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  Cyveillance Sends Me a Nastygram  
Posted 2006-11-07 by Tony Walsh
I just received a hilarious nastygram from Cyveillance, a self-described "internet monitoring agency" that can't tell its ass from a hole in the ground. Cyveillance's robots believe I require the authorization of Nintendo of America Inc. in order to discuss trademarked Nintendo properties. The robots also believe that Clickable Culture is a sexually-explicit web site. The robots are wrong: I don't require any corporation's permission to criticize or satirize its intellectual property, and, obviously, this blog is not sexually-explicit. Not even the post cited in the complaint is sexually-explicit.

Nice try, Cyveillance, but you haven't done a thing to protect Nintendo's brand. If anything, you've raised awareness of the object of your complaint. Your overzealous and misguided request doesn't just make you look bad, it makes Nintendo look bad by association. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot, but why take your client down with you?

As I wrote last year, Cyveillance is under the impression its system is infallible. As shown by its system's inability to detect my mockery, and with the automated delivery of its misguided nastygram, the company has demonstrated that its system is as deeply flawed as I'd guessed. Never send a robot to do a human's job, you knuckleheads. Following is the full text of the message. Note that the company hasn't actually accused me of infringement, but the language was constructed to suggest I've committed a serious transgression.

Continue reading: Cyveillance Sends Me a Nastygram
  AddictingGames Contest Grabs Rights to Entries  
Posted 2006-11-02 by Tony Walsh
On the surface, AddictingGames' $22,500 game design contest seems fair enough. Submit your entry, compete with others, possibly win a prize. But the legalese tells a different story: "Entries and all other submitted material become the property of Atom Entertainment, Inc. and will not be acknowledged or returned."

Wow. A blatant content grab, but a good business move. Pony up $22k, wholly own hundreds of games. Even if only 1 out of 10 is decent, that's still money well-spent, considering any decent Flash game costs upwards of a couple thousand dollars to develop. I'm not sure this is such a great public-relations move, however. Entrants should be informed more clearly and directly that they are giving up their rights by sending in their games--I'd certainly never give up my intellectual property so easily.

Thanks to Canada's NMBA for the heads-up on this.
  The Computer Says You’re Violent  
Posted 2006-10-27 by Tony Walsh
Have you ever wondered who might be watching any of the surveillance cameras mounted around your city? According to NewScientistTech, it's not "who" will be watching, but "what." A computer may some day review closed-circuit camera footage, deciding whether or not violent activities have transpired. The technology, still in development, analyzes footage frame by frame, trying to match pixel-clusters against a model of the human form. The makers of the system believe they can determine what an interaction means. "For example, when identifying two people shaking hands, their hands must not only be close, but must also move in synchrony." Asynchronous movement might not be a handshake, but a punching-match, believe the inventors. "On average, the system was 80% accurate at identifying these activities correctly."

I'm glad to read the makers of the system recognize it has a long way to go. Personally, I think technology like this is going to turn up too many false positives to be useful: How do we know when two people are play-fighting as opposed to real-fighting? Is playing paper-rock-scissors or doing Tai Chi going to alert the police? Daydreaming about the social ramifications, I see flash-mobs staging "false positive" events such as breakdancing, crunking, or pillow-fighting in public spaces--would the authorities then feel obligated to restrict our freedom of expression to make up for a technological failing?
  An Open Letter to The Internet  
Posted 2006-10-26 by Tony Walsh
Dear Internet,

I regret not being able to defend you more effectively on live television last night. As you know, we have been friends for over a decade, through feast and famine. I've appreciated how you've disrupted culture, politics, and business, and I've come to your defense in small ways over the years, but never took time to write a book or extensive magazine article on how excellent you truly are. Conversely, your detractors Andrew Keen and Steve Maich have written a book and extensive magazine article (respectively) on how awful they think you are. In hindsight, I should have realized it would be difficult defending you when the assumption from the outset is that you "suck." It's easier to tear something down than to build it up. Although I was able to respond to demands for proof of your awesomeness, I was a ultimately drowned out in the scrum.

