Brilliant Onion Video Explains Copyright Dysfunction

CopyrightI think people are often confused as to exactly what I am talking about with regard to intellectual property (IP) laws and how they are out of control. They also often think that it is strange that someone who actually makes (very little) money from royalties would feel this way. On a personal level, it is just because the IP laws are not set up for creative workers; they are set up to ensure corporate profits. And there are far better ways to encourage creative work besides copyrights and patents. One is Dean Baker’s idea for Artist Freedom Vouchers.

But rather than get into such details, I’d like to share with you a two and a half minute video. The Onion produced it, How To Successfully Sue Other Moms Who Steal Your Parenting Tricks. It is part of a series by a character, Grace Manning-Devlin. She is a vblogger who produces a show called, “Mothers Should.” In it, she provides parenting advice to other upper class mothers. Perhaps the best is, Baby-Naming Tips For New Moms. In it, she explains that the hottest trend in baby naming is, “Naming your baby after jobs that no longer exist.” For boys, these include names like, “Cooper, Tanner, Milkman, Serf…” And for girls, “Lector, Bluestocking, and Town-Hag.” She also recommends names from the Bible, like “Daniel” and “Shan’t.”

The video on copyright and patents gets the tone completely right. Check it out:

I’m not a parent, so I probably don’t get all the jokes here. But the main thing seems to be that she is copyrighting trivial things. But even more than that, she’s copyrighting things that clearly didn’t originate with her like the smiley face bubble bath. This is quite common. The most infamous example is the song, Happy Birthday to You. The song dates back to the mid-19th century. But some company got the idea of copyrighting it in 1935, and people have been paying for it ever since.

The video also highlights the use of legal harassment by copyright holders. That gets back to “Happy Birthday to You.” In most cases, it isn’t worth the expense to to fight against frivolous IP claims; it’s cheaper just to pay. So when Manning-Devlin was in Whole Foods (Of course!) and saw another woman using the copyrighted “craisens tip,” she gets her lawyer to send out a cease and desist letter. This is standard behavior in the corporate world. Apple computer has been doing this with “look and feel” lawsuits for 25 years, despite the fact that Apple also “stole” the same ideas from people before them.

Also really interesting is how parents are supposed to gain access to all these exciting parenting tips. For $24.99 per month, mothers can use up to 20 of Manning-Devlin’s “hottest tips.” This is similar to software and videos, which are never sold but rather licensed. (It makes you wonder: how did she know the Whole Foods woman wasn’t a subscriber?) But even more funny is “Grace’s Public Domain Tricks,” which are, like all of her ideas, things that were already around, but have clearly been around a lot longer. For example, there is the “Easy Couch Fort.” I’m sure these public domain ideas she’s claimed and “given back” are being written off as lost revenue.

The argument in favor of IP laws has always been that it encourages creative work. But it is clear at this point that they do just the opposite. No one, for example, can write a Harry Potter novel without licensing it (which means no one will be allowed to except for JK Rowling). But if that weren’t the case, I’m sure that other people would have written Harry Potter novels that were as good or better than the original ones. I don’t begrudge Rowling her money — in fact, she seems like a thoroughly decent person. But she didn’t write those books because she thought she would become a billionaire. I have little doubt she would have been thrilled with the thought of simply making a living as a writer.

So none of this stuff is about what creative workers do. What’s funny about The Onion video is that the (supposed) creative worker is acting the way that the corporatocracy does. Remember: “An idea is like a seed: it can only turn into a tree if you kill all the birds trying to eat it.”


One thing that I really liked in the video was the use of jump cuts which are so vblog. I find it annoying. These people can buy nice cameras, lighting, and editing software. But to shoot with an extra camera or otherwise provide cutaways is asking too much. But note: I’m not against jump cuts. But if someone is going to the trouble of making something look professional, why not do that? It’s all about time, of course. It is easy to automate all the rest. Proper editing takes time. And talent.

See also: Copyright: Forever Less One Day.

