Thursday, April 30, 2009

Caught by the (Copyright) Fuzz

I wrote back in September that I had put a short film I'd made in college up on YouTube. Today I discovered that my little movie had been flagged because some of the audio content in it matched music belonging to Warner Music Group (WMG). This is true; it did feature, without permission or attribution, the first 37 seconds of "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin. The consequences for this finding are low, as YouTube simply muted the video. Observe [warning: simulated gore and muted swearing (the latter was muted in the original as well, incidentally)]:

First of all, I'm not sure why the YouTube video I linked in the song title above hasn't been caught, while mine has. I used only half a minute of the song, whereas shotguy1 posted the whole thing. Sour grapes.

I do have the option of changing the music, either automatically through YouTube to a copyright-free piece of music selected from what they have available, or to something I provide. I could go the route that the very funny Cartoon Network show "The Venture Bros." has on occasion, and provide a reasonable sound-alike song. I actually know exactly how I would structure this sound-alike, but I don't have the means or know the right people to produce it. Nor do I care to go to the trouble.

My other option, which I also will not pursue, would be to try to make a claim of Fair Use of the music. I would probably lose this, and it would be idiotic to try because it would involve lawyering up against the #3 media & entertainment conglomerate in the world. My having produced and shown this movie at the Titular Head student film festival (which still shouldn't have a Wikipedia entry) in 2001 is likely not a problem: it was a private event and, it could be argued, was for an educational purpose.

However, out in public, you have to fulfill one of two major criteria to successfully claim fair use of copyrighted material: it has to comment on or criticize the material in its use, or it has to be a parody of that material. As this article shows, these are both tricky. In my case, my use of Zeppelin was not a parody. My movie is a parody, but of Mentos commercials and to a lesser extent Quentin Tarantino (NSFW), not the song "Whole Lotta Love."

I should mention tangentially that I think copyright law has run amok. It used to be that copyright on a creative work would extend long enough for a creator to derive financial benefit, thus encouraging creativity, and then expire, letting the world use the work as anyone saw fit. Recently, though entertainment lobbies have worked to repeatedly extend copyright to protect their profits. The late singer/songwriter and US Congressman Sonny Bono was a big proponent of such extensions, to the point that the copyright extension of 1998 was named in his memory.

Lawrence Lessig is a law professor at UCLA and specializes in copyright and digital media issues. He has repeatedly given excellent presentations on why indefinite copyright stifles creativity. Here's a shorter one (18 min):

One point he has made on occasion, which I think really puts copyright in perspective, is the fact that one of the biggest corporations to fight for the extension of copyright is the Walt Disney company. Several of Disney's most popular films were based on works that had expired from copyright at the time the movies were made, but would not have expired if today's copyright laws were in effect back then: Pinnocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, and The Jungle Book were all published within 100 years of their Disney film being made. What would art, theater or film be today if Shakespeare's plays had had their copyright repeatedly extended? Where would Disney be if the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen had been able to indefinitely extend theirs?

In any case, my short-lived career as a provider of YouTube content appears to be over.

Monday, April 20, 2009

George Will to nation: "Get off my lawn!"

George Will has been known for his willingness to take on conservative orthodoxy from time to time, be it the divisiveness of social cons self-identifying as "values voters," or the bizarre Constitutional contortions of the last administration, or criticizing McCain's actions in response to the financial crisis in September. So I generally consider him someone who does a fair amount of critical thinking. I disagree with him often, but the mere fact that he doesn't always toe the line means he's considering his opinions as he writes them.

Last week, though, he published a column that was just dumb, and really rubbed me the wrong way. It was 750 words on why the widespread wearing of blue jeans is "symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche".

Now, take your pick. You may think, as many conservatives do, that the big story of last week was the (to my mind, silly and largely off-message) anti-tax "tea parties." You may think, as I do, that the big story was the release by the Obama administration of the DOJ memos that laid out the program of torturing prisoners (I'm hoping to put a post together on this, soon, too). And there are still two actual wars and a variety of metaphoric wars against nouns (drugs, terror, etc.) going on. And a thing or two happening in the economy. But despite all that, Will decided the problem with America that most deserved his attention was the shameful practice of blue-jean-wearing. Now, the same could certainly be said of me: I could be writing about more important things, too. The difference is that dozens of bankrupt newspapers aren't paying for what I'm writing.

Here's the nub of his argument, with a couple edits including removal of some parentheticals:
Long ago, when James Dean and Marlon Brando wore it, denim was, Akst says, "a symbol of youthful defiance." Today, Silicon Valley billionaires are rebels without causes beyond poses, wearing jeans when introducing new products. Akst's summa contra denim is grand as far as it goes, but it only scratches the surface of this blight on Americans' surfaces. Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults and cartoons for adults . Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.
No, you upper-class twit, the reason people wear blue jeans is that they are comfortable, cheap, widely available, easy to find in a good fit, durable, and easy to maintain. And as a side note, the playing of video games is not the mark of an unthinking mind any more than the enjoyment of baseball, for instance (And for the record, grouping all four Indiana Jones movies and the six Batman movies together is akin to grouping Miracle on 34th Street with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or, more to the point, George Will with Michael Savage).

