, reminding us that as articulate as Banksy might be, his real power is in the image.
A month before Comcast's announcement of a $45B takeover of rival Time-Warner, Comcast's top lobbyist invited the US government's top antitrust regulators to share the company's VIP box at the Sochi Olympics. Read the rest
Thinking of moving and wondering whether your new state's chief executive is a climate-denier? Read the rest
Jeff Reifman sez, "In light of this week's ruling that for-profit corporations should have protection for their religious beliefs, I thought I'd summarize the timeline of Supreme Court decisions that established corporate constitutional rights US law." tl;dr: most of it comes from the anti-slavery 14th Amendment. Read the rest
Hobby Lobby is so offended by the idea of contributing to its employees' birth control expenses that it fought all the way to the Supreme Court over the issue. But its retirement plan has over $73M sunk into funds that include companies that make contraception. Read the rest
Steven Boyett writes, "Universal now has direct access to flag Soundcloud accounts for removal when it believes an uploaded file infringes copyright, with no intervention by Soundcloud. Universal doesn't even inform Soundcloud part of the upload was believed to be infringing; they simply have carte blanche removal authority." Read the rest
The City of Seattle paid $17,500 to Brand.com to enhance the "online reputation" of City Light, its public utility, and Chief Executive Officer Jorge Carrasco, asking them to "lessen the prevalence of any negative or less-relevant stories" in search results for the utility or the CEO, who was the highest-paid public employee in the city, with a salary of $245,000.
It's not clear what sort of bad news about Carrasco or City Light Brand.com was trying to push off the front page of Google results, but their promised methodology included placing favorable paid articles with the Huffington Post and Examiner.com, as well as "doctorate level content" written by "influential bloggers."
The Huffington Post says that it was unaware if Damon Banks, the writer who published a favorable piece about Carrasco and his utility, was being paid by Brand.com, but if he was, they'd no longer accept work from him. Banks did not reply to a request for comment from the Seattle Times.
A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.
It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.
Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital. Read the rest
Timberland -- whose boots are the sole option for many prisoners in US correctional institutions, thanks to sweetheart deals with prison commissaries -- has a new set of kafkaesque warranty conditions for prisoners that makes it effectively impossible to get defective footwear repaired, meaning that prisoners could spend decades without suitable footwear. Read the rest
Andy writes, "For eight years, Jules' IKEAHackers site has published ways people have hacked their IKEA products. Hundreds of people have combined IKEA products in creative ways to create everything from desks to cat trees. When the fan site turned to a huge part-time job, Jules ran a few small advertisements. Now IKEA's attorneys have sent the site a Cease and Desist."
Ikea's C&D is, as a matter of law, steaming bullshit. There's no trademark violation here -- the use of Ikea's name is purely factual. The fact that money changes hands on Ikeahackers (which Ikea's lawyers seem most upset about) has no bearing on the trademark analysis. There is no chance of confusion or dilution from Ikeahackers' use of the mark. This is pure bullying, an attempt at censorship. I'm shocked to see that Jules has a lawyer who advised her to take such a terrible deal.
We've linked to Ikeahackers many times in the past.
Trademark law is surrounded by urban legends. Trademark does not create the legal right to stop people from making factual uses of a mark ("Ikeahackers" is a site for people who hack Ikea furniture). And while there is a very slim chance of trademarks being "genericized" through a failure to police, this risk is grossly overstated by trademark lawyers (quick, name three modern, active trademarks that have been genericized through a lack of policing), and in any event, you can get the same benefit from offering a royalty-free license as you get from threatening a lawsuit. Read the rest
Cable lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to "balance" his attempt to nuke Net Neutrality by promising to override state laws that prohibit cities from setting up their own broadband networks. But it's a largely meaningless gesture: practically every big city in America is locked into a decade-long contractual "franchise" arrangement with a big cable company. Read the rest
danah boyd points out that when kids conduct their social lives in commercial spaces, it's not because they don't care about selling out; it's because they have no other option: "In a world where they have limited physical mobility and few places to go, they’re deeply appreciative of any space that will accept them." Read the rest
When Stephen Harper's petrotories yanked funding from the Experimental Lakes Area -- Canada's answer to the Large Hadron Collider, a captive ecosystem where some of the world's most important environmental research has been conducted -- the world gasped and raced to rescue it; now, scientists are reduced to scrounging for crowdfunding to continue some of the most important environmental research in the world.
John calls it "an amazing opportunity for all of us to fund incredibly important basic scientific research" -- it is, but it's also a blazing indictment of the year 2014, Canada, Stephen Harper, and hydrocarbons.
Read the rest
The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is a freshwater research facility in Northwestern Ontario, Canada that has operated as a government research program for over 45 years. After the Canadian Government announced that it would no longer fund the ELA program, operations were transferred to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in April 2014. IISD now needs additional funding to expand ELA’s vital legacy of research so that it can continue to find effective solutions to environmental problems affecting fresh water.
We can thank the ELA for many of the improvements we have seen in recent years to the quality of the water we use daily. ELA’s whole-lake research findings have been instrumental in the phase-out of harmful phosphorus additives in cleaning products, tightening air pollution standards in response to acid rain threats, and proposed installation of scrubbers inside industrial smokestacks to reduce mercury levels found in the fish we eat.
The ELA features a collection of 58 small lakes, as well as a facility with accommodations and laboratories.
Rightscorp, a company that went public last year, has an idea: they'll issue millions of legal threats to alleged music file-sharers, threaten them with millions in fines, and demand nuisance sums ($20/track) too small to warrant consulting with an attorney -- and they'll arm-twist ISPs into disconnecting users who don't pay up. Rightscorp has a secret system for identifying "repeat offenders" who use Bittorrent, and they believe that this gives them to right to force ISPs to terminate whole families' Internet access on the basis of their magically perfect, unknowable evidence of wrongdoing. They call this "holding the moral high ground." More than 72,000 Americans have had "settlements" extorted from them to date, though Rightscorp still runs millions in the red.
Rightscorp's rhetoric is that the sums it demands are "deterrents" to prevent wrongdoing, and that it wouldn't really want to sue people into penury. But it is a publicly listed company with a fiduciary duty to extract as much money as it can from the marketplace. It's a good bet that its prospectus and quarterly investor filings announce that the company will hold its "fines" down to the smallest amount that provides the deterrent effect -- instead of, say, "all the market can bear."
The legal theory under which Rightscorp is operating is pretty dubious: a belief that ISPs have a duty to terminate the Internet connections of "repeat offenders" based on a clause in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This theory has been sparsely litigated, but the one major case in which it has been tested went against Rightscorp's business-model. Read the rest