Rosencrantz on Life and Death in a Box

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are DeadDo you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it? … It’s silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead… which should make all the difference… shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like you were asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air — you’d wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box. That’s why I don’t think of it… Because you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you? Stuffed in a box like that, I mean you’d be in there forever. Even taking into account the fact that you’re dead, it isn’t a pleasant thought. Especially if you’re dead, really… ask yourself, if I asked you straight off — I’m going to stuff you in this box now, would you rather be alive or dead? Naturally, you’d prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You’d have a chance, at least. You could lie there thinking — well, at least I’m not dead! In a minute someone’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. “Hey you, whatsyername! Come out of there!” … I wouldn’t think about it, if I were you. You’d only get depressed. Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?

—Tom Stoppard
Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

US Out of Okinawa!

US Military Bases on OkinawaIn 1995, three US Marines kidnapped, beat, and raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl. The men were convicted in a Japanese court, served their time, and went home. One of them went on to murder his girlfriend and then kill himself. The other two live somewhere in obscurity. As for the child, I have no information on what happened to her. I assume she was shielded from public view, and I hope that she has been able to get on with her life. For the people of Okinawa, this horrible crime is still very much alive. For the last 20 years, the people have been trying to get the US military to leave.

This last weekend, Al Jazeera reported, Thousands Protest Against US Airbase in Japan’s Okinawa. There are a total of 47,000 US military personnel in Japan, and over half of them are located on the Okinawa prefecture (kind of like a Japanese state). And the people are not happy. Think about it. There are roughly a million and a half people on the islands. And after two decades, they are still showing up in large numbers to protest. An estimated 35,000 protesters showed up in Naha — by far Okinawa’s largest city with a population of less than 350,000 people. It’s impressive, and maybe we should listen to them. (Obviously, it is a question for the Japanese government, but if we led, they would follow.)

After the outrage of the rape, the US military decided to move their Futenma base, where roughly 3,000 Marines are stationed. But all they wanted to do was to move it from one place on the Okinawa prefecture to another. Not too good. A 2007 poll found that 85% of the people in Okinawa were against the US military presence. But it seems only about half of them want the bases to go away completely; the other half would like to see them greatly reduced in size. And it isn’t surprising. According to The Guardian back in 2011, between 1972 and 2009, there were 5,634 criminal offense committed by the servicemen. “Among them are 25 murders, 385 burglaries, 25 arsons, 127 rapes, 306 assaults and 2,827 thefts.”

So why aren’t the military bases being moved? Well, according to the Japanese government, it is all Okinawa’s fault. At this point, Tokyo says that if they don’t want the base moved to another place on Okinawa, they have to come up with an alternative. This reminds me very much of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. As an occupation force, Israel is in charge of security, but Israel constantly complains about the Palestinian Authority not controlling its people. It’s the usual thing: those with power use it however they want, and when they don’t, they dump the responsibility onto the weak.

But look at the map at the top of this article. The red areas represent US military bases. We have these all over the world. This is what American empire looks like. I know that conservatives like to respond that we aren’t controlling the governments of other countries. But we don’t allow non-compliant governments to exist in areas that are important to us. And that was the same way it was under the British empire and the Roman empire. They always had their local stooges. I don’t think it is necessary for us to have an empire. In the long run, I think it is bad for us. But the least we could do is cooperate with the wishes of the people of Okinawa.

Why We Don’t Address the Over-Valued Dollar

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman highlighted a bit of disingenuousness about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from the White House, Tariffs Versus Currencies. I thought it would be helpful to go into this a little bit because it is probably the most important single economic issue that we have to deal with. Basically: the dollar is too damned high. This is the reason that so many people are out of work. And this is the reason that we only manage to get to full employment when we have things like the late 1990s stock bubble and the late 2000s housing bubble.

In this new report (pdf), the authors said, “US businesses must overcome an average tariff hurdle of 6.8 percent, in addition to numerous non-tariff barriers (NTBs), to serve the roughly 95 percent of the world’s customers outside our borders.” Krugman noted that the 6.8% is supposed to sound like a very big number. But it isn’t. He provided the following graph that shows that value of the dollar (weighted by where we export) went up over 20% from last summer and the beginning of this year:

US Dollar Value -- Trade Weighted

Clearly, the value of the dollar is a far bigger deal. But I understand: 6.8% is still extra forcing against our exports. The problem is that the tariff forcing works both ways: we tax their goods and they tax our goods. So this discussion is disingenuous in the same way that these discussions always are on the issue of increased trade.