And then, this:
This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.
Great. If you'd be willing to personally subsidize my wardrobe, Mr. Will, I'll gladly start dressing like that other Fred. But until then, I'll remind you that people respond to incentives and, for the moment, cost, comfort and convenience have supplanted irrelevant, anachronistic shame as an incentive to at least this young, professional, video-game-playing, thinking voter.

Oh, and by the way, here's what Will had to say about Obama exactly one year to the week prior:
By so speaking, Obama does fulfill liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt. What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.
Pot, kettle, etc.

All of this, of course, reminded me of this great SNL sketch from the late 80s:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weeklypedia #19: a Quizsplosion!

OK, here's the latest quiz, with a couple of bonus quiz/puzzly things below. The answers from #18 will be posted shortly.
1. Of Kansas City, KS, Tulsa, OK, and Omaha, NE, it is the one neither furthest west nor furthest east.
2. Shortly before his father's assassination, Robert Todd Lincoln was saved from falling under a train by the brother of this man. The rescuer, considered by some the greatest American actor of the 19th century, was later comforted to learn he had saved President Lincoln's son.
3. This author, an intelligence officer in WWII, devised the never-used Operation Goldeneye, which would have maintained contact with Gibraltar in case it was invaded by Spain or the Axis.
4. The city of Charlotte, North Carolina, is named for the German Princess Charlotte, who married this British king the year before the city's founding.
5. In 1972, Nolan Bushnell co-founded this American video game company with a Japanese name.
6. In 1977, Nolan Bushnell founded this chain of pizza restaurants.
7. Sakura is the Japanese name for this flower, which blooms in late March in southern Japan, through early May in the North.
8. Before 1980, the last significant eruptions of this peak were a series of ash eruptions from 1831 to 1857.
Plus, a puzzle, in the style of Will Shortz on NPR Sunday mornings:
Take a two word phrase that would mean trite, meaningless statements made in a pique of anger. Move the first letter from the second word to the beginning of the first word to get a two-word phrase suggesting which parts of the globe you might want to keep your cargo ships out of. (Note: this puzzle was suggested to me by the name of a forthcoming posthumous novel by Michael Crichton. If you look this title up, it will spoil the answer.)

Plus, a very narrow trivia quiz that you can help me flesh out:
For each of the following songs, name the cable TV series that featured the song in the last minutes of its finale. Clicking on the song title reveals the answer and, if watched entirely, will spoil the series:
1. Don't Stop Believing by Journey
2. Breathe Me by Sia
3. All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix
4. Way Down in the Hole by The Blind Boys of Alabama
5. Any additions?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jeopardy: Potpourri

To close out Major Jeopardy Blogging Operations, here are some Jeopardy-related bits that fell along the wayside. The first three are answers to frequently-asked questions.

1. How the little interview bits with Alex work
When you audition, you fill out a set of five sample stories that might be good for the contestant interviews during the show. These are only used at the audition, I'm assuming to see how you respond to questions and how you deal with talking out loud in front of others.

When you're booked, in addition to the ten-page non-disclosure and release form (which says you won't spill the beans about any show results, lest they take away your winnings, and allows them to use your image from the show in perpetuity throughout the universe on any media in existence or yet to be invented (really)), you fill out more stories and questions and other little tidbits. What's an unusual talent or trait? I enjoy using phrases that went out of style half a century ago. What's one of your earliest memories? I bit a kid at Chuck E. Cheese. Any interesting travel experiences? I went to Space Camp with Chelsea Clinton. And so on.

When you arrive in the green room, contestant coordinator Tony Pandolfo has a card with four of your stories selected from the many, many nuggets you've provided. He will ask you to select one of them to be highlighted. On my first day, Alex was not going with what people had selected. This is not uncommon, I guess, so you have to know what's on the card and be ready to chitchat about any of the stories. I had picked the story about writing for The Onion, and he didn't get around to it until my third game, after talking about Al Italia losing my luggage and talking about improv on national TV.

2. What I'm Doing With My Winnings
Details haven't been worked out, but roughly the following:
  • Taxes.
  • Other taxes.
  • Bills.
  • A second bathroom, upstairs.
  • A nice TV. Not too big.
  • Misc.
That'll probably cover it.

Also, they tell you to expect your winnings from 90-120 days after taping (so, end of April to end of May), but the sheets you sign for your prizes in each game say it may be as late as 120 days after airing (end of July). So I haven't joined a sushi of the week club just yet (incidentally, if I ran such a club, Unagi would be the sushi of the week every week except for special weeks reserved for Otoro. Om nom nom nom.).

