The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: news

On copyrights and conlangs

One would imagine that if someone invented a language for use in a creative work, that someone could retain copyrights to the use of the language, would he or she not? According to U.S. case law, that might not be so, in the opinions of the Language Creation Society (LCS), a nonprofit organisation created for the promotion and discussion of constructed languages (conlangs). LCS submitted an amicus curiae — unsolicited advice to the courts for pending cases — to the Paramount v. Axanar case, where Paramount Pictures sued Axanar Productions for infringing various parts of its intellectual property over a fan-produced film Prelude to Axanar. These include: Vulcans, likeness of Vulcans, Romulans, uniforms with gold shirts, triangular medals, etc etc., and The Hollywood Reporter has more information on how Axanar is planning to respond to each claim.

What caught my interest was that Paramount laid claim to the Klingon language, which got me thinking: “Can conlangs created for the purpose of creative works be copyrighted?” Paramount has claimed the copyright to the Klingon language, its vocabulary and its graphemes but LCS believes that its claims will not hold in the court of law — indeed, anyone can claim copyright to anything but it is only when copyrights are challenged in courts that they are found to be valid or otherwise.

Citing an 1879 case Baker v. Selden, LCS said that while reproductions of creative works are protected by copyright laws, no laws exist to prevent individuals from using systems and creating their own derivative works with it. Baker v. Selden was a case where Selden created a system for bookkeeping and wrote books about it, hoping to sell the ideas to counties and the government. However, he was unsuccessful. Later on, Baker produced a book on bookkeeping that had systems very similar to Selden’s. Selden’s estate sued Baker, but the courts ruled that:

“[W]hilst no one has a right to print or publish his book, or any material part thereof, as a book intended to convey instruction in the art, any person may practice and use the art itself which he has described and illustrated therein… The copyright of a book on book-keeping cannot secure the exclusive right to make, sell, and use account books prepared upon the plan set forth in such a book.”

Thus Klingon as a language cannot be copyrighted, especially given its status where not only its creator Marc Okrand but also various scholars have contributed to the development and expansion of Klingon. Upon the establishment of linguistic rules of Klingon — syntax, phonology, morphology, etc — the language takes a life of its own and it would be unthinkable that a copyright holder could lay ownership to all and any subsequent derivative works from using that language. LCS cites the translated works of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Epic of Gilgamesh into Klingon, not to mention the technically somewhat-valid native speaker of Klingon, Alec d’Armond Speers, as proof that Klingon is a robust-enough language and trying to enforce copyrights to it would be unreasonable. It would be akin to enforcing a copyright on Esperanto today.

Moreover, the movie Prelude to Axanar isn’t ripping Klingon dialogue verbatim in their fan film, but devising dialogue based on using the Klingon language system. Indeed, besides Baker v. Selden, LCS is citing many other case laws to their effect that Klingon is a free language that cannot be copyrighted, and if anyone’s interested should check out the amicus brief (linked at the top of this post and also embedded below). The brief is also replete with lots of Klingon phrases written in Klingon script and accompanying footnotes, which I think is hilarious but probably not very amusing to the presiding judge.

So what does this mean? Feel free to write your fan-fiction in Quenya, Sindarin, Klingon, Na’vi or even that Atlantean language that Marc Okrand also created for the Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire. As long as one isn’t merely ripping off dialogue (reproduction) but can prove that the utilised language is a product of using the language systems to derive original work, copyrights to the language are unenforceable. Granted, this is merely my opinion, but other folks have voiced similar sentiments (I liked this and this from LCS member Sai), and they’re worth checking out if you’re interested in copyrights and conlangs. We’ll see May 9th how the courts rule, and hopefully it’ll be in the favour of language hobbyists and enthusiasts.

How not to write your headlines

ibtuk

From the International Business Times UK site. Apparently IBT UK is a franchise of IBT Media, and that there are multiple IBT’s all around with no editorial links with each other. There’s IBT Australia, India, UK, and the vanilla IBTimes.com, based in New York. As someone who just wrote about this topic, I can tell you what is wrong with this headline.

