The Law (©2015)

The Law (©2015) (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 7-30-15)

Ok, so this is the type of craziness that bugs a lot of people.

Of all documents, I can think of no other publication that justifies being in the public domain more so that set of laws and regulations we use to govern ourselves.  Developed by elected representatives at the expense of taxpayers, these rules define acceptable and unacceptable behavior within our society.  Adherence to these rules may yield financial advantage, while a violation of these rules may require the taking of property, forced incarceration or even a sentence of death.  Common sense dictates that the law and our best knowledge of its intent and meaning should be available to all citizens.  How else can the citizens follow the law?

Unfortunately, we live in a state that doesn’t seem to share that opinion.

The state of Georgia is currently arguing in federal court that a portion of the state code is a copyrighted work and cannot be distributed without payment.  (Ref: Code Revision Commission v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc.)

Honestly, this is the type of insanity you would expect to come out of Washington.  Over the past few years, we’ve all been trained that we have to pass a bill before we can see what’s in it.  Now we’re being told we also have to pay cash to read it.  Have the folks in Atlanta lost their minds?

The case in question involves an application of copyright law.  A copyright is a legal right bestowed upon an author of an original work. The copyright provides the author exclusive rights to use and distribute the work for a limited amount of time. This means that during the term of the copyright, no one can use the work without the permission of the author.  Typically, the author will request financial compensation in exchange for using the creative work.  When someone uses a copyrighted work without the permission of the author, a copyright infringement occurs.

Copyright infringement has been a widespread problem since the beginning of the Internet.  Creative works expressed in digital form are protected by copyright.  However, digital media is incredibly easy to copy and distribute, as seen by websites such as Napster and Pirate Bay.  Organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Artists Association (RIAA) represent the copyright owners and actively fight against unauthorized use.  However, groups opposed to copyright law, as well as opportunistic individuals seeking to build media libraries on the cheap, continue to engage in copyright infringement.

Digital copyright infringement can be a very contentious issue.  Many folks think that if it’s available on the Internet, the copyright doesn’t apply.  Trust me that this is not the case.  Every song, video, image or piece of software available on the Internet is protected by copyright.  Some authors choose to wave the rights for various reasons.  Most authors do not.  Downloading or distributing any media outside the bounds of the licensing agreement is pirating.  Personally, I’m not a fan of pirating – it’s the same as theft.  You wouldn’t steal from one of the artists that set up shop on Broad Street, would you?  So why would you steal from some unknown software developer on the web?  It just not cool.

That said, the state of Georgia case is a little different.  Most digital copyright discussions involve works created by private individuals or organizations.  When it comes to copyrights, government organizations have a different set of rules.  Federal law specifies that works created by an employee of the Federal Government in the performance of their job duties are not bestowed copyright protections.  In addition, federal law also specifies that any edict of any government, no matter what level, will not receive copyright protection.  Under these definitions, the Georgia State Government cannot prevent the free distribution of the actual text of Georgia law.  BTW – The state of Georgia concurs with this position.

Here’s where Georgia tries to carve out a technical, gray area.  A state agency, the Code Revision Commissions, contracts with a 3rd party to create annotations that provide “valuable analysis and guidance regarding state laws.”  These annotations include a synopsis of cases interpreting the law, summaries of the Attorney General’s opinion and other information.  The state of Georgia asserts that the annotations are a separate creative work protected by copyright (owned by the state of Georgia) and whose distribution is subject to licensing agreements, i.e., financial compensation.

Sounds reasonable, right?  Here’s the problem as I see it.  First of all, the annotations were created at taxpayer expense and the copyright is held by the state.  Doesn’t that make the annotations public property?  In addition, in order to fully understand the law, the annotations must be considered – and from what I’ve read about this case, this point is not disputed.  So for all intents and purposes, the annotations are fully part of the official code of the state of Georgia!

