Tiny Copyrights and Defamatory Tweets

Recently, two news stories caught my eye. The first involves a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The case involved a newspaper clipping service called Infopaq. People would sign up with Infopaq and specify what keywords they wanted to keep an eye out for. Infopaq would then scan in articles, find the keywords, and print a listing with those keywords, the five words before and after the keywords, where the article appeared and how far down in the article the keywords appeared. The Danish newspaper industry took exception with this business plan and sued. Infopaq claimed that since their scanning was temporary (they didn’t print whole articles out, just the 11 word snippets), they fell under the copyright exemptions. The Court, however, ruled against them.

The worrying part isn’t that they were dinged for scanning the articles. That, I would have almost expected. Instead, they were dinged for 1) using 11 word snippets and 2) clients being able to print out the snippets. The Court found that 11 word snippets were still covered by copyright law. To give you an example of how ridiculous this is, I’ll quote an 11 word snippet from the article about the ruling: “means that there is a risk that the reproduction will remain”. According to the Court, since you, the reader, could print this blog post out and keep it indefinitely, I’ve now committed copyright infringement.

Of course, I live in the US, so I doubt the ECJ could do anything against me. Still, given the propensity for nations to follow one another over the copyright madness cliff, something like this worries me. Were the “11 word snippet” ruling to be used widely, services like Google News would go dark. Simple quoting from a source (a necessary part of research and protected by Fair Use) would land one in a big, boiling pot of copyright lawsuit soup. I’m not sure what appeals options Infopaq has, but if they have any, let’s hope that this ruling is overturned.

The other story that caught my eye was the tale of Amanda Bonnen from Chicago. Frustrated with her apartment situation, she did what many of us would do: She tweeted about it. Specifically, she wrote: “Who said sleeping in a mouldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.”

Now, many fine companies monitor Twitter and would have taken her complaint as an opportunity to turn bad PR into good by working with her to formulate an appropriate resolution to her. Not Horizon, though. They sued her for $50,000 in defamation damages claiming that because her Twitter profile was public, her 53 character tweet was published “throughout the world.” That’s almost $1,000 in defamation per character! Horizon probably didn’t win any PR points for their “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization” quote either.

Of course, a classic Streisand Effect has occurred. Had Horizon just ignored her, her tweet would have vanished amoung the millions posted around that time. At most, a few of her friends might have retweeted it before it faded into obscurity. (A Google Cache check shows that she had a mere 17 followers.) Instead, major news organizations, blogs and other websites have picked up the story. People are tweeting and retweeting about it much more than Amanda Bonnen would ever have been able to do by herself. Horizon should ask themselves whether suing her for $50,000 over this 53 character tweet was the appropriate action since it caused much more “defamation” than the original tweet did.

The lesson here for companies: Don’t be a sue first, ask questions later kind of institution. Work with your customers for a positive outcome. Then, even if you need to resort to ignoring the person’s problem or (as a last resort) sue them, you can point to your good faith efforts to work with them. That will soften any “big bad company suing a poor defenseless person” PR blow and you might even come out on top PR-wise.

The lesson for users: Don’t assume that what you post on Twitter (or on your blog, Facebook, etc) is just between you and a close-knit group of friends. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say into a microphone in front of a full football stadium of people. This doesn’t mean you should live in fear over being sued for every little tweet/post/update, but keep in mind that you are putting this stuff out on a public network. Don’t say “Housing Co Landlords stink” when “my landlord stinks” would suffice or when “Tried to work with Housing Co Landlords to resolve my problem, but getting frustrated” would be more descriptive.

Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!

As so many others have mentioned, it is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 program and the first human to walk on the Moon. Unfortunately, the original, high-quality tapes of the Moon landing seem to have been lost. Overwritten with new data during lean times when magnetic storage tapes were hard to come by. It’s a small consolation that NASA is working hard on finding the best available footage of the Moon landing and have hired experts on video restoration to clean it up as much as possible. Already, they’ve released a partially cleaned up copy of the video. A more complete copy is expected in September.

In addition, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter just sent back photos of some of the Apollo landing sites. The resolution isn’t perfect, so the details are grainy, but they are there. The LRO should be able to send back some higher resolution shots when it gets into its ideal orbit.

Of course, all of this isn’t going to be enough for the Moon hoaxers out there. Sadly, there are all too many people who think that the Moon landings were a hoax. Ignoring all science and evidence to the contrary, they insist that the Moon landing was actually filmed Hollywood-style on a soundstage. A thorough debunking of their claims is too in-depth for this posting (I’d recommend reading the Bad Astronomy website and seeing the Mythbuster’s Emmy nominated Moon Hoax episode), but suffice it to say that their claims do not survive scrutiny. 40 years ago, man actually walked on the Moon. Neil Armstrong pushed his boots down onto the Moon’s surface and left footprints that will (thanks to the Moon’s nearly-nonexistant atmosphere) last for hundreds of years.

