Monthly Archives: May 2010

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Australian Artists Upset That Australian Tourism Campaign Crowdsourced Images

Reader mick writes in to alert us to a group of photographers in Australia who seem absolutely livid that the government’s latest toursim campaign sought to crowdsource photographs that could be used as part of the campaign. To me, that seems like a perfectly reasonable idea — in fact, a good idea in engaging people and getting them to take part in the campaign. But the problem comes from the fact that Tourism Australia asked people to let it use the photographs for free. That’s when a bunch of groups went ballistic:


The National Association for the Visual Arts, the Australian Copyright Council and the Arts Law Centre of Australia are protesting the conditions.

They are demanding the agency relicense any photographs used in the campaign to pay royalties to the artists.

Let me get this straight. Even though the whole thing is completely optional, and photographers, who don’t like the terms, have every right to just not participate, they’re pissed off that others can participate — of their own free will — by letting the Tourism campaign use their photographs freely. If the photographers don’t mind the terms, why should others? The reality is that these groups are trying to stomp out amateur competition. This whole hissy fit is about limiting the market to professionals, and keeping the amateurs out.


Arts Law Centre of Australia chief executive Robyn Ayres says the copyright rules set a “worrying precedent”.

“The creative industries play a huge role in our economy and our culture,” she said in a statement.

Of course the creative industries play a huge role in the economy and culture. But what does that have to do with willing participants letting the Tourism campaign use their images for free of their own free will?


“Refusing to license these photographic works in an appropriate way sends a message that it (government) does not value creative work in the same way as it values other economic assets.”

No, it shows that the Tourism group realizes that some people are more than willing to contribute their works for free for reasons other than direct payment.

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House Increases Taxes On Venture Capital At A Time When More Investment In Innovation Is Needed

For a little while now, we’ve noted various plans among politicians to change tax laws for private equity fund managers — which is supposed to close some loopholes that allowed some bad investment decision making to happen. But one of the serious problems with those efforts are that they lump together all types of private equity, including hedge funds (which do have some issues) and venture capital, which functions entirely differently. Despite numerous warnings about this, it looks like the House has still gone forward with passing a bill that will greatly increase the taxes on venture capital partners, taxing part of the money they make as profits from investments as traditional income, rather than as capital gains (which is taxed at a much lower rate).

While I don’t think this change will be as devastating as some have made it out to be, it could chill some aspects of investment. And, while I also don’t believe that venture capital is the only way to build an innovative business these days, I do think it has an important place in the ecosystem, and is quite helpful for many companies. Taking away some of the incentives for venture investments, right at a time when we need greater innovation seems like a fundamentally short-sighted move. I understand the argument on the other side, that the partners are investing other people’s money, and thus it’s not “their” investment from which to earn capital gains, but to some extent that’s misleading. The setup of most venture funds with carried interest (i.e., the profit share for venture partners) is to effectively trade their time and effort in the investment for a part of the investment. So it might not be their cash, but they do invest in other ways, and for that they get a share of the profits.

There are certainly lots of problems with our financial system today, and many questions about the private equity space. But lumping in venture capitalists who do long-term, high risk investments in private companies to help them grow, with hedge funds that do short-term, highly speculative gambling-type investments without much focus on the underlying business or prospects, is a dangerous move. There are problems with the venture capital model, but for the most part it works quite well in funding all sorts of innovative companies. Putting this kind of speed bump into the market won’t stop venture capital investments, but it could have some pretty serious consequences, especially in terms of the type of companies VCs are willing to invest in. The Senate still needs to vote on this issue, and hopefully they recognize that this is not the time to punish venture capitalists.

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Another Lawsuit Questions Who Owns The Copyright On Legal Filings

Last summer, we wrote about a lawsuit in the US where a lawyer was suing LexisNexis and Westlaw for their services offering access to legal filings. At issue was who owned the copyright on those legal filings. Historically, that issue has rarely come up, because there’s little commercial interest in the filings by themselves. However, some lawyers are apparently getting upset about other companies collecting and selling access to their filings… even though the reality of the situation is that those aggregators aren’t selling the filings, so much as the aggregation of all the filings. No one is ever going to go to a lawyer and offer to pay for a copy of a particular filing. However, it appears similar legal questions are being asked north of the border as well. Michael Geist points us to the news of a class action lawsuit being filed against Thomson Reuters for its service that aggregates legal filings for other lawyers.

While I can understand that, technically, legal filings are most likely covered by copyright, I think there should be a clear exemption there. The entire purpose of copyright law is supposed to be to create incentives to create works and share them. But, in the case of legal filings, clearly copyright is not needed as an incentive for either creating the works or for sharing them. It seems preposterous to think that such documents should get copyright protection. Really, this is yet another of the ridiculous consequences of copyright law changes that made any type of work automatically covered by copyright. If there was a system that required registration of copyrights, I doubt many lawyers would be copyrighting their legal filings.

