Adam the Alien has a Youtube channel that earns him some money through Youtube's "monetization" service, which inserts ads and gives him a cut of the money. It worked fine until Youtube's notorious "Content ID" system let some of the biggest music publishers in the world lay claim to the copyright in Adam's video, on the basis that his rendition of "Silent Night" belonged to them -- despite having been composed in 1818 and being firmly in the public domain. Once their claims had been laid, all the money his video generated was diverted to them.
The companies that laid claim to Adam's video are the publishing arms of the biggest record labels on the planet -- BMG, Warner/Chappell, and Universal Music Publishing Group -- and they use an automated system to identify videos and claim them. There is no penalty for automatically generated claims over things that the publishers have nothing to do with, and so, unsurprisingly, their copyright bots are fantastically sloppy and operate with little or no human oversight.
It's a perfect storm of stupidity and greed: Google has given the big publishers a platform that rewards fraudulent claims over indie creators' work; the publishers responded by making plenty of such claims, and all the while decrying "piracy" as the great evil of our day.
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In a photography forum, Surapon recounts the sad story of how the TSA took away his Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster, a blower for removing dust from equipment, at an airport in New York.
According to him, he was on his way back to North Carolina from Greece when the TSA flagged his camera-case for manual inspection. The TSA agent reportedly produced the rocket-shaped blower, and then he and a colleague grimly pronounced the dangers of this object, should it be filled with gunpowder and then launched like a rocket through the cockpit.
Since then, Surapon assiduously sliced the decorative fins off his blowers, and has had no further trouble from the TSA.
My New and Improve GIOTTOS Blower-for safety. (Thanks, Visionrouge!)
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Things aren't looking good for copyright trolls Prenda Law -- they've been ordered to pay $261K
in opponents' fees, and the judge has made all three of Prenda's principles -- Paul Hansmeier, John Steele, and Paul Duffy -- jointly liable for the sum. He also called them liars. They're much worse than that
. Read the rest
G4S, the titanic security contractor, has admitted to overcharging the UK Ministry of Justice £24M for its contract to monitor offenders' tracking tags. This is the latest mass-scale cock-up from the wildly profitable firm, whose recent hall of shame includes forging documents in order to deport asylum seekers, catastrophic failure to deliver London Olympics security, and complete mismanagement of a South African prison.
G4S offered to return the money, but the Ministry of Justice rejected the offer.
The firm is anxious to retain its eligiblility to bid on future government contracts, including the private municipal police forces for which it has aggressively lobbied.
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An anonymous commenter who identifies her/himself as a funeral director has posted a magnificent rant to a Reddit thread, explaining all the ways that funeral directors con bereaved families into paying for things they don't need, like $5000 painted plywood boxes and "barbaric," environmentally degrading "mutilation" (embalming), which are often described as legal requirements (they aren't). The post is full of great intel and advice, including mention of the FTC funeral rule, which sets out your rights in clear, simple language. I didn't know that US law requires funeral directors to accept your own coffin, which you can get at your local big-box discount store or have delivered from a variety of sellers through Amazon.
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Ramin Shokrizade's "Top F2P Monetization Tricks" shows how the free-to-play world deploys practical behavioral economics to convince players to spend more than they intend to, adapting to players to hook them and then pry open their wallets wider and wider. I was very interested to learn that some games look for behaviors that mark out "spenders" and convert themselves from "skill games" (win by being good at them) to "money games" (win only by spending):
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A game of skill is one where your ability to make sound decisions primarily determines your success. A money game is one where your ability to spend money is the primary determinant of your success. Consumers far prefer skill games to money games, for obvious reasons. A key skill in deploying a coercive monetization model is to disguise your money game as a skill game.
King.com's Candy Crush Saga is designed masterfully in this regard. Early game play maps can be completed by almost anyone without spending money, and they slowly increase in difficulty. This presents a challenge to the skills of the player, making them feel good when they advance due to their abilities. Once the consumer has been marked as a spender (more on this later) the game difficulty ramps up massively, shifting the game from a skill game to a money game as progression becomes more dependent on the use of premium boosts than on player skills.
If the shift from skill game to money game is done in a subtle enough manner, the brain of the consumer has a hard time realizing that the rules of the game have changed.
Forget India's semi-shuttered telegram service
. Marko Rakar says, "Croatian post (btw. we are part of EU since last night) is still accepting and sending telegrams
. They also have price list and they charge by the number of words
. So a telegram with up to 50 words is 41 Croatian Kuna (which is about €5), while up to 100 words is 61 Croatian Kuna which is about €8." Read the rest
Troy Maye was wanted for a string of identity thefts, but the IRS couldn't positively identify him. But after he passed a thumb-drive of stolen data to an IRS informant, investigators were able to pull his name off the drive's metadata. They used that to find his Instagram profile, and found a food-porn photo he'd taken at the Morton's steakhouse where he'd dined with the informant. Busted.