3. What are the eligibility requirements referenced in the end credits of the show?
I don't think I know all of them, but they include: being 18 years or older, not having appeared on any other game show in the past year, not being a candidate for public office (interesting note: John McCain was a contestant back in the Art Fleming days before he went to Vietnam), I have never been convicted of a felony, I'm not being paid to plug anything, I'm not competing against anyone I know without telling the producers so beforehand, and so on.

Back in the 80s, a woman named Barbara Lowe won five games and thus qualified for the Tournament of Champions, but before the ToC came around, it was discovered that she was ineligible to play on the show (I think because she'd been on another show under a different name in the preceding year). I believe her winnings were withheld, and I know she wasn't allowed in the Tournament.

4. Shameless Self-Promotion: The Online Jeopardy Community
There are two sites that track what's going down on Jeopardy on a daily basis. The first, which I've referenced before, is the J! Archive, which posts every clue every day, and basically allows you to read the entire game from start to finish, and track each player's every move:
Game One
Game Two
Game Three
Game Four

Second, Game Show Kingdom is a fellow blogspot blog that recaps various game shows every day. Their summaries are like SportsCenter highlights, with a mix of fact and commentary. Each entry has Jeopardy down near the bottom:
Game One
Game Two
Game Three
Game Four

5. Shameless Self-Promotion: The Press
I've gotten ink in a handful of random locations, including the US Congressional newspaper The Hill (due to my opponent Meg being a staffer for Sen. Lautenberg). But I wanted especially to mention one in particular, which was that my Great Uncle Cork in Michigan was very sweet to send a notice to the Grand Haven Tribune about my appearance.

6. One more random story
During the pre-rehearsal meetings on the second day, one contestant went into the restroom in the green room, and came out looking a little frantic. This person ran to their bag and pulled out a stack of flash cards. Somebody asked if anything was wrong.

"I can't remember who wrote Heart of Darkness!"

The rest of the room chimed in with "Joseph Conrad," and this person was relieved when they found the card they were looking for, confirming they'd covered this.

I think we all knew the feeling: that one piece of information we would need would elude us at a crucial moment. I know I wish I'd flipped through my wallet just before I went on again.

Barring my getting into the Tournament next year, that's the end of the road for my Jeopardy experience, for now. Thanks to all the far-flung family, friends, classmates, friends, and acquaintences who have cheered me on and sent their congratulations. I've tried to reply to any direct questions I've received, but I'm sure I missed some along the way. In any case, thank you for your support, and for reading.

Typically sporadic posting on a variety of nerdy topics will resume presently.

Monday, April 6, 2009

More Public Policy: Marriage Equality

Big congratulations to Iowa (state of my beloved alma mater and its terrible web page) for taking a major step for equality on Friday with the State Supreme Court decision that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples violates equal protection under the law.

This has been covered in more depth by better-informed correspondents elsewhere, but I wanted to share a couple of things:
1. That this happened smack in the middle of the Midwest is wonderful, and makes me hope for a positive effect in neighboring states (*coughMinnesotacough*).
2. The way things work in Iowa, this cannot be easily dumped in the next election cycle by a public proposition for a constitutional amendment. Amending the Iowa constitution is much more difficult than California, where Prop. 8 needed only a simple majority to pass.
3. More specifically, the SOONEST an amendment could be voted on by the public would be 2012, and that presupposes that the current state legislature act on it now. Which isn't going to happen, because Democratic Majority Leader Mike Gronstal will not play ball. This is great:

So it looks like this will stand for a while. Hotbed of liberals, that Iowa.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, the state legislature is in the process of passing marriage rights for same-sex couples, and the Republican governor has vetoed it, because it would be a "distraction" from more important issues in this time of economic trouble. Zuh? That veto may be overridden tomorrow, but the vote looks pretty tight.

Update! They did it! Well met, Vermont! VT is now the first state to achieve marriage equality legislatively. So, no talk about activist judges overturning the will of the people here...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A public policy sidenote

This is why providing health care to those who do not have it is in the public interest, mine and yours:
AUSTIN, Texas – Just nine people accounted for nearly 2,700 of the emergency room visits in the Austin area during the past six years at a cost of $3 million to taxpayers and others, according to a report. The patients went to hospital emergency rooms 2,678 times from 2003 through 2008, said the report from the nonprofit Integrated Care Collaboration, a group of health care providers who care for low-income and uninsured patients.
Ridiculous. Unless we were to turn people away at emergency rooms (which we should not), under the current health care system, this will keep happening. The system is broken.

Some simple math: this care cost an average of $55,556 per person per year, on the public dime. These nine patients were each going an average of once per week. There has got to be a way to provide better care to these nine and the thousands upon thousands they represent nationwide in a way that would be more cost effective and cheaper to the taxpayer. I'm not dumb enough to suggest I know what the solution is, but we can't afford the status quo.