Tsk, Naughty Conservatives

A new study of the consumption of pornography in the the USA discovers that people who are right wing and religious tend to consume rather more of the stuff than people who are not.

Basic law of economics. If you try to ban something, people will buy more of it.

Update: Henry Farrell thinks that New Scientist has been rather free with its interpretation of the data. Had it been a newspaper, I would have suspected that, but I’m disappointed in New Scientist.

Blackout Protest A Success

We have progress. You may remember the Internet copyright law flap in New Zealand that I blogged about last week. Well, the government has backed down and given the industry a month to find a way of making the law workable (meaning, I hope, that copyright infringement actually has to be proven before a site can be taken off line). Congratulations to my pals in NZ for all of their hard work, and many thanks to everyone who blacked out their icons in support. Here’s TVNZ with more on the story.

On Copyright Law

A couple of copyright flaps blew up while I was otherwise engaged in Dublin. The first was all about the new (now old again) Facebook Terms of Service – the ones by which Facebook attempted to claim ownership of everything that is posted on the site. They’ve now backed down on that, and are attempting to craft something that their lawyers approve of and won’t cause people to desert the site in droves.

I wasn’t too worried about that. It is the sort of thing that many companies are doing these days, and was probably unenforceable. If Facebook can lay claim to everything in RSS feeds that are syndicated on their site, then Google can also lay claim to everything syndicated through Google Reader, at which point the lawyers’ brains will explode.

But companies do come up with Terms of Service like that, because it is deemed much safer than not doing so. If you have a ToS that is all-encompassing then it won’t do you any harm (unless you piss off your customers), but if you don’t then you may let something valuable slip through your grasp. Nothing will actually happen until the ToS are tested in court. The same happens with Terms of Use for software packages. And, as some people were noting when the Kindle-reading-books row blew up, if book publishers were like the music industry they would try to make it illegal to read books aloud as that would be “piracy”.

Is this a problem? Well, only if it comes to court, or if it can’t. Earlier this month I blogged about the problems that Ben Goldacre was having with the anti-vaccination nutjobs who are trying to silence him. Law Clanger has a lot to say about that today, including the fact that Ben had to back down because he could not afford to go to court.

The same could apply to a ToS dispute. If the little guys can’t afford to contest the theft of their property by a big company, then the legality of the ToS becomes irrelevant, and the fact that big companies can make such sweeping claims becomes important.

And, sadly, it gets worse. As various people (the inevitable Cory Doctorow here) have been explaining over the past few days, a really obnoxious law has been passed in New Zealand. Basically this law requires ISPs to take your web site offline if a copyright owner complains that you have infringed their copyright. They do not have to prove that you have done so. Indeed, as far as I can make out the accusations don’t have to be true in any way. As long as a complaint is made, the ISP is legally required to take your site offline.

And that is why you will find a whole punch of people blacking out user pictures, blogs and so on in protest. More information is available from the Creative Freedom Foundation.

Moral Panic! Moral Panic!

This morning I was prompted by one of Neil Gaiman’s tweets to go and read this blog post by Amanda Palmer (whom I had the honor of speaking to yesterday in her temporary role as telephone answering service at Maison Clute). The essence of the post is that Amanda is having trouble getting her songs aired in the UK because various media producers are afraid that the public might be offended by them. Amanda, being American and used to having to deal with lunatic fundies, finds this all very perplexing.
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Attention Librarians (and their friends)

Over the weekend I blogged about a particularly daft piece of legislation that is liable to be used to keep kids out of libraries because they might get lead poisoning from books. Daft though it is, this is actually a serious issue. Neil has just tweeted a link to someone who has information as to how to get a grassroots campaign organized. So if you are a librarian, or you know one, please read this and get the world out.

New Excuse for Banning Books

Because they might contain dangerous levels of lead and be harmful to children, so until they have been tested and proven safe they must be kept out of reach of vulnerable kids.

It all sounds a little whacko, and I doubt that many CongressCritters actually intended this result, but it certainly gives plenty of ammunition to self-appointed protectors of public morality, which I am sure they will make use of until someone stops them.

Here’s the official American Libraries Association statement.

Good Marketing, Mr. Ness

I’ve been hearing good things about Patrick Ness’s YA Novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go, (and I must admit that I love the title), but this Guardian article, prompted by his book being deemed a health hazard by the ever-watchful Daily Mail, has made me want to go out any buy the book. I particularly enjoyed his characterization of the different type of comments you get on the Mail and Guardian web sites.

Puritans Return to UK?

There was a rather worrying article in The Independent today about a new UK law that seeks to ban “extreme pornography”. On reading it my mind immediately jumped to issues such as the Christopher Handley case, and I started wondering whether my own comic collection might put me in line for 3 years in prison.

You can find the text of the actual law here. Thankfully it isn’t quite that bad. To start with, the images in question must be pornographic, which is defined as “must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.” The law also sensibly excludes films that have been passed fit for viewing by the censor. And I’m pleased to see that not knowing you possessed the images is a legitimate defense. No one wants to spend 3 years in jail because their laptop was found to contain porn images in spam attachments that they had wisely not opened.

On the other hand, the law is very vaguely worded, and past experience with such laws suggests that self-appointed guardians of public decency all over the UK will immediately start looking for ways in which they can use the law to make nuisances of themselves. In particular it is worth noting that this law makes it a crime merely to possess an image for your own private use. And I suspect that quite a bit of the risque end of anime would fall under the definition in the law. Christopher Handley would almost certainly be convicted under it, if he lived in the UK. [Update: Or maybe not, thank goodness – see Chaz’s comment below.] I suspect that Games Workshop will be looking very carefully at its product line, just in case.

Daft Religious Behavior

I had been intending to ignore the Pope’s recent rant on saving humanity from “homosexual or transsexual behavior”. It is, after all, rather difficult to take lectures on gender conformity seriously when they come from an old man with a habit of wearing dresses in public. However, I then discovered this entertaining article in The Guardian.

From it I learn that homosexuality only became a crime in England because Henry VIII was looking for some sort of dubious behavior that was common amongst Catholic clergy so as to have an excuse for persecuting them.

And the article leads off with a magnificent quote from HL Mencken who described puritanism as the, “haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be happy.”

I note, however, that the The Guardian cites Mencken as being specifically critical of religious puritanism. What little I know of the man suggests to me that he took a rather broader view of what puritanism was, and would be just as critical of the sort of political puritanism of which Guardian journalists (and indeed journalists in general) are all too fond.

I’ll leave you with a rather longer quote from Mr. Mencken:

The Puritan, of course, is not entirely devoid of aesthetic feeling. He has a taste for good form; he responds to style; he is even capable of something approaching a purely aesthetic emotion. But he fears this aesthetic emotion as an insinuating distraction from his chief business in life: the sober consideration of the all-important problem of conduct. Art is a temptation, a seduction, a Lorelei, and the Good Man may safely have traffic with it when it is broken to moral uses—in other words, when its innocence is pumped out of it, and it is purged of gusto.

I like to think that he would have been an enthusiastic supporter of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Today’s Book Bloggery

It is an interesting day on The Guardian’s Book Blog.

Firstly we have Lindesay Irvine asking his readers what children’s books they would like to ban. Thankfully most of the responses seem to be tongue in cheek, but not all of them.

Also Ned Beauman holds forth on the failure of the Minx comic line. Apparently US attempts to imitate manga were too safe and the kids prefer the Japanese originals: bishonen, sex changes and all. Why am I not surprised.