So, to summarize…Georgia state law is not copyrighted and may be freely distributed.  However, the annotations – a work owned by the government and required to properly interpret and understand the law – are protected by copyrighted and cannot be distributed without compensation.

It’s craziness, my friends.  Sheer craziness.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker






Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 7-23-15)

Lately around my house, you’ve heard a lot of talk about the Gorilla, the Manx Missile and the Terminator.  No, they are not the latest Marvel superheroes to appear in a summer blockbuster.  The biggest bicycle race in the world is occurring, and our family huddles around the TV every evening absorbing the racing drama that is the Tour de France.

OK, fine, yes…I’ll admit it.  Really, it’s just me hiding out in the basement watching the Tour.  And yes, I know it’s a bit weird.  Professional road racing is not a common activity for folks in the South.  After all, we all tend to believe that moving vehicles require a gasoline-powered engine and air conditioner cold enough to keep the ice cubes in your Coca-Cola from melting.  Also, it’s not like a bicycle race is the most exciting thing on television – three hours of 200 riders bunched in a group, followed by sheer chaos during a 30-second sprint to the finish.  The mountain stages are much more interesting, watching rider after rider in agony crack under the pressure.  But for the average flat stage, honestly, you could probably find episodes of The View that have more action.

At the end of the day, though, it’s the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race in the world.  It’s the challenge of riding over 2,000 miles, grinding through the heat, the cobblestones and the mountains, propelled only by muscle and the sheer force of will.  It’s the grandeur of riding through historic countrysides.  It’s teamwork at its finest.  The Tour de France is greatness.  If you still can’t believe that it’s worth watching, let me make this one comparison.  Most people would never consider watching golf on TV.  Yet every year, these same people tune into our little golf tournament with religious devotion.  The Tour is kind of the same thing.

This year, however, a wayward TV sponsor spoils the coverage of the Tour.  Direct TV has thrown a wet blanket on the entertainment value of the program.  My criticism has nothing to do with their product or their service.  From what I understand, Direct TV has a decent enough service, certainly no worse than the other available options.  No, my criticism has to with Hannah and Her Horse.

Hannah and Her Horse are the latest spokesmen for Direct TV.  If you haven’t seen them, Hannah is a lovely, young lady dressed in a not-so-modest bikini.  Her horse…well, the horse talks and it’s very annoying.  The gist of the commercial is that we shouldn’t take Hannah’s word for it since we can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.  And we do hear it from the horse’s mouth – during every single commercial break, probably 20 times during the three-hour broadcast.  To paraphrase, we were hoping for a good commercial, but we got a goat.  I can definitively say that after 20 days of the Tour, Hannah should dump the horse, jump on the golf cart with the Geico caveman (annoying commercial #2) and drive off to oblivion.  (And take the goat with you.)

Now I know what you are thinking, “Why are you being such negative nelly?”  You’re right – I like to be person that solves problems, not just point them out.  There is a way to save this debacle of a commercial.  If you haven’t heard, the powers-that-be are organizing to reboot Xena: The Warrior Princess.  The details are still sketchy, but it looks like they are aiming to kick-off the new series next year.  That doesn’t mean that Xena couldn’t help Hannah right now.

Here’s the scenario – While the horse is in the middle of one of his self-important rants, Xena appears on the horizon.  She marches down the beach, and slays the evil, talking horse.  Gabrielle and Joxter follow, and together with Hannah, they journey to search out and destroy evil Greek gods and substandard media providers.

I’m telling you, it’ll work.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker


Caution: Selfie Stick in Use

Caution: Selfie Stick in Use (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 7/16/15)

One of the more interesting realizations I had a parent is that you have to tell your kids everything.  I mean EVERYTHING.  Those little minds come home from the store full of mush.  If you don’t start shaping their behavior right from the start, you will be astonished by what actions (or inactions) are deemed appropriate.  I’m not talking about the stuff we can still hear our parents say – brush your teeth before bed, don’t stay up too late, be nice to your friends.  No, this is on a different level.  When you start with an empty head, there is no action that defies possibility.  Eventually, you find yourself uttering crazy statements like, “What do you mean you didn’t think it would hurt if you hit your sister with a bat?” and “How is the poop going to get into the potty if you don’t raise the lid?”  Parenting provides the perfect case study for the lesson “Not everything is obvious to everyone.”

