Category: Movies & Television

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Philip K. Dick – Most Important SciFi Author of the 20th Century?

Philip K. Dick may be the most important sci-fi author of the 20th Century akin to Verne and Wells in vision and contemporary relevance well after they wrote. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall, twice), Minority Report (Minority Report, film and TV), Paycheck (Paycheck), A Scanner Darkly (A Scanner Darkly), Adjustment Team (The Adjustment Bureau), and now The Man in the High Castle as an Amazon TV show is just a partial list of Philip K Dick’s work that has been adapted. Although Amazon does not usually release its streaming numbers, The Man in the High Castle has become its “most-streamed original show, overtaking shows like the detective-centric Bosch and Jill Soloway’s feted dramedy Transparent.” The popularity is not the point. As a fan of Dick’s work Ubik and even Valis (though that one is much work to read) both of which have not been adapted to the screen, I am saying that Dick’s novels and short stories did what great sci-fi does. They use technology and maybe some fantasy to comment on where society is headed and how things might evolve. I think it was Dan Solove who once said to me that Dick’s work fits his era, and others in, I think Dan said, the New School were working on the same ideas (apologies, Dan, if I am mistaken about what you said). Regardless of who or what school treads the same area as Dick, for me something about his work catches attention and highlights the way we live more than others.

Take Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the movie is a good adaptation in that it hits themes rather than trying to stay true to the precise way the novel works. The novel has great stuff on machines to dial up a mood. People use it to stimulate anger, happiness, etc. as the situation requires. Did that presage mood drugs and more? Sort of. Did it hit on how we choose to live and ideas of what is authentic life and emotion? Yes. Should we take the messages about the world as reflecting reality today? No.

Although law and literature can, and maybe should, use literature to help understand an idea, saying that the world is now just like Minority Report or some other work is a reach. Using a film or novel to say something is a concern or to illustrate ideas of Orwellian, Kafkan, or other futures and that we wish to ask whether that is real can help. But the key is to rally the facts that show that those fictions are now a reality or that facts are in place that open the door to dystopia. Speaking of dystopia, I wonder how often people use fiction to say that the world or a technology is leading us to a better place. In my experience legal scholars tend to dismiss upbeat outlooks as naive or “just so” stories. I am not sure that Dick is dystopian. But in general if folks have examples where literature or film are examples of a good outcome from technology, please share.

Nonetheless, I offer Philip K. Dick in all his messy glory as my choice for Most Important SciFi Author of the 20th Century.

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Rather v. CBS Contracts Story Omitted from Redford’s “Truth”

Robert Redford’s latest film, Truth, dramatizes the last stand of newsman Dan Rather, longtime face of CBS News until fired for a controversial 2004 broadcast about President George W. Bush. The film, which debuted this week at the Hamptons Film Festival in Long Island, New York and opens October 16, is based on the book by Rather’s producer, Mary Mapes, and is therefore biased.  It is nevertheless a rich story, with Redford playing Rather and Cate Blanchett portraying Mapes (all pictured nearby).  The true story culminated, moreover, in a fight between Rather and CBS about contract interpretation, although neither the book nor the film delves into this important topic.

Amid a heated 2004 presidential election, on a CBS 60 Minutes broadcast of September 8, 2004, Rather questioned President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. Rather implied that Bush exerted political influence to avoid that era’s military draft by entering the Guard, and then receiving special treatment to skip military duties. A media melee followed Rather’s show. Bush supporters challenged its accuracy, the authenticity of documents used, and Rather’s journalistic integrity, which many believed was compromised by bias against President Bush.

After investigation, CBS disavowed the broadcast and, two weeks later, an emotional Rather apologized for it on national television. But CBS and Rather disagreed on the overall journalistic quality of the broadcast and what to do about it. Rather identified important accurate facts in the broadcast, obscured by the firestorm, and urged a defense of those whose reputations, including his and Mapes, the broadcast imperiled.

For its part, CBS emphasized the journalistic lapses and wanted to let it go at that. Believing CBS was most interested in the politics of good relations with the White House, as Bush was running for reelection in a heated contest against Senator John Kerry, Rather retracted his apology and claimed CBS fraudulently induced it. The day after President Bush won reelection, CBS told Rather it planned to remove him from his coveted spot as anchor of the CBS Evening News—a stinging rebuke. Rather’s last broadcast as anchor was March 9, 2005.