Dean Baker provided a good way to think of this. Imagine that there is a car being built in Ohio. After the trade deal, the company decides to send all the parts to Mexico to have the car assembled, and then shipped back here for sale. All of those car assembly workers are out of a job, yet “trade” has gone way up!

The question remains, “Why don’t we do something about the over valued dollar?” And the reason is because having a high valued dollar is great if you already have a lot of them. The high valued dollar is only a problem if you are like 99% of working age Americans who need a job. In addition to this, companies like Walmart depend upon buying cheap products from other countries. If paper towels out of China suddenly go up in price by 20%, it is a big problem for them because their supply lines are already set up. If paper towels can be purchased more cheaply in the US, then another retailer could beat Walmart’s prices.

All of this is entirely typical of the way the we deal with all problems in this country: we don’t go straight at the problem; we nibble around the edges. The TPP apologists will claim that we don’t deal with currency manipulation because it is a hard problem. But the value of the dollar is not just an issue of currency manipulation. During the Clinton years we explicitly had a “strong dollar” policy — and nothing has really changed. And that shows you that the real reason we don’t deal with the issue of the value of the dollar — and by extension, the issue of our trade deficit — is because the power elite in this country don’t want to. And that should tell you all you need to know about the TPP: it is being crammed down our throats because the power elite want it — not because it is good for the country.

Morning Music: Sound of Music

Sound of MusicBecause of the hilarious video review, The Onion Looks Back At The Sound Of Music, I’ve been having various songs from that musical going through my head today. In truth, I’m not that fond of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work. When I was a kid, I loved it. Now it just seems too overblown, even as it lacks for inspiration. Clearly, that has been the direction of Broadway musicals over the course of my life, but I don’t have to like it.

My favorite song from the film was not written by the dynamic duo, but rather just by Richard Rodgers himself, because Oscar Hammerstein had died five years earlier. That song is “I Have Confidence” — it was either that or “Something Good,” since those were the only two Rodgers wrote the lyrics for. Both those songs are musically more interesting. This adds weight to my argument that the Rodgers and Hart songs are better because Rodgers wrote the music first. It’s a thought.

Before getting to the song, let me note that one of my favorite film, Romantics Anonymous, with one of my favorite crushes, Isabelle Carré, uses “I Have Confidence.” In it, the debilitatingly shy Angélique uses the song to give her courage. It never works. Of course, I can’t share that with you because the company that owns the copyright can’t tell the difference between advertising and theft. I dare say no one on the planet has worked as hard as I have to get people to watch this charming film.

Where was I? Oh, that’s right: “I Have Confidence.” Here is Sierra Boggess singing it live on television:

Anniversary Post: Battle of Clavijo

Battle of Clavijo - Corrado Giaquinto (Detail)On this day in 834, the Battle of Clavijo didn’t take place. But for a very long time, people thought that it did. It was supposedly between the good Christians of Spain to expel the Muslims from the country. Over time, they realized that the battle never took place. But for centuries, people believed. It even included actual historical figures, like Emir of Córdoba. But ultimately, the truth came out. A big problem with it is that there was no mention of the battle for about three hundred years after it. It reminds me of something else regarding Christianity, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. You know: a really impressive event that everyone would have known about that supposedly included actual historical figures, but somehow is completely devoid of contemporaneous accounts? It’s just not coming to me…

Another interesting thing about the battle is that supposedly Saint James Matamoros showed up to fight back the Muslims. Matamoros was a legendary character and this is pretty much what he would always do: show up and kill Muslims. Further, he was thought to be the same person as James, son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ apostles, and the first to be martyred (according to tradition). Those who know their Book of Revelation realize that when Jesus comes back, he is going to kick some major butt. I find it interesting that pretty much all religions are parochial in this way: God will come in and help our little group kill all our enemies. Given how undependable God is in this regard, it’s all kind of hard to take.

That’s what’s so great about the Battle of Clavijo. You don’t need to have wars where God helps you win. You can just make up wars where God helps you win. That has two major advantages. First, it makes God really dependable. Second, no war! That’s pretty great. The Iraq War could have been just a story. It would have great to teach a lesson about hubris and stupidity. Instead, we had an actual war and most people haven’t learned a damned thing.

But happy anniversary to the fake Battle of Clavijo!