Flatline

It could have been Marathon Monday +1 or Friday afternoon before spring break, based on the Engagement Factor (# students -(# absentees * number of in-class blank stares), but it was only the last Thursday in March (is Eve of April Fool’s Day Eve a mandatory party night?)  Something–another course’s exam?–cast a wind shadow across this morning’s Real Estate Law, killing all forward motion and leaving us becalmed and adrift, save for determined paddling by a few able souls.  It was brutal.  It was so brutal I sense the specter of Cold Caller, the Avenger of Apathy, the Scourge of Slackerism, the Destroyer of Distraction, lurking in the shadows, gathering his roster, yellow highlighter, and bony finger of accusation:  “You!  What’s the issue in this case, and why did the court grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment?”

Amazon.com’s Cloud Drive

In the late 1990’s MyMP3.com offered a type of cloud music service.  The company bought tens of thousands of music CD’s, stored the tracks on its servers, and allowed subscribers to create a music locker from those CDs the subscriber owned.  One verified ownership by inserting a physical copy of the CD in a computer’s CD player for the MyMP3.com service to recognize.  Thus “ownership” meant physical possession of the CD, meaning one “owned” all CD’s that one’s friends were willing to loan for the verification process.  UMG Recordings and other record labels sued MyMP3.com out of existence in 2000 because the company had not obtained the copyright licenses necessary to operate the service.

Eleven years later–or two days ago, in other words–Amazon.com unveiled Cloud Player, a storage and music-streaming service.  Ars Technica describes how it works:

Amazon customers 5GB of online storage to use for whatever they please. If they buy an album from Amazon MP3, however, they get 20GB of storage for the year, and all Amazon MP3 purchases are automatically synced to the user’s Cloud Drive without counting against the quota. Users could then use the Cloud Player Android or Web app to stream the music to any compatible device or browser, even if the files themselves had not been synced there.

What licenses does Cloud Player require?  Here’s the Ars Technica headline:  Amazon on Cloud Player: we don’t need no stinkin’ licenses.*  Amazon.com has decided that (in Ars Technica’s words) “since users are uploading and playing back their own music, the original download licenses still apply and no new licenses are necessary.”  Cloud Drive users are uploading their own music or storing music purchased from Amazon.com, so the service does not feature the unauthorized copying of tracks that was MyMP3.com’s foundation. Sony Music–the only major label that responded to Ars Technica’s request for reactions to Cloud Drive–is keeping its “‘legal options open.'”

An 800-lb gorilla challenging the music industry’s interpretation of copyright law?  This will be interesting.

*Bonus Feature:  clip from Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the “no stinkin’ licenses/badges/[insert noun here]” source

Captcha

I posted about Captchas–those squiggly barely-decipherable words used to filter robots from accessing protected websites–two years ago.  Their story is fascinating, not well-known, and worth mentioning again.  Even the name is cool:  Captcha is an acronym for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart.”  As the NY Times reported Monday Captchas serve a purpose in addition to separating humans from machines:  they are bits of text from old books that require correction after the books have been scanned.  Invented by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University they are used by the Google Book Project, the New York Times, and others transforming old and archival materials into accurate digital copy.  It’s brilliantly simple:  allow thousands of computer users to interpret unclear text snippets, collate the results, deduce the correct meaning.  The Carnegie Mellon researchers estimate that “humans around the world decode at least 200 million Captchas per day, at 10 seconds per Captcha. This works out to about 500,000 hours per day . . .”  This explains why some Captchas are impossible to decode. They are flyspecked text from musty centuries-old books.

Wrong Without a Remedy

My Internet law students recently read Facebook’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.  One lesson learned:  once a picture from one’s Facebook page is shared with others, neither Facebook nor the one who posted the picture can control its uses.   Facebook may be able to delete it from its servers–I’m dubious that it can do so reliably, but for this post I’ll resolve my doubts in Facebook’s favor–but if it is shared beyond Facebook, kiss control goodbye.  A NYTimes article makes the point with a gruesome example.  After Caroline Wimmer was murdered in her apartment Mark Musarella, one of the responding EMT’s, took a picture of her beaten and strangled body and posted it on his Facebook page.  Wimmer’s family learned of the photo through a reporter.  Musarella’s Facebook account was deleted by the time they looked for it–one of his Facebook friends reported the picture to his employer hospital, which fired him–but that did not end the family’s inquiry.  They hired a lawyer to track what happened to the picture while it was on Facebook.  “Facebook said it would provide the Wimmers with certain details about the activity on Mr. Musarella’s account, but only if he — the very man who had taken the picture of the dead woman and posted it for his world to see — signed a consent form. Facebook helpfully sent along a copy of the standard form.”  The Wimmers recently sued Facebook.  Not for money, but “to change things, so no other family members of a murdered person have to experience these things.”  I empathize with the Wimmers’ anguish and horror but this lawsuit is a nonstarter.  The website immunity provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should relieve Facebook of any obligation to screen for or remove content such as this.