The space program used to inspire our children to become scientists and engineers. Nowadays, kids yawn when presented with people going into space. Is it a coincidence that we’re dropping behind in science scores in school? Here’s hoping that NASA gets the funding (and the management organization) to do some truly dazzling things in space. We’re scheduled to head back to the Moon in 2020 and I’ve been told that it will take that long to do it right, but I’d love to see it happen sooner. Since the last Apollo mission was Apollo 17 in December of 1972, we haven’t gone to the Moon in my lifetime. We haven’t even gone beyond Low Earth Orbit with anything other than robots. Don’t get me wrong, robots are cool and all, but you still can’t beat the thrill of knowing that there’s an actual human walking around up there. My only consolation is that, by the time the next Moon mission rolls around, NHL will be 17 and JSL will be 13. That will be prime “influencing their future careers” time.

So here’s thanking those who bravely went where no man went before, those who followed them, and those who are working hard to ensure that we return there. We may have gotten side tracked along the way, but I hope that we will soon be watching images broadcast from almost 239,600 miles away as men (and women!) walk on the moon again.

Must See Television and The Real Reason for Cable Bandwidth Caps

A few weeks ago, Time Warner Cable announced the expansion of bandwidth cap trials.  Their plan was to cap users at various levels (from 1GB to 40GB depending on how much you paid) with overage fees if you went over.  They claimed this was to help protect their networks from bandwidth hogs, but don’t believe them.  Claims of a so-called "exaflood" have been debunked.  In the end, there is one big reason for cable companies to cap bandwidth and I can sum it up in two words:  Internet Video.

With the rise of Hulu, YouTube, Netflix and other legal online video offerings, the reliance on cable TV has dimished.  (I won’t touch upon illegal online video offerings now.  These are much more vast, but open up a whole other complicated set of arguments.)  Nowadays, you can watch nearly all of your favorite shows online without worrying about timeslots or channel numbers.  If I miss the latest episode of Heroes (i.e. if my DVR experiences technical difficulties), I can watch it online the very next day.  In some respects, the online offering is even better than the broadcast version.  The ads are fewer and the "schedule" doesn’t require a DVR to adjust.  I can watch it whenever I want, whereever I want (assuming a computer and high-speed Internet access).  The broadcast version can either be watched whenever I want – in front of the TV with my DVR – or whereever I am at the time that the show airs assuming a TV is nearby.

This scares Cable companies.  If people can get good, legal cable content online, Cable TV subscriptions could drop and cable companies would face dire financial straits.  The cable company response is to cap Internet usage.  This results in a win-win for cable companies.  If people don’t use their capped Internet for online video, cable wins.  If people use their capped Internet for online video and wind up with overage fees, cable wins.

In the case of Time Warner Cable, their caps plans were pushed back by angry consumers.  However, they haven’t tossed the plans.  They just sent them back to the PR department to get a nicy shiny coat of PR paint.  Expect them to be released again either in a quieter fashion or with some glitzier PR attached to them.  (In fact, there are already some signs that they’re going the quiet path. At least 3 users have been disconnected for exceeding some nebulous cap that Time Warner won’t name.)

I happen to have Time Warner Cable, Digital Phone, and RoadRunner Internet access.  Where Digital Phone is concerned, I don’t have much choice.  I refuse to go back to Verizon and their many hidden fees.  There just isn’t another option beyond ditching our land-line entirely.  Not sure if we’re ready for that.  Likewise, there isn’t much option for Internet access.  FIOS doesn’t reach our home yet and DSL is much slower than my current cable speeds.  So I decided to aim my rebellion at Time Warner Cable’s Cable TV service.

First, I looked into DirecTV.  I examined a few different plans and options and came to the conclusion that we could save $100-200 the first year with DirecTV.  However, the second year and third years would deplete those savings.  Then I got to thinking: What is our "Must See TV" anyway?  What are the shows that if the TV worked for them, we wouldn’t mind if it was dark for all else.  For me, it is Heroes, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Mythbusters.  For my wife, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Private Practice and The Biggest Loser.  Of those, only Batman and Mythbusters aren’t online already.  I might survive without Batman, but I need a weekly dose of Mythbusting action.

NHL currently likes Secret Agent Oso and Penguins of Madagascar, but he’s versitile TV-wise.  His "favorite show" changes on a monthly basis.  Given a steady supply of purchased DVDs (and a set top box to play them on), he could be satisfied.  The same goes for JSL and his Sesame Street addiction.  If we dropped cable TV entirely, we would save over $65 per month, or about $790 per year.  If we only used half of those saved funds to buy DVDs (which would be ripped onto the set top video player), we would be able to spend $33 per month on DVDs.  We would still save nearly $400 per year.  Alternatively, we could get a subscription to Netflix for $16.99 per month and would save over $586.  Either way, our cable TV habits could be satiated by non-cable TV sources.