During the next 15 months, through May 2006, CBS kept Rather on its payroll, paying his salary of about $125,000 per week ($6 million annually). CBS gave him irregular appearances on CBS programs covering less significant stories, and his former television profile diminished. He rarely appeared on the network’s big-time shows such as 60 Minutes. Worse, CBS prevented him from pursuing jobs with competing networks or other media. Rather claimed that CBS marginalized him by giving him limited staff and editorial support; rejected most of his story proposals and aired those it accepted at off-peak times; denied him the chance to appear as a guest on other programs; and generally prevented him from refurbishing his reputation. Read More

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LSA Retro-Recap Day 0: Introducing VOSFOTWOAS

Greetings from (a plane on the way home from) Boston! In the past I really enjoyed Dave’s recap of CELS. I thought I’d carry things on with this retro diary (h/t Bill Simmons) of the Law and Society Association meeting.

Before getting to the presentations, here’s a post with some general thoughts on LSA. Like many of the most enjoyable things in life, this conference is a beautiful mess. Fully developed research programs are mashed together with provocative conjectures. Paradigm-shifting ideas comingle with stuff that would get a “good effort” if presented as an undergraduate term paper. How can you determine the formers from the latters? Read More

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From Madhavi to Mad Men

As Zahr Said points out, Madhavi Sunder is by no means the first to critique intellectual property from the perspectives of distributive justice or liberty. Indeed, the author of From Goods to a Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice not only gives due credit to the IP scholars who have written in this vein before her, but provides a compelling intellectual history of the field. What is striking about this particular book project is not so much its break with past approaches, but its breathtaking ambition in positioning the future of the field.

Read More

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Indecency and the Supreme Court

In FCC v. Fox, the Supreme Court once again took a pass on the first amendment questions raised by the regulation of indecent images or speech on broadcast television. It is a good thing that the justices want to take their time to get it right on the constitutional issues, but ten  years have passed since the case was first triggered by Cher’s use of the F-word at the Billboard Music Awards. And the Court’s decision today suggests it hopes the matter will just go away. As Justice Kennedy concluded for the majority, “this opinion leaves the [FCC] free to modify its current indecency policy.”

The Court’s discomfort with indecency is not surprising. The justices’ discomfort reflects that of much of society. Indeed, they could not bring themselves to actually say the F-word at oral argument.

But once again, it leaves us to wonder why our society seems to worry more about exposing children to even brief uses of profanity or depictions of nudity than it does about exposing kids to prolonged violence. The FCC does not restrict violence the way it does indecency on television, movie ratings are tougher on indecency than on violence, and the Court has a lower threshold for government regulation of violence than of indecency. Recall, for example, that last year, the Court invoked the first amendment to override California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, and two years ago, the Court rejected on first amendment grounds a federal statute that outlawed “crush” videos depicting the torture and killing of animals.

It may be correct to be as careful as we are about the harms to children from the media’s use of nudity and vulgar language. But we also should take more seriously the harm from the media’s depictions of violence.

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Ubiquitous Infringement

Lifehacker‘s Adam Dachis has a great article on how users can deal with a world in which they infringe copyright constantly, both deliberately and inadvertently. (Disclaimer alert: I talked with Adam about the piece.) It’s a practical guide to a strict liability regime – no intent / knowledge requirement for direct infringement – that operates not as a coherent body of law, but as a series of reified bargains among stakeholders. And props to Adam for the Downfall reference! I couldn’t get by without the mockery of the iPhone or SOPA that it makes possible…

Cross-posted to Info/Law.

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Stealing the Throne

Ever-brilliant Web comic The Oatmeal has a great piece about piracy and its alternatives. (The language at the end is a bit much, but it is the character’s evil Jiminy Cricket talking.) It mirrors my opinion about Major League Baseball’s unwillingness to offer any Internet access to the postseason, which is hard on those of us who don’t own TVs (or subscribe to cable). Even if you don’t agree with my moral claims, it’s obvious that as the price of lawful access diverges from the price of unlawful access (which is either zero, or the expected present value of a copyright suit, which is darn near zero), infringement goes up.

So, if you want to see Game of Thrones (and I do), your options are: subscribe to cable plus HBO, or pirate. I think the series rocks, but I’m not paying $100 a month for it. If HBO expects me to do so, it weakens their moral claim against piracy.

Unconvinced? Imagine instead that HBO offers to let you watch Game of Thrones for free – but the only place on Earth you can view the series is in the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. You’re located in rural Iowa? Well, you’ve no cause for complaint! Fly to LA! I suspect that translating costs into physical costs makes the argument clearer: HBO charges not only for the content, but bundles it with one particular delivery medium. If that medium is unavailable to you, or unaffordable, you’re out of luck.

