Dubious news hook lets me confirm and blog my pre-existing views (Stewart Baker, 20 Oct 2013) – I’m a much bigger fan of Girl Talk, whom I’ve blogged about before, than of current copyright law, so it’s hard to resist a chance to talk about both. Girl Talk (actually a fellow named Greg Gillis) produces delightful mashups of hip-hop and classic rock that shed new light on both. Since Girl Talk relies on a claim of fair use for his sampling and doesn’t seek the original label’s authorization, he has trouble selling his albums through the usual channels. Now Michael Schuster, another Girl Talk lawyer-fan, has produced a law-review study of All Day, Girl Talk’s latest album , arguing that the songs it samples actually had higher sales in the year after the sampling than in the year before. For those of us who think copyright law is too protective of plaintiffs, the article is comforting. It suggests that current law may actually be hurting the authors it purports to help by discouraging musicians from introducing their fans to our pop-cultural heritage. Actually, though, I think the article is a little too comforting. I am always skeptical of scholarly research that reinforces academic prejudices, since scholars tend adjust their standards of proof to fit their prejudices. Hostility to copyright is pretty much the norm in academic circles, and if you read the article skeptically, it loses much of its persuasiveness. Schuster achieves his results by playing with the sample, dropping nine songs from a sample of about 200 because they completely wreck his argument. His reason for dropping the songs is that they were hits in the 30 months prior to the release of Girl Talk’s album, and hits by definition suffer declining sales after topping out. If he didn’t drop those songs, Schuster’s data would show a 50% drop in sales of the songs that Girl Talk samples. Schuster says he’s just correcting for noise in the data, and it isn’t appropriate to charge Girl Talk with the natural rhythm of pop music sales. Maybe so, but once you start making big after-the-fact adjustments to a sample of 200, you can prove pretty much anything. At best, Schuster has developed an interesting hypothesis that ought to be tested by a new experiment untainted by data cherry-picking.

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/tungphoto.

Mississippi the latest state to claim copyright over official compilation of its laws (TechDirt, 14 Oct 2013) – We’ve written about Carl Malamud and his ongoing crusade to make sure that the law is actually publicly accessible and not locked up by copyright. Just recently, we noted that he’d run into some troubles with Georgia, and it appears now he’s facing a similar challenge from Mississippi. The basic story was actually posted as an update to Malamud’s ongoing Kickstarter project, which we’ve already told you about. The issue? Malamud had purchased, formatted and posted Mississippi’s Code of Law, Annotated . As with Georgia, the real issue seems to be in the question of whether or not the annotations themselves are covered by copyright, as they’re often produced and sold by a private company (usually LexisNexis), but in coordination with the government. That’s the case here, as the letter Malamud received from Mississippi’s intellectual property counsel , Larry Schemmel, suggests. Schemmel goes to great lengths to point out that the unannotated code is “freely available,” but that the “creative work” behind the annotations is covered by copyright, and thus should be taken off of Malamud’s site. However, as Malamud notes in his response letter (complete with a bunch of “exhibits”), the State of Mississippi makes it fairly clear that the annotated code is part of the law , and thus he argues it, too, should be freely accessible.

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/krishnana.

Is Florida too tough on lawyers using LinkedIn and Twitter? Endorsements and short skirts targeted(ABA Journal, 30 Sept 2013) – Orlando lawyer Luis Gonzalez has no plans to block endorsements on LinkedIn, no matter what the new Florida ethics rules require. “I’m not changing a damn thing,” he tells the Daily Business Review . “I want the bar to come after me. I’m 61 years old, and I’m not going to tolerate garbage like that.” Gonzalez is one of several lawyers criticizing the state bar’s new social media rules, enacted as part of new rules on lawyer advertising approved in May by the Florida Supreme Court. Many law firms consider the rules regarding Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to be the toughest in the country, the story says. According to this summary(PDF), the guidelines require advertising lawyers to list their names and office addresses, bar misrepresentative testimonials and restrict the use of the words “specialist” and “expert,” as well as their variations. Lawyers on Twitter are concerned about the need to state an office location on each tweet, the story says. Lawyers on LinkedIn also are concerned about the need to ban third-party endorsements and to refrain from using the word “expertise.” For lawyers on Facebook there is another potential problem-the need to refrain from posting inappropriate or unprofessional photos and videos. Kathy Bible, advertising counsel for The Florida Bar, told the Daily Business Review that the bar is involved in two disciplinary probes regarding LinkedIn, but there are no probes of Twitter violations. She added she has privately talked to some lawyers about inappropriate Facebook photos. “One lawyer had pictures of his staff with skirts too short,” she told the Daily Business Review. “He kindly removed them when we asked.”

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/KROMKRATHOG.


Presentation about the problems of online trespass to chattels (Eric Goldman, 8 Oct 2013) – You may recall my prior post where I outlined my conceptual objections to online trespass to chattels doctrines, including the common law, the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act and state computer crime laws like California Penal Code Sec. 502. As I outline in that post, I don’t think nibbling around the edges with CFAA reform is very helpful. Instead, I challenge the basic premise that sending electronic signals to a remote computer is a chattel “use.” If we follow the logic of that revised premise, most of the online trespass to chattels doctrines simply go away. I think this issue is so important that I put together a “stump speech,” replete with my signature use of Microsoft clipart. Last month, I gave this talk for the first time at the Utah State Bar Cyberlaw Section’s “i-Symposium” in Lehi, Utah. The talk recording ( download ) and accompanying PowerPoint slides ( download ) are available in the HTLI iTunesU page 

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Photo provided by Chris Sharp/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Scientists used Facebook for the largest ever study of language and personality – and the results are groundbreaking (Business Insider, 2 Oct 2013) – A group of University of Pennsylvania researchers who analyzed Facebook status updates of 75,000 volunteers have found an entirely different way to analyze human personality, according to a new study published in PLOS One. The volunteers completed a common personality questionnaire through a Facebook application and made their Facebook status updates available so that researchers could find linguistic patterns in their posts. Drawing from more than 700 million words, phrases, and topics, the researchers built computer models that predicted the individuals’ age, gender, and their responses on the personality questionnaires with surprising accuracy. The “open-vocabulary approach” of analyzing all words was shown to be equally predictive (and in some cases more so) than traditional methods used by psychologists, such as self-reported surveys and questionnaires, that use a predetermined set of words to analyze. Basically, it’s big data meets psychology. The Penn researchers also created word clouds that “provide an unprecedented window into the psychological world of people with a given trait,” graduate student Johannes Eichstaedt, who worked on the project, said in a press release. “Many things seem obvious after the fact and each item makes sense, but would you have thought of them all, or even most of them?” [ Polley : story includes some pretty fascinating word-clouds; this looks like quite an interesting study.]

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Photo courtesy of Renjith Krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net