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If You’re Trying To Sell Insider Info, Perhaps Don’t Randomly Email Dozens Of Investors

Perhaps an idea for a future Disney movie could be what happens when a clueless Disney employee tries to sell insider secrets to investors for a cut of the profits. Apparently, a woman who was the assistant to Disney’s head of corporate communications concocted a scheme whereby she would get early access to Disney’s earnings report, tell her boyfriend about it, and he would sell that info to investors for trading purposes. Reading the details of what went down after that shows a couple of pretty clueless, bungling, would-be insider traders. The boyfriend emailed 33 separate investors with the offer, apparently not realizing that a bunch of them would pass the info on to the authorities. In the end, the only three “investors” who agreed to buy were all undercover FBI agents.

And, to make the situation worse, the woman wasn’t even able to get the earnings report that was the key to the whole offer. It actually sounds like her boyfriend just guessed the earnings-per-share number, after she was unable to get the document and the clock was ticking down to the close of trading the day before the earnings announcement was to be made. As time was running out, there was this fun email exchange between the couple:


“Is it coming or what,” Sebbag e-mailed Hoxie 51 minutes before the closing bell that day. “Patience my dear,” she responded. “It is fully used,” he wrote back.

Hoxie then wrote: “What would you suggest I do. If I could wave my magic wand and give you what you want — I would. However, since that is not going to happen, I suggest you call on your inner Buddhist — and CHILL the f’ out.”

In the end, not surprisingly, the couple were arrested for conspiracy and wire fraud. My guess is they got the idea for how insider trading scams work by watching a few too many Disney movies…

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Canadian Industry Minister Admits He Breaks Copyright Law Frequently

Michael Geist points us to an article about how Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement has admitted that, under current Canadian law, he breaks the law all the time — mainly by transferring songs from CDs to his iPod, which is apparently not currently allowed under Canadian copyright law (something I did not know…). Clearly, Clement is bringing this up to show that Canadian copyright law has some serious problems, though it’s amusing to note that, if this is accurate, it’s yet another in the long list of ways that Canadian copyright law (despite claims to the contrary by US politicians and the entertainment industry) is actually significantly more favorable to copyright holders than US law.

That said, Clement is the guy who supposedly was fighting for more reasonable copyright law in Canada, but the rumor is that he lost that fight to Heritage Minister James Moore, who pitched a US-style law. We’re still waiting for the official release of this new copyright proposal, but if it’s true that Clement lost the fight for a more reasonable law, the reason he’s bringing this up now is that the upcoming bill to change Canadian copyright law will add lots of things that the entertainment industry wants, but won’t balance it out with more rights for consumers — such as the basic right to place shift your legally purchased music.

Of course, when you have your own government officials admitting that they break copyright law regularly (and give a good reason for it), it should be obvious that it’s time to fix the law. Unfortunately, if the rumors are true, the “fix” is only going to make things much worse.

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Blizzard Says DRM Is A Losing Battle, Better To Focus On Positive Value

A bunch of folks have sent over variations on the story that video gaming company Blizzard has said that DRM is a losing battle. While that part is catchy, even more impressive is the overall reasoning, which is that it just makes a lot more sense to focus on adding value for the people who do want to pay, rather than worrying about the folks who don’t want to pay:


“The best approach from our perspective is to make sure that you’ve got a full-featured platform that people want to play on, where their friends are, where the community is,” he added.

“That’s a battle that we have a chance in. If you start talking about DRM and different technologies to try to manage it, it’s really a losing battle for us, because the community is always so much larger, and the number of people out there that want to try to counteract that technology, whether it’s because they want to pirate the game or just because it’s a curiosity for them, is much larger than our development teams.

“We need our development teams focused on content and cool features, not anti-piracy technology.”

Now this is definitely good news. We’re hearing more and more stories where content creators are realizing that wasting so much effort on stopping people who would never buy in the first place is a waste of time. It’s much more productive (and useful) to focus on giving people better reasons to buy. And, Blizzard has been known to experiment creatively with that in the past as well. For example, we recently wrote about the virtual goods it was selling in the game, as well as selling some physical goods as well.

That said, Blizzard also does have a history of less inspiring behavior. The company is still fighting a questionable lawsuit over whether or not the creator of a bot is guilty of copyright infringement. It’s also been very aggressive in sending out cease-and-desist letters to fan sites. And, worst of all, the company had announced that it would remove LAN support from StarCraft II in an effort to fight “piracy.”