You and I both know you live a dual life, Internet. While I celebrate your excellence, I simultaneously recognize how other people have misused your powers. You're not the problem, Internet. People are the problem. Some people use you as a tool for plagiarism, for deceitful purposes, or to inflate corporate value--but on the other hand, some use you to bust perverts, break news, or to make crazy money. You're a bit like a knife: Whether it stabs someone in the heart or slices a birthday cake, it cuts both ways. So do you, depending on how you are wielded. I understand your capacity for great good and for great ill, but I'm not sure why anyone would focus only on your bad side. Except maybe to sell books or magazines.

Respectfully yours,
Mr. Tony Walsh, Esq.
  Protecting Celebrity In ‘The Lounge’  
Posted 2006-10-25 by Tony Walsh
Adverworld The Lounge was originally launched to promote Interscope/Universal recording artists Pussycat Dolls, and seems to enjoy the patronage of under a thousand teens, each of whom must create a unique avatar to use in the branded, 3D space. Being an official promotional environment, freedom of expression is limited. Teens were recently informed of restrictions to usernames and behaviour by Doppleganger, developer and maintainer of The Lounge:
    "1) single first names of dolls or celebs, and single first names with a little puncuation here and there -- for example: kimberly. (note the 'period') -- are not acceptable. Those accounts will be banned.
    2) more importantly, no matter what username you choose, impersonating celebs is a big no-no. Please do not tell others you are someone you are not, even if you are joking."
Doppleganger's heavy-handed approach seems geared not only towards protecting the Pussycat Dolls from "impersonation" (if having the same name as one of them counts as impersonation), but also towards limiting the company's legal liability in general--the idea seems to be that if no user shares a first name with any known "celeb," no celeb would have reason to sue Doppleganger. The punishment for sharing a first name with a celebrity is banning--this seems harsh considering how loosey-goosey the parameters for "infringement" are. I wonder how the residents of The Lounge feel about this?
  ‘Wallop’:  What’s In It For Me?  
Posted 2006-10-16 by Tony Walsh
Last month I wrote about Wallop, a Microsoft spinout company offering an elaborate social network with a customer/seller relationship among users. Flash-based content would be made by members of Wallop's "Modder" program, and sold through the network. A few weeks later, I've been afforded a chance to look at the Terms of Use of the network and am less than thrilled. In short, there plenty of disincentives for content-creators.

I'm no lawyer, but the Terms seem to indicate that Wallop assumes unlimited, transferrable rights to "copy, distribute, offer, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate and reformat [my] contribution; to publish [my] name in connection with [my] contribution; and the right to sublicense such rights to any supplier or vendor related to the Site." If I understand this correctly, by uploading my original creations to Wallop, I lose complete creative and proprietary control over the content. Wallop says "We make it easy for you to design and create Mods that allow people to express themselves!" But what the network doesn't seem to be saying is "We can do whatever we want with your work." If I knew that up front, I wouldn't have bothered to apply for a developer account.

Continue reading: ‘Wallop’:  What’s In It For Me?
  U.S. Govt Eyes Virtual-World Economies  
Posted 2006-10-16 by Tony Walsh
As Julian Dibbell and others predicted, virtual-world economies are becoming the subject of scrutiny by real-world governments. Reuters reports that a U.S. congressional committee is now looking into taxation issues surrounding the conversion of virtual assets to real assets. Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee, told Reuters "We are starting with a blank slate and going through the various dimensions of virtual economies, and seeing where they might intersect with public policy." I don't expect the issues will be sorted out quickly--those "various dimensions" Miller refers to are many, many layers deep. Julian Dibbell explains some of the background and current issues in his article "Dragon Slayers or Tax Evaders?" for Legal Affairs magazine.

