Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

The New York Times on opulent land barges in cargo van form:

As the economy limps along and more attention is paid to the so-called 1 percent, some of the richest New Yorkers have taken to driving around in vehicles that ooze neither wealth nor privilege. But on the inside, the vans may be as lavishly decorated as the private railroad cars owned by turn-of-the-century industrialists.

The most popular model is made by Mercedes: a stripped-down, basic version of the van, the Sprinter, starts at $41,315; Mr. Kantor’s version, which Mercedes-Benz Manhattan arranged to have customized, is fitted with satellite television, a Wi-Fi network and flat-screen monitors, and sells for $189,000. Even that is not quite enough for some New Yorkers, who employ designers to install even pricier custom details that easily drive up the total cost to $500,000.

I actually saw one of those on the Upper West Side the other day. It looked like a limo inside, but outside it was a boring old black cargo van. Fascinating.

Published on under Irreverently Irrelevant

This is not from The Onion. Seriously, this headline is not from The Onion. EU Bans Claim that Water Can Prevent Dehydration:

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.

Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large.

“The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are: highly-paid, highly-pensioned officials worrying about the obvious qualities of water and trying to deny us the right to say what is patently true.

The article kind of goes on and on for a bit about how bonkers this is, and buries the EU’s logic at the end. And why not? It’s a funny story, it’s a Sunday, and I’m sure everyone in Eurolandia is dying for something to be upset about other than “we’re all broke aaaaaaa we’re all broke,” so you can’t get too up in arms about a sensationalist headline.

The part where they stop making fun of everything and pointing out all the other times well-meaning regulations went wrong is at the bottom:

Prof. Brian Ratcliffe, spokesman for the Nutrition Society, said dehydration was usually caused by a clinical condition and that one could remain adequately hydrated without drinking water.

He said: “The EU is saying that this does not reduce the risk of dehydration and that is correct.

“This claim is trying to imply that there is something special about bottled water which is not a reasonable claim.”

Essentially, for serious dehydration, you need an IV, not a glass of water. And even for the run-of-the-mill dehydration, tap water will do just as well as bottled water. The EU objects to the presentation of this one kind of bottled water as the best cure for all forms of dehydration.

Published on under Legal Theory

My friend Joe Merante on a proposed modification to Creative Commons licensing, which would require downstream users of the licensed work to notify the author:

While there are simple ways to find your work online, such as via search engine, Google Alert, monitored downloads via registration or otherwise, etc., the onus is still on the original author and assumes the author would be aware of such tools.

He raises a bunch of really good points in his article – it’s a must-read for anyone remotely interested in Creative Commons licensing. I mean, I publish this blog under a CC-NC-BY license, but I have absolutely no idea who’s quoting me and failing to link me. I know where incoming links (the attributions) are from, but obviously, I don’t know where the unattributed uses are. Of course, if this were published under a vanilla copyright regime, even fewer people would link back to me.

I guess both regimes (CC and vanilla copyright) end up being largely an honor system. Large IP firms obviously have the huge resources necessary to search and destroy pirates, but I’m never setting up Google Alerts for the unauthorized use of Barely Legally’s posts. I’m never hiring Righthaven (lol) to track down pirates. Really, I’m relying on the penalties being onerous to dissuade people from taking the risk that I find out they been a-piratin’ mah words.

If you set up a Creative Commons license to include a notification requirement, you could make it even more robust than the existing copyright regime. Food for thought.

Published on under The News

From Jezebel, via CBS:

According to the findings, companies with three women on the board give twenty-eight times more money to charity than companies with no women on the board. Additionally, each additional woman on the board of directors represented an average $2.3 million increase in annual charitable giving.

A company’s touch also became softer and more feminine when women held officer positions; companies with 25% female officers gave 13 times more money to charity than companies with no female corporate officers. Each additional percentage point increase in the proportion of women in officer positions represented a $5.7 million increase in charitable giving.

Now we know what caused the economic downturn: women forcing companies to give away all their profits!

Seriously, though, this is feel-good icing on the gender parity cake; the other benefits to having high-ranking women in your organization have been pointed out before in one of my favorite articles of all time. Women don’t process risk like men process risk (i.e. institutionally stupidly).

It’s true: see this hilarious Business Week article from just before the implosion for a nice reminder of the culture of Wall Street during the bubble. It essentially reads ‘haha we are masters of the universe except some dumb wusses think bad things could happen but we are too smart for that.’ This was the culture; it’s easy to forget after the bailouts and the handouts and everything, but these guys thought they were brilliant masters of finance, and they nearly collapsed the world economy.

People, particularly men, aren’t as good at risk evaluation as they think they are. Psychology Today had a great article about exactly why men are wired to be so much worse at evaluating risk than women: evolution and parental investment costs are to blame. I’ll do the article a disservice by summarizing it; just give it a read.