So, while it’s good to hear these words suggesting a focus on adding more value, rather than fighting at the technology level, the company does have some legacy issues to overcome as well.

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Mom Who Used Son’s Facebook Account Found Guilty Of Online Harassment

We’re somewhat skeptical of the various “cyberharassment” laws out there, as they leave themselves wide open to interpretation (often in dangerous ways). In April, we wrote about one case involving a son who sued his mother for harassment after she used his Facebook account (she went to the computer and he had not logged out) to post angry messages on his wall, pretending to be him, and then changed his password and locked him out of the account. (As a quick aside: I just checked, and as with most online services, Facebook appears to require you to type in your old password before you can enter a new one — so I’m wondering how she had access to his existing password…).

Either way, Rose M. Welch alerts us to the news that the mother has been found guilty, told to pay $435, given a 30-day suspended jail sentence, and ordered to take both anger management and parenting classes. Clearly, what she did was wrong, though I do wonder if it really reaches the level of harassment. Some of the judge’s reasoning also is a bit suspect. Part of the reasoning for the guilty ruling was that the mother had left messages on her son’s voicemail that included curse words. The son is 17, so it’s not like he hasn’t heard those words before — and the mother insisted that this was part of their normal joking banter. The judge, however, declared it “totally, completely inappropriate.” Now, I’m not going to say that leaving voicemail messages to your children with curse words is a good parenting technique, but it still seems a bit extreme to use that as evidence of harassment.

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And We’re Off: Hurt Locker Files First 5,000 Lawsuits Against File Sharers

As was widely rumored and more or less confirmed by the rude email from Hurt Locker’s producers, saying that anyone who thought this was a bad idea was a “moron” and a “thief,” the producers of Hurt Locker have now officially started suing people, whom they accuse of sharing the movie online in an unauthorized manner. While the initial rumors said that there would be “tens of thousands” of lawsuits — and some had predicted over 100,000 — at least the initial burst is for 5,000 people. The actual complaint (pdf and also embedded below) has some fun claims about how a single copy being distributed destroys the whole market blah blah blah. That this point is disproved time and time again by box office results apparently doesn’t matter:

Of course, this really has nothing to do with stopping unauthorized file sharing or the perceived harm of file sharing. This is entirely about trying to squeeze money out of people. Thomas Dunlap, the lawyer running this under the name US Copyright Group, isn’t looking to take any of these lawsuits to court. The whole point is to find out who these people are and to send them legal nastygrams, that come very close to your garden variety extortion letter — telling people that they’ll drop the lawsuit if they just pay $1,500. It comes across as a classic “protection racket.” “Pay up and you won’t get hurt.” Hopefully more ISPs stand up for their customers (and their own business interests) and don’t just roll over. But, more importantly, hopefully the courts recognize how questionable this practice is and start blocking such a clear abuse of the court system. Over in the UK, lawyers have been disciplined for these sorts of stunts, and in France, some lawyers were barred from practice for six months after trying to do something similar. With any luck, US officials recognize that this is an abuse of the legal system and work quickly to block this practice.

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Using An Online Map As Part Of Your Criminal Activity Gets You A Longer Sentence In Louisiana

Here’s a bizarre one. Reader withersteen alerts us to a strange new law that has been passed in Louisiana, which will add from one to ten years to your prison sentence if you use an online map in the process of committing a crime:


A bill headed to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk would increase penalties for crimes committed with the use of an Internet-generated “virtual street-level map.”

Senate Bill 151 by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, provides for an additional year in prison for crimes committed using the maps, including acts of terrorism or other criminal offenses like burglary or stalking.

An act of terrorism using the maps could mean an additional 10 years behind bars.

Apparently the bill passed by a vote of 89-0. I’m trying to figure out what the rationale for this law is, and the best I can figure out is that this is a bizarre kneejerk reaction to services like Google’s Street View, and the claims from some that such services could be used to “scout out” crime locations. Of course, the same is true of driving by a location. Will Senator Adley add a new bill that increases your prison sentence if you first drive by the location before committing the crime?

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Police Just Guessing When They Can’t Clearly Read License Plate In Red Light Camera Photos

We recently wrote about a guy “caught” by a redlight camera who had to decode the numerical codes on the photos sent to him to prove he didn’t actually run the red light. It was disturbing enough to find out that police were sending motorists tickets when they obeyed the law, but reader Brent points us to an even more problematic situation. Apparently, at least some police are simply taking guesses on license plates if they can’t read all the letters correctly — and they’re sending tickets to the wrong people because of it. The police in the story insist that if they can’t read the plate, they won’t send a ticket, but the reporter covering the story shows at least two cases where that’s simply not true, and where it seems clear that police just took a guess — sending tickets to the wrong parties.

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