"IRS Agent Louis Babino then headed to Google and located Maye’s Instagram page, which contained a profile photo of Maye. When shown the profile photo, the CW confirmed that Maye (seen at right) was the man with whom he dined at Morton’s."
Well, sure, Agent Babino, but how can you be really sure this was your guy?
"A further review of Maye’s Instagram page, Babino noted, revealed “a photo of a steak and macaroni and cheese meal containing the caption ‘Morton’s.’” The image--uploaded on January 7 at 11:24 PM--“appears to coincide” with the CW’s meeting at Morton’s, added Babino."
Yup, this guy food-porned his way into being arrested. The Instagram photo is reportedly being entered into evidence in the case, so one hopes the juicy steak and the creamy mac and cheese was really, really worth all the trouble Maye is now in. Once again, if you're a criminal, online narcicism is probably something you'd be best to avoid.
Criminal Nabbed By His Own Food Porn [Timothy Geigner/TechDirt], [Gabrielle Bluestone/Gawker]
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Canipre, a Canadian company that helps the entertainment industry send legal threats to people alleged to have infringed copyright, has been caught using several infringing images on its website. Included in the art that Canipre appropriated for commercial gain without permission is a CC-licensed photo that they could have used legally simply by crediting the photographer. Canipre blames its web developer.
I ended up getting a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from a guy named Barry Logan.
Logan claimed that the company used a 3rd party vendor to develop their website and that the vendor had purchased the image from an image bank.
I pointed out to Logan that if that was true, he had basically paid his vendor to rip off other people's creative work. Logan told me that he would contact his web provider and have the image removed. He also told me that he would provide me with the name of the website developer and the name of the image bank where they obtained my photo.
I did notice that they took down my photo, but I have not heard back from Logan regarding the name of the developer and where they sourced my image. I plan to contact Logan later today if he doesn't get back to me. [sic]
The best part is that the company claims it is motivated by a higher calling than mere profit: "[We want to] change social attitudes toward downloading. Many people know it is illegal but they continue to do it... Read the rest
sez, "Apparently they do it by clogging the court system with dubious - and allegedly fradulent
- claims against people for credit card debt. Let's see... massive numbers of lawsuits, hasty filings, breakneck pace, questionable and incomplete records. I wonder if JPMC is taking a page from the Cartel's playbook?" Read the rest
The Financial Times analyzed the stock picks of the presenters at this week's Ira Sohn Investment conference in NYC and found that, on average, following a hedge fund manager was a much worse bet than buying passive index funds (though a couple hedgies did do pretty well last year, they were dragged down by the spectacularly wrong advice from the majority):
But a Financial Times analysis of last year's tips shows decidedly mixed results. An investor who followed every top idea from the 12 speakers last year would have made 19 per cent, less than the 22 per cent gain available from a passive index fund tracking the US stock market.
Many of the ideas have proved woefully miscued, including some from the most high-profile managers who will return to the stage on Wednesday: David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital and Bill Ackman of Pershing Square.
Tips From Wall Street Hedge Fund Gurus Fail to Reward Faithful
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Consumerist's Laura Northrup rounds up several years' worth of stories from Apple customers who say they were denied warranty support on their computers because they'd smoked around them. As an annoying ex-smoker, I can sympathize with a tech who doesn't want to work on a machine that smells like an old ashtray, but that's what painter's masks are for -- I've also serviced machines that reeked of BO and other less savory odors. This just feels like a way to weasel out of doing warranty service and forcing customers to pay for new machines. If the company has a policy of not fixing machines if you smoke near them, it should say so when it sells you the warranty: WARNING: IF YOU LIGHT UP NEAR YOUR LAPTOP, WE WON'T EVER FIX IT, EVEN IF IT IS MATERIALLY DEFECTIVE.
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Dena set up an appointment at the same Apple store. They told me that they would take pictures of the computer – both inside and out before determining whether to proceed and that if the only problem was the optical drive, they’d probably just replace it. Dena called me earlier this week to deliver the “bad news.” She said that the computer is beyond economical repair due to tar from cigarette smoke! She said the hard drive is about to fail, the optical drive has failed and it isn’t feasible to repair the computer under the warranty. This computer is less than 2 years old! Only one person in my household smokes – one 21 year old college student.
Boing Boing alum John Brownlee writes about an atrociously ugly Super Mario Bros. clone that hits players up for $500 worth of in-app purchases on the first screen.
I bet you’re itching to play it. Sadly, though, you can’t. Apple’s already yanked it from the App Store. You probably didn’t want to play it anyway, though: it has to be the most shamelessly abusive examples of in-app purchases that mortal mind can comprehend.