Update: I just noticed a pair of topical articles on the subject of virtual property ownership...
"Virtual World Ownership" by Matt Mihaly, The Forge
"Virtual Theft - No, Virtual Property - No, RMT - Maybe" by Steven Davis, Secureplay
  Electric Bikes Get Kickstart in Ontario, Finally  
Posted 2006-10-04 by Tony Walsh
I've had my eye on electric scooters for about seven years, but never managed to get a straight answer from Toronto City Hall or the local cops about the legality of riding such vehicles around town. Authorities didn't seem to know how to classify them, and it seemed to be up to the whims of an individual officer to ticket (or not), depending on a personal interpretation of road rules. But things are looking up. CityNews reportsProvince of Ontario "has now cleared the way for so-called e-bikes, two wheelers that use an electronic engine when needed to help a rider get up a steep hill...The three-year test plan will let cyclists take their e-bikes on any route where they could use a normal bicycle." Hot diggity. I'll have to look into the definition of "e-bike," because I'd rather drive a compact 2-wheeled vehicle on local streets than a full-sized e-bike.
  Canadian Killer’s Gaming Connection  
Posted 2006-09-14 by Tony Walsh
Canadian Killer’s Gaming Connection
Students at a Montreal college were reportedly shot yesterday by Kimveer Gill, a 25 year-old male armed with a rifle. I saw a brief TV news story on the tragedy this morning, and remarked to my wife that it wouldn't be long before a video game connection was found. It turns out the connection is easy to make. Today's Toronto Sun ran with the headline "Video Game Killer." The Sun reports that Gill claimed Super Columbine Massacre was his favourite game, and that his online tagline read "Life is a video game and you gonna die sometime." No doubt games will be looked at as a possible cause of the terrible attack, despite the appearance that Gill was simply a deeply disturbed individual. Personally I see this more of a copycat attack.

The game Super Columbine Massacre was ostensibly designed to be an examination of the Columbine incident. The creator of the game's statement reads, in part, "This game asks more of its audience than rudimentary button-pushing and map navigation; it implores introspection... people from six continents and all walks of life are discussing the game itself and the incident it is based on... At the end of the day, the understanding of the Columbine school shooting is deepened and redefined. That is the real object of the game."

Richard Castaldo, a survivor of the Columbine incident, has played Super Columbine Massacre. "I appreciate the fact at least to some degree that something like this was made," He told "I think that at least it gets people talikng about Columbine in a unique perspective, which is probably a good thing. But that being said there are a lot of things that are hard to play or watch. And it seems to partially glamorize what happened. It shows a stark-contrast between fantasy and real life in an interesting way."
  Another Look at ‘Second Life’ Copyright Issues  
Posted 2006-09-11 by Tony Walsh
John Swords, ringleader of the Secondcast podcast pertaining to the virtual world of Second Life, has posted an interesting analysis of some seemingly new portions of SL's Terms of Service (TOS). Second Life is a world that is filled with and formed by user-created content; Linden Lab, maker of Second Life, relinquished its proprietary interest in the creations of its users some time ago. The way Swords slices it, though, ownership of user-created content is still quite murky: "[W]hat rights do content creators retain? Don’t expect Linden Lab to say. Aside from the fact U.S. copyright and intellectual property rights are outside of their jurisdiction, Linden Lab takes measures to distance themselves from helping to figure it out within their TOS."

Swords might not be a lawyer, but he raises some points worthy of clarification by Linden Lab. Swords supposes that "The TOS grants all users royalty-free rights to everyone else's content," which, if true, would be a disaster for virtual world business-owners, many of whom rely upon customers paying for specific rights. Swords notes, as I did earlier this year, that while Linden Lab doesn't claim to own user-created content, it does assert ownership of one's account and "related data"--essentially one's means of existing in the virtual world and one's inventory of virtual posessions.

Continue reading: Another Look at ‘Second Life’ Copyright Issues
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