Unless, of course, you have broadband, and can BitTorrent.

As a minimum, I plan not to support any SOPA-like legislation until the content industries begin to offer viable Internet-based delivery mechanisms that at least begin to compete with piracy…

Cross-posted at Info/Law.

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Ben Stein and the ABA’s Facepalm

The American Bar Association is kicking off its 2012 tech show with an address by… Ben Stein. Yes, who better to celebrate the march of technological progress and innovation than a leading defender of intelligent design? Who better to celebrate rigorous intellectual discourse than a man who misquotes Darwin and fakes speeches to college audiences?

This is a pretty embarrassing misstep. The ABA is irrelevant in the IP / tech world, and this facepalm is a nice microcosm of why. (Wait, what is the ABA relevant to? Now that’s a hard question.) We geeks don’t like it when you dis science. Thanks anyway, ABA – maybe you should stick to having your judicial recommendations ignored.

Hat tip: health law expert Margo Kaplan.

Update: I found the perfect keynote speaker for ABA’s 2013 TechShow: Marshall Hall!

Cross-posted at Info/Law.

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The Hardest Thing to Predict Is the Future

SOPA and PROTECT IP are dead… for now. (They’ll be back. COICA is like a wraith inhabiting PROTECT IP.) Until then, Michelle Schusterman has a terrific graphic about the movie industry’s predictions of doom with each new technological revolution. (Ditto the music industry: the player piano, radio, CDs, the MP3 player, etc., etc.) One reason for this is that it’s difficult to predict the effects of a new communications technology. People thought we’d use the telephone to listen to concerts from afar. But another reason is that content industries see advances not as an opportunity but as a threat – a threat that they deploy IP law to combat, or at least control. And in a policy space where lawmakers don’t demand actual data on threats before acting, trumped-up assertions of job loss and revenue loss can carry the day. This puts the lie to the theory that IP owners will move to exploit new communications media, if only they are protected against infringement. We didn’t get viable Internet-based music sales until iTunes in 2003, and Spotify is the first serious streaming app (the “celestial jukebox“). Think about prior efforts like Pressplay and MusicNow, and how terrible they were. Letting the content industry design delivery models is like letting Matt Millen draft your football team.

This is why piracy is a helpful pointer: it tells us what channels consumers want to use to access content. Sometimes this is just displacement of lawful consumption, as when college students with copious disposable income download songs via BitTorrent, but sometimes it indicates an unaddressed market niche (as with me and the baseball playoffs). To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, I think a little bit of infringement now and again is a good thing. It is only when there is a viable threat in a new medium that existing players innovate – or cut deals with those who do. In that regard, even if SOPA and PROTECT IP are effective at reducing infringement, we might not want them.

Cross-posted at Info/Law.

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Censorship on the March

Today, you can’t get to The Oatmeal, or Dinosaur Comics, or XKCD, or (less importantly) Wikipedia. The sites have gone dark to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act, America’s attempt to censor the Internet to reduce copyright infringement. This is part of a remarkable, distributed, coordinated protest effort, both online and in realspace (I saw my colleague and friend Jonathan Askin headed to protest outside the offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand). Many of the protesters argue that America is headed in the direction of authoritarian states such as China, Iran, and Bahrain in censoring the Net. The problem, though, is that America is not alone: most Western democracies are censoring the Internet. Britain does it for child pornography. France: hate speech. The EU is debating a proposal to allow “flagging” of objectionable content for ISPs to ban. Australia’s ISPs are engaging in pre-emptive censorship to prevent even worse legislation from passing. India wants Facebook, Google, and other online platforms to remove any content the government finds problematic.

Censorship is on the march, in democracies as well as dictatorships. With this movement we see, finally, the death of the American myth of free speech exceptionalism. We have viewed ourselves as qualitatively different – as defenders of unfettered expression. We are not. Even without SOPA and PROTECT IP, we are seizing domain names, filtering municipal wi-fi, and using funding to leverage colleges and universities to filter P2P. The reasons for American Internet censorship differ from those of France, South Korea, or China. The mechanism of restriction does not. It is time for us to be honest: America, too, censors. I think we can, and should, defend the legitimacy of our restrictions – the fight on-line and in Congress and in the media shows how we differ from China – but we need to stop pretending there is an easy line to be drawn between blocking human rights sites and blocking Rojadirecta or Dajaz1.

Cross-posted at Info/Law.