Google, Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, and the great online copyright debate: Best of the Web

The debate about the limits of intellectual property rights online is arguably one of the most hotly contested questions on the internet today.

The most recent debate flared up by Marvin Ammori, a lawyer who represents internet giant Google. In a provocative article in Slate, he likened Hollywood’s copyright lobbyists to deranged former partners who won’t give up.

Ammori’s piece centres on legislation introduced into the US Congress during 2011, called SOPA, that critics say would have stripped the “neutral carrier” protections enjoyed by phone companies and businesses such as Google:

Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Tumblr, YouTube, Reddit, WordPress, and Facebook aren’t responsible for the copyright infringement of each of their millions of users, so long as they take down specific posts, videos, or images when notified by copyright holders. But copyright holders thought that wasn’t good enough. They wanted to take down whole websites, not just particular posts, and without ever going to court. In 2011, they proposed a bill that would let them do just that.

It was called SOPA.

On one day in January 2012, Reddit, Wikipedia, Google, and thousands of other websites blacked out their services or otherwise protested the bill. Millions of people called their representatives. In response to this movement, Congress dropped the bill—indefinitely.  Message delivered.

While the SOPA legislation was defeated in Congress, Ammori says the Hollywood lobby groups behind the bill have returned. He claims voluntary agreements between copyright lobby groups, internet providers and financial institutions could have the same effect on internet freedom as SOPA:

With these voluntary agreements, copyright holders can starve websites of their funding, strip them of their domain names, and remove them from search. The sites at risk include those that enable users to store and share content—if even a fraction of those users might violate copyright. So these agreements can threaten free expression and innovation online for all of us, just to target a few infringers.

A creative response to Google

Needless to say, Ammori’s piece provokes an angry response from one Slate reader in particular. Kurt Sutter, known as the creator of cult TV hit Sons of Anarchy, wrote an article in response that left little doubt as to how he feels about Google, and its support for the creative arts:

Everyone is aware that Google has done amazing things to revolutionize our Internet experience. And I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Google are very nice people. But the big G doesn’t contribute anything to the work of creatives. Not a minute of effort or a dime of financing. Yet Google wants to take our content, devalue it, and make it available for criminals to pirate for profit.

In case the point wasn’t clear enough, Sutter goes on to write:

It’s so absurd that Google is still presenting itself as the lovable geek who’s the friend of the young everyman. Don’t kid yourself, kids: Google is the establishment. It is a multibillion-dollar information portal that makes dough off of every click on its page and every data byte it streams. Do you really think Google gives a sh-t about free speech or your inalienable right to access unfettered content? Nope. You’re just another revenue resource Google can access to create more traffic and more data streams. Unfortunately, those streams are now pristine, digital ones of our work, which all flow into a huge watershed of semi-dirty cash. If you want to know more about how this works, just Google the word “parasite.”

Ouch.

So where do you stand in this debate? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Jonathan Ive: The interview

When it comes to the aesthetics of consumer electronics products, there’s a good case to be made that Jonathan Ive, senior vice president of design at Apple, is one of the most influential figures in the industry.

Over at Time, John Arlidge has scored an interview with the enigmatic design guru.

As Arlidge explains, the interview itself was difficult to score:

The gods — or was it the ghost of Steve Jobs? — seemed against it. Jobs didn’t like Apple execs doing interviews. It had not rained properly in California for months but that morning the clouds rolled off the Pacific, turning the Golden Gate Bridge black. Interstate 280 South to Silicon Valley was a river of water, instead of the usual lava streaks of stop-start SUVs.

Amongst other things, the interview delves into Ive’s design technique:

Ive starts a project by imagining what a new kind of product should be and what it should do. Only once he’s answered those questions does he work out what it should look like. He seeks advice in unlikely places. He worked with confectionery manufacturers to perfect the translucent jelly-bean shades of his first big hit, the original iMac. He travelled to Niigata in northern Japan to see how metalworkers there beat metal thin, to help him create the titanium Powerbook, the first lightweight aluminum laptop in a world of hefty black plastic slabs.

During the interview, Ive reveals his design philosophy in his own words:

We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it’s because the people who use them don’t care — just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn.

Whatever you think about Apple or its products, this is a fascinating interview that’s certainly worth reading.

How Facebook recognises your face almost as well as you do

Finally, over at MIT Technology Review, Tom Simonite takes a look at some new software being developed by Facebook that’s almost as good at identifying a human face as a real human being:

Asked whether two unfamiliar photos of faces show the same person, a human being will get it right 97.53 percent of the time. New software developed by researchers at Facebook can score 97.25 percent on the same challenge, regardless of variations in lighting or whether the person in the picture is directly facing the camera.

The new software is called DeepFace, and it uses 3D modelling technology to identify its users:

Facebook’s new software, known as DeepFace, performs what researchers call facial verification (it recognizes that two images show the same face), not facial recognition (putting a name to a face)…

DeepFace processes images of faces in two steps. First it corrects the angle of a face so that the person in the picture faces forward, using a 3-D model of an “average” forward-looking face. Then the deep learning comes in as a simulated neural network works out a numerical description of the reoriented face. If DeepFace comes up with similar enough descriptions from two different images, it decides they must show the same face.

The technology is a good, if somewhat creepy, example of where machine learning techniques are headed.

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