Of course, kids get older, develop into teenagers and eventually take their place in society as adult citizens.  Notice that I did not use the phrase “mature adults”.   This was intentional.  You see, even after 20-or-so years of existence, a good portion of the mind mush still remains.  On the positive side, I believe it’s beneficial for young and energetic individuals to aspire to a limitless future.  Where would we be today if previous generations didn’t push beyond the conventional wisdom and do the impossible?  However, the complete disregard of common sense often yields negative consequences.  To illustrate this point, one need only look as far as the selfie stick.

The very first selfie stick appeared in the early 1980s.  An engineer at Minolta, Hiroshi Ueda, developed the concept after vacationing in Europe.  While in the Louvre, he asked a passer-by, a child, to take a picture of him and his wife.  The child ran off with the camera.  Almost accidently, Ueda discovered that people need the ability to take a picture of themselves whenever and wherever they desire.  Minolta, to their credit, actually manufactured the device Ueda developed.  The “Extender Stick” was not a commercial success.  Interestingly, women of the 1980s were embarrassed by the idea of taking pictures of themselves.

The modern selfie stick can be traced to Canadian inventor Wayne Fromm.  In the early 2000s, after various struggles with getting strangers to take his picture while traveling, Fromm developed the Quik Pod.  He has actively promoted it over the last 10 years.  Needless to say, the Quik Pod, along with the many 100’s of different knock offs, continues to sell well.

And why wouldn’t it?  Social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat urge users to share the current moment.  Even if your besties can be with you, that’s no excuse for them to not know what top or shoes you’re wearing.  The selfie stick adds to the experience by allowing the viewer to step back and see the full context – everything from “Here I am!  Aren’t you jealous?” to “Can’t you see that this really sucks?”  Social media broadcasts the play-by-play of our lives, and the selfie stick simply provides a better view of the action.

However, the selfie stick is subject to misuse, and many would suggest that the selfie stick is a nuisance and a danger.  While most adults would agree that one shouldn’t use a selfie stick in a moving roller coaster, a non-trivial segment of our society doesn’t arrive at that conclusion.  Likewise, selfies while driving also seem to pass through the common sense filter of some.  Even in “safe” environments such as museums and parks, the selfie stick user doesn’t always act with respect to others, often blocking views or possibly delivering an inadvertent thwack.  Sad to say, but the misuse has created a backlash.

The backlash against selfie sticks is gaining momentum.  Selfie sticks have been banned at Lollapalooza, the Forbidden City, the Smithsonian and a host of other venues. Walt Disney World started banning selfie sticks due to safety concerns.  The city of Pamplona banned selfies during the running of the bulls.  South Korea now regulates selfie sticks as a communication device.  The war against the selfie stick is well underway.

Is this backlash undeserved?  Probably not.  A quick search of the Internet provides many examples of unsafe, inadvisable and fatal selfies.  As a matter of fact, the selfie problem has become so significant, Russia created a public service announcement providing instruction on the appropriate use of selfie sticks.  While I doubt that any readers of the Spirit (and certainly not any readers of this column) would require this instruction, for the benefit of any mush minds that happen to be reading, I’ve provided the translation below.

  • Selfies on train tracks are a bad idea.
  • Selfies on the water – It’s hard to keep your balance.
  • Selfies with animals – They are not always cute.
  • Selfies with guns kill.
  • Selfies on the roof – You can fall far.
  • Selfies on train cars – You can get electrocuted.
  • Selfies near high voltage?  Don’t bother.

BTW – It’s great to be back from vacation.  Check out this selfie!  Stay safe as you enjoy the rest of your summer!

Until next time@gregory_a_baker