The amazing thing here isn’t that Apple banned it, it’s that they didn’t catch any of this to begin with! Especially considering the fact that the developer, Mario Casas, seems to reupload this exact same game to Apple — with the exact same in-app purchase scheme — every couple of months with a new name and new graphics, scamming players until he’s caught. And thus the cycle starts anew.
This Crappy Game Is The Most Shameless Abuse Of In-App Purchases You’ll Ever See Read the rest
In Rolling Stone, the amazing Matt Taibbi documents a breaking price-rigging scandal involving the world's biggest banks. The $500 trillion conspiracy to game the interest-rate swaps victimizes every city, town, state and nation that uses bonds to raise money, diverting an unimaginable sum from tax coffers to the pockets of mega-rich bankers. If you've been staring around at the empty storefronts, closed libraries and schools, homeless and breadlines since 2008 and wondering "Where did all the money go?" then wonder no longer.
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Though interest-rate swaps are not widely understood outside the finance world, the root concept actually isn't that hard. If you can imagine taking out a variable-rate mortgage and then paying a bank to make your loan payments fixed, you've got the basic idea of an interest-rate swap.
In practice, it might be a country like Greece or a regional government like Jefferson County, Alabama, that borrows money at a variable rate of interest, then later goes to a bank to "swap" that loan to a more predictable fixed rate. In its simplest form, the customer in a swap deal is usually paying a premium for the safety and security of fixed interest rates, while the firm selling the swap is usually betting that it knows more about future movements in interest rates than its customers.
Prices for interest-rate swaps are often based on ISDAfix, which, like Libor, is yet another of these privately calculated benchmarks. ISDAfix's U.S. dollar rates are published every day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after a gang of the same usual-suspect megabanks (Bank of America, RBS, Deutsche, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, etc.) submits information about bids and offers for swaps.
If you're booking a multi-city trip by air, you should really price it out as a series of one-way flights, rather than as a single ticket. As Mike Masnick discovered, the arcane airline ticketing rules require ticketing agencies to stick random, high-priced business-class tickets into multi-hop itineraries, which can double the cost of your trip. The ticketing websites -- Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Kayak, and Orbitz -- all either failed to show this information, produced suboptimal itineraries with unnecessary overnight layovers, or obscured the best flights in some other important way. Masnick got a spokesperson for Hipmunk to explain it all:
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After going through all of this, I reached out to folks at Hipmunk, to see if they could explain the result. Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others. If you've never dealt with the insane details of fare classes (which go way beyond seating classes), you can spend way too much time online reading the crazy details. Given that, it seems that it is these kinds of "fare classes" that are the "culprit" -- and by "culprit" I mean the way in which the airlines force you into spending much, much, much more than you need to.
That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation.
We already know that Congresscritters make huge bank through insider trading, exploiting a loophole that lets them place bets on the stock market based on rules they have yet to announce. But this game-rigging con isn't limited to elected officials: a whole class of unregulated beltway insiders make their living by wheedling "political intelligence" (that is, insider information about upcoming regulations and laws) out of politicians and their staff, and then selling it on to consultants who package it up into legal insider trading recommendations for the hyper-rich.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released Financial Market Value of Government Information Hinges on Materiality and Timing, a 34-page report on this practice, trying to figure out how pervasive the scam is. They didn't get any great answers:
"The political intelligence industry is flourishing, enriching itself and clients in the stock market, yet the report notes that it could not document who these people are or how much they profit," [Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for government watchdog Public Citizen] said. "Without full transparency of the activity of these political intelligence consultants and their clients, it is nearly impossible to know if they are trading on illegal insider information."
Government Report Examines 'Political Intelligence,' But Questions Remain [Legal Times/Andrew Ramonas]
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Joel Spolsky's editorial on patent trolls is fabulous. As he points out, the developers who pay relatively small sums to make patent trolls just go away are part of the problem, and complicit in the next round of extortion. Paying mobsters keeps them viable, and able to attack new victims:
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In the face of organized crime, civilized people don’t pay up. When you pay up, you’re funding the criminals, which makes you complicit in their next attacks. I know, you’re just trying to write a little app for the iPhone with in-app purchases, and you didn’t ask for this fight to be yours, but if you pay the trolls, giving them money and comfort to go after the next round of indie developers, you’re not just being “pragmatic,” you have actually gone over to the dark side. Sorry. Life is a bit hard sometimes, and sometimes you have to step up and fight fights that you never signed up for.
Civilized people don’t pay up. They band together, and fight, and eliminate the problem. The EFF is launching a major initiative to reform the patent system. At Stack Exchange, we’re trying to help with Ask Patents, which will hopefully block a few bad patents before they get issued.
The Application Developers Alliance (of which I am currently serving as the chairman of the board) is also getting involved with a series of Developer Patent Summits, a nationwide tour of 15 cities, which will kick off a long term program to band together to fight patent trolls.