All of this is to say that I’m in favor of giant corporations giving to charity, and it’s cute that women make the company “nicer” – but the fact is that there are concrete benefits to women being decision-makers in your company. Like your company being around next year. Well, sometimes.

Published on under The News

You know, if there’s one thing I love about the 22nd century, it’s the cool future technology. Tablet computers, hover cars, jetpacks, and robot butlers were all worth the wait. But our advanced society isn’t without its drawbacks. For one, I miss forests. Sure, my allergies have never been better, but they were kind of nice to look at. Oh, and being enslaved by those insectoid aliens isn’t very fun.

But the other thing I miss is books. God, do I miss books. And authors. I suppose it all started when pirates from The Amazon started giving away ebooks for free. For free! Can you imagine what that did to the global economy? Selling some worthless mortgage-backed securities is one thing, but giving away books virtually bankrupted every author, publisher, and civilized country overnight.

Oh, sure, they said there was an analog version called a “library.” They said “people have been borrowing books for free for centuries.” Instead of pointy hats and parrots with peg-legs, those pirates wore tweed jackets and called themselves “archivists.” But make no mistake: they were murderers. Book industry murderers.

A New Hope

In the beginning, there were dead trees. But then! A gizmo appeared. The Kindle seemed innocuous enough at first: publishers could sell books without having to print them. It’s, like, free profit. For an industry that funds the majority of its “buy dead trees, put ink on dead trees, truck dead trees to every Barnes & Noble in the country” business model with six books about vampires and spends that on a jillion books that won’t ever sell, that was a big deal. All of the publishing without any of the risks! Some were still reluctant to sign onto it, but most everyone came around eventually.

Only then was Amazon’s perfidy made apparent. Giddy with riches from selling books on the Kindle, they murdered books by starting their own library. Because Amazon didn’t really want to sell books, they wanted to sell treachery. Even though Amazon’s investors were understandably worried about the profitability in the treachery market, they pressed on. Or something. I dunno.

So Amazon gave away books like the fabled librarian-pirates of yore. And, well, Amazon didn’t ‘pirate’ so much as ‘bought each book from the publishers’ before letting anyone borrow it. And, well, you could actually only borrow one book a month, which is less than just about any library I’ve ever been to. And, well, there were still real libraries lending as many real books as you could fit in your grubby little backpack.

But you guys, they literally murdered the book industry with their unprecedented book pirate/librarian ways.

The Empire Strikes Back

The Authors Guild did all they could to fight off Amazon’s piratebrarians. They whined, they sobbed, and the authors’ agents even published a statement bemoaning Amazon’s invention of the library:

The agent and author community have not been consulted about this new sort of use of authors’ copyrighted material, and are unaware of how publishers plan on compensating authors for this sort of use of their books, which is unprecedented.

“Amazon’s plan has a fatal flaw! There is a small thermal exhaust port! We don’t make money when people borrow books from libraries.” But alas, the complex economic principles at work were lost as pearls among swine; nobody could follow that logic, because the library had only been invented earlier that week. It was too dang confusing.

Return of the Lawyer

In all seriousness, they do have a point. I obviously haven’t seen the contracts between Amazon and the publishers. There’s a chance that Amazon’s making more copies of the ebooks than they’re permitted to under the terms of the contract, or they’re doing things with the ebooks they’re not permitted to.

When you buy a copy of Microsoft Office, you don’t buy a copy of Microsoft Office. You’ve just licensed from Microsoft the right to make a copy of the software on your machine (installing to your hard drive) and make another copy in RAM (running the program; yes, that’s a “copy” for purposes of copyright law). You don’t own it like you’d own a painting or a book if you bought it from the author. Thanks to the first sale doctrine, you get some rights when you own something that you don’t when you just license it. For example, I can’t print ten copies of The Hunger Games and sell them on a street corner. That’s copyright infringement. I can buy a copy of The Hunger Games and sell that one copy on the street, because the first sale doctrine grants me some rights.

On a computer, since you never buy it, you never get that first sale doctrine protection. How to enforce this bizarre techno-legal nicety? Enter Digital Rights Management: software that restricts the use of other software. When you used to buy a song on iTunes, the file contained DRM that would refuse to let you play the song until you were authorized by iTunes. You didn’t “own” the song; you licensed from Apple the right to play the song on X number of iPods and X number of computers. You couldn’t sell the song, because you never owned it.

Amazon definitely doesn’t “own” the books. They don’t have the right of first sale here. It’s entirely possible that they’re taking a very liberal interpretation of the contract they signed with the publishers.

But I think it’s a stretch to say that there’s any real harm here. It’s a library. Like the regular libraries that have existed for centuries. This isn’t going to kill your damn business.

Everyone knows that self-publishing is going to kill your damn business.