21 September 2009

All You Shouldn't Eat

A bonus-sized, intellectual-heartburn-inducing, conscience-weight-gain-encouraging platter of internet link sausages this Monday morning that has been poaching since late last week! Just what you need before coffee (although a couple of these may induce keyboard spew, so beware; and no, I'm not going to warn you which ones).

  • Espresso signs up with Google to make two million "public domain" works available for cheap printing. "Public domain," that is, as Google defines the term. Hmm. Isn't there some ongoing litigation concerning that very subject? And how does the author get paid for the rights in question for books that aren't actually in the "public domain"... or, as a nonhypothetical example, prevent the reprinting of a book that was shut down by a court judgment? Would an author's failure to file suit against Google and Espresso for making the book available constitute contempt of court, if the judgment or settlement (which is not affected by copyright term) required permanent withdrawal?
  • Your Monday-morning counterfactual appears in World Affairs Journal, where Ann Marlowe begins by asserting that the American officer corps knew more about counterinsurgency during Vietnam (has she ever actually talked to anyone who was on active duty then about it?) and goes downhill from there. The questions are worth asking; the assertion that we need to know more, particularly in the officer corps, is correct; but process matters, particularly in military-political affairs, and a process based upon a polemical, predetermined view of reality that is incongruent with reality is also going to be rather incongruent with reality. The bottom line is simple: Counterinsurgency (to use the accepted name for a horrifically complex intersection of unrelated problems) has a military component... but the military component isn't even the most important one, let alone a determinative one as Marlowe implies.
  • Without ever mentioning the beautifully conceived and executed parody linked here (NSFW for language), the LAT perceives Ken Burns backlash in the face of a forthcoming new PBS series.
  • From the department of unintended consequences, swine flu fears potentially cause plague... since one of the animals most likely to take over that ecological niche is — you guessed it — rattus rattus, which isn't halal either.
  • The Patriot Act is up for renewal. I still say it should have been called the TRAITOR Act (Totalitarian Regime Activity Incitement To Obscure Reality); the whole point of the rule of law is that it concedes that government is imperfect, and can't please everyone.
  • Meanwhile, without even going that far, the government continues to exclude visitors because their views make the government uncomfortable or cause diplomatic problems with touchy foreign regimes (like the UK, which continues to have conniption fits whenever anyone who could even spell "IRA" gets invited to give a speech at an academic conference). Maybe this sort of thing relates to the purported downturn in "cultural studies" scholarship.
  • Thank you, Captain America: Jack Kirby's heirs file copyright claims against Marvel under 17 U.S.C. § 304(c), seeking to "terminate" licenses granted to Marvel. This is an excellent example of the flaws of the work-for-hire doctrine (unique to US copyright law), Marvel's history of poor record-keeping... and the problems created by bankruptcy counsel (today's Marvel is the result of complex proceedings a decade ago) who don't understand copyright law.
  • Revisionist book titles — remember, as the publishing industry will tell you incessantly, the titles (ordinarily) belong to and/or are determined by the publisher (except series titles, even if the PTO hasn't figured that out yet).
  • A leading expert on antitrust law criticizes the GBS settlement, but doesn't go nearly far enough. I'm afraid that Professor Picker has fallen into the Chicago School trap (which shouldn't surprise anyone, as he's on faculty at — you guessed it — the University of Chicago) and is considering only the purchaser-side antitrust problems — that is, neoclassical monopoly theory. Seller-side problems (monopsony) get no attention, at least in that posting, and neither does the economic conflict problem created when one actor in a chain acts as a monopsonist to some parties and oligopolist to others for the same class of goods or services.

   Don't worry, Doctor. Some day you'll be right. Of course, that will mean that the commercial content providers have found a different (and no doubt more insidious, annoying, and worthy of a supervillain's attention) way to make us pay. Other, that is, than through the relentless destruction of our good taste and minds through the very content in question...