We’re not going to drop cable TV tomorrow, but it certainly something for us to mull over.  The lure of saving nearly $600 every year is pretty strong.

Things that make me go *drool*

Sometimes it can be tough. From my father, I inherited an insatiable lust to buy new things. The latest bright, shiny toy brings a smile to my face and makes me want to rip out my credit card while shouting "GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! MINE! MINE! MINE!" Holding me back, however, is the better financial sense that my mother instilled in me. This side of me recognizes that if I plunk down $100 on that new eGizmo, it’ll amuse me for a month or so and then will be tossed to the side.

Even if a purchase craving gets past my "financial filter", it encounters another obstacle: my wife. She will gently remind me that I really don’t *need* that doodad and that our money needs to go to a few more important areas like the roof, new car payments, and our Walt Disney World vacation.  While I know she’s right (most of the time, at least), it doesn’t make me want the item any less.

Going on the theory that writing about your feelings helps you work through them, I’m going to list my lastest purchase cravings along with how much they would cost (not counting shipping or tax) and why I "need" them.  (The prices of all of these are from NewEgg.)

Rosewill Black 15.4" Notebook BackPack ($29.99)

Reason I Want It:  I take my work laptop home with me every night and back into work in the morning.  Up until now, I’ve been using the bag that my office bought for me along with my laptop.  However, this bag is about 4 years old and the zipper has broken.  If I don’t zip it up "just so", the top of the bag hangs open as if it weren’t zipped at all.  I thought a backpack would be a better option than a hand-help bag that I currently have because, during rain storms, I wouldn’t have to juggle my umbrella, laptop bag, and ID badge that opens the door to my work.  Plus, we could use this on our Disney World trip to take a laptop with us.  This would primarily be for my office computer, so why not ask if my office would buy one?  Well, with the poor economy, we’ve had a raise freeze.  In addition, my office is pinching pennies left and right.  I’d rather "lay low" and pounce when the raise freeze is lifted than bug my higher-ups to buy me a $30 laptop bag.


EA Sports Active ($56.99)

Reason I Want It:  You might have noticed the lack of updates on my WiiFit workouts.  That’s because I’ve pretty much dropped it.  For all of the sweat I put into my workouts, they generally didn’t seem to result in too much weight loss.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still love WiiFit, but I feel like I’m ready to take it to the next level.  From what I’ve seen, EA Sports Active is this next level.  It looks like the workouts are more cardio than yoga/strength training and more customizeable.  My "Weight Watchers Style" diet has taken me almost to my goal weight.  I would mainly use this to tone my body and keep myself at or near my goal weight.  And while I’d love to get the chance to review this (*hint* *hint*), I’m not going to hold my breath.


iMicro WebCam ($10.99)

Reason I Want It: My parents live in Long Island.  My brother-in-law lives in Buffalo.  Both are long drives from our house and so we don’t see them as often as we’d like.  It’s a shame because I want my kids to talk to and see their relatives more often.  Phone conversations are nice, but a video chat would be so much better.  NHL could show my parents his new drawing.  JSL could see his Cousin S face-to-face.  My grandmother (currently living with my parents) could see how much the kids have grown.


IOGEAR Portable Media Player Enclosure ($99.99) and 250GB Hard Drive ($57.99)

Reason I Want It: We have a lot of DVDs.  The kids like watching TV and enjoy watching movies from time to time.  However, watching a movie means we need to first find the movie in our pile of DVDs, then pop in the disc.  If they want to watch the movie often, the disc and case will be precariously piled on top of the TV where any sudden movement (say, jumping children) can shake them down.  This Portable Media Player would make for a better solution.  I would rip our DVDs to movie files and upload them to the 250GB hard drive.  We would then connect the Portable Media Player (with the hard drive inside it) to the TV.  A few menu choices later and our children would be watching a movie.  We might even be able to take this on trips with us to turn the boring hotel TV selection into tons of free movies.  (Free as in no more $$$ to the hotel, not as in downloaded illegally from the Internet.)  This item, of course, is the most pricey of all of my items ($157.98 total) and thus the least likely to happen.  Still, since it is the most geeky of all of these items, it’s the one I drool over the most.

And there you have it.  My Big 4 wishlist.  I may not be able to run to toss them all in my shopping cart right now (not unless I want to answer some serious questions from B as to the $250+ charge on my credit card), but I can dream can’t I?  Of course, if any of the companies that make these items (or similar items) want to send some my way, I’m more than willing to do some blog reviews.  😉

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