“Electronic Hickey”

This post’s title comes from a state prosecutor’s description of teenagers have naked pictures of boyfriends or girlfriends on their cell phones.  It is “an advertisement that you’re sexually active to a degree that gives you status. It’s an electronic hickey.”  The prosecutor is quoted in A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives, an article from Sunday’s New York Times that discusses sexting.  The article focuses on Margarite, an 8th grade girl who send her then-boyfriend Isaiah a naked picture of herself.  Isaiah and Margarite broke up a few weeks later, and he forwarded the picture to a girl identified in the article only as Margarite’s “former friend”–“tough and strong-willed, determined to stand out as well as fit in.” Former Friend then forwarded the photo to her contact list with this message:  “Ho Alert! If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.”  The quality of Margarite’s life deteriorated from there.  The photo spread throughout Margarite’s school, a school to which she transferred, and beyond.  School officials and police learned of the photo’s viral distribution and charged Isaiah and Former Friend with disseminating child pornography.   The prosecutor agreed to reduce and dismiss the charges if the three charged created public service messages about the dangers of sexting and met with Margarite to discuss what happened.  The article presents a broad view of the issues, noting that sexting is not illegal–the AARP (look it up, kids) has written of it approvingly–, and that the media presents teenagers with conflicting messages, wagging its finger about its dangers while winking at it through, for example, Megan Fox’s 2010 Superbowl ad for Motorola.

An SMG Moment

Returning to my office after class I passed six students arrayed at one end of the 6th floor atrium corridor.   They were dressed in suits, ties, skirts, jackets–business clothes, projecting nervous energy.  One was hunched over a computer screen.  One sat staring into space. Four stood apart, facing in different directions, gesturing, talking to the empty air.  “The 3rd quarter numbers . . . ” “The company’s supply chain . . .” ” . . . test marketing focus groups . . .”  None looked at me or broke concentration as they practiced their portions of the team’s presentation.  If they made a mistake they backed up, repeating the flubbed words.  None was listening to the others’ remarks.  I considered asking about their project, making a joke to lighten the tension, anything to acknowledge their rehearsal.  I didn’t.  I walked by, nodding unseen.  A tableau that was repeated in team rooms, empty classrooms, and random unpopulated corners of 595 Comm Ave all day.

When in Rome . . .

Monday we had an enjoyable dinner in a trattoria located on Via degli Avignonesi, a narrow street off Via Boccaccio, another narrow street down the hill from Palazzo Barberini.  The food was great–salad of carciofi and puntarelle, pasta putanesca–and we engaged with a chatty Australian couple at the next table who were dining there for the third night in a row.  I spent the evening looking at a lighted sign hung high in the corner. It was an image of two cherubs holding bunches of grapes and floating (perhaps that is redundant–are cherubs always floating?) merrily over a wine glass while one–hold on, is he doing what I think he is doing?–pees into the glass.  That explains the name:  Pisciapiano Gioia Mia.  Piss Slowly, My Dear.  (Below is a picture of the image on the front window, not the sign, which did not photograph well with the iPhone.)

 

Pisciapiano

a Roma, Day Three

After ignoring the elevator and climbing five flights of stairs to our hotel room, which was after visiting five churches and walking from central Rome to San Giovanni in Laterano to Trastevere and back, Judy noted “We don’t go on vacation to relax.”

No.  We don’t.

Random observations:

  • Being a Boston pedestrian is good training for walking in Rome.  Pedestrians here step into oncoming traffic confident they won’t be hit–which is a gamble, given Roman traffic.  No close calls so far.
  • In the week she was here before I arrived Judy asked for directions often.  The answer was always “sempre diretto,” straight ahead, which is a Roman in-joke.  You can never walk straight ahead to get from where you are to where you want to be.  Think of Boston’s most non-linear street layouts–the North End, downtown between Washington Street and the harbor.  Narrow the streets. Multiply by a thousand. Lard with tourists, season with Vespas, and sprinkle with North Africans selling umbrellas, scarves, and toys near every tourist site.
  • You could retire and set up your heirs forever with the wealth contained in any random church.  Mosaics, frescoes, statues, paintings, reliquaries, precious stones, carvings, marble, gilt . . . staggering sumptuousness everywhere.
  • In one of the last rooms on the tour of the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij you find some Caravaggios hanging alongside a dozens of other paintings lining the walls in multiple rows.  If hung in a museum they would be set apart in a focused display.  The casualness with which you encounter them, after seeing hundreds of other items in the family holdings, is very Roman to me.  The tour’s audio guide by a member of the Doria-Pamphilij family reminds you that real people still live in this Palazzo–although not as part of the tour.
  • I’m haunted by the smell of roast chestnuts from vendors around central Rome.