Argentine President Fernandez did make a tweet that played on racist Chinese stereotypes while she was in Beijing, but she did not say that the “country’s stupidity is toxic.” What she did say was that her tweet, that so many Western media had jumped on and gotten outraged about, was so highly ridiculous and absurd that it could only have been construed as “humour,” or else it would have been a very toxic tweet — which was definitely not her intention.

I mean, she’s in Beijing trying to get the country to invest money in her ailing economy! While her tweet was ill-advised, it was definitely not ill-intentioned, and that IBT UK’s headline is the statement that is truly “toxic.”

So is Zuckerberg fluent in Chinese or not?

Image: Tsinghua University

Image: Tsinghua University

Mark Zuckerberg recently made news because of a dialogue he gave at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, where he spoke (Mandarin) Chinese. Here’s the link to the full video, 30 minutes long.

There have been news coverage about Zuckerberg’s Chinese language skills, from laudatory “Of course he speaks fluent Mandarin” headlines to less-than-favourable comparisons to that of a seven-year old. It turns out that there is a problem with the mixed coverage of Zuckerberg’s student dialogue — the news and the public often get confused what language “fluency” is.

Zuckerberg’s spoken Chinese, while mostly coherent, and with some interruptions, mangled most of the tones that the Chinese language is widely known for. BBC’s coverage pointed out that Zuckerberg’s failure to properly produce tones led him to claim that Facebook had just “11 mobile users” instead of “one billion.”

To understand how “fluent” one is when talking about mastery of a foreign language, one needs to understand the difference between “competence,” “performance,” “fluency,” and “proficiency” — four terms often used in such discussions. I’ll attempt to explain the differences between these four concepts.

Language competence and performance are the two biggest things that people are actually talking about when discussing a person’s L2 (foreign-language) “fluency.” Simply put, competence is a person’s grasp on the language’s grammar, phonological/phonetic rules, etc. Thus a person can be completely competent in a language but unable to perform as well. An example would be a person completely able to understand and speak Spanish, but unable to roll one’s R’s.

The distinction between competence and performance was notoriously made by Noam Chomsky in 1965. However, Chomsky’s notion of grammatical and phonological (linguistic) competence was expanded by Dell Hymes in 1966.  It included the knowing of appropriateness of topics and politeness (sociolinguistic), understanding how to combine language structures into different oral and written types (discourse), and knowing how to repair communication breakdown in the presence of interference (strategic). These concepts came to be known as “communicative competence” in literature.

Zuckerberg’s Chinese performance with his tones was bad, but he understood most of the questions asked. He was also able to answer simple to moderately complex questions in grammatically-sound Chinese. His use of humour and appropriate politeness further signals competence. It can be said that he’s mostly competent in Chinese.

Fluency is the measure of the ease of production of the language. It can be measured by speed, sustainment, and/or lack of breaks. Fluency includes not only speech fluency, but reading, writing, and even listening. Thus a person could be illiterate and have a limited vocabulary, but can be considered fluent if the speech occurs at a smooth pace. Zuckerberg’s speech does contain many pauses in parts of his speech, to the point that it might be hard for the listener to understand what he’s trying to say. He may not be very fluent, but through context of his speech, listeners (especially native speakers) are able to repair the content of his speech mostly.

Lastly, proficiency is the mastery of how well one uses the language, and can usually be tested by means such as the TOEFL or JLPT. One thing that was pointed out to me is that in language testing, proficiency is usually norm-referenced; that means that test takers are tested on how well they did in comparison to other test takers. This is different from criterion-referenced tests, such as the GCEs and GCSEs, where test takers are measured if they meet a set of pre-defined criteria. Once again, a speaker can be fluent in the language, but not necessarily proficient.

All Men In North Korea Are Now Reportedly Required to Get the Same Haircut as Kim Jong Un

This is way too funny not to reblog. At least the “undercut” was popular in North Korea before it even hit the States!

TIME

Until now, everyone in North Korea had to choose their haircuts from a list of state-approved styles. But now, all men in the hermit kingdom will be required to sport the same hairstyle as supreme leader Kim Jong Un, the BBC reports.

Pyongyang introduced the new law two weeks ago but is now rolling it out across the country. Unfortunately, many North Koreans don’t seem too thrilled about it since it could be rather unflattering for many men. Plus, according to a former Pyongyang resident now living in China, the Kim Jong Un cut is unpopular because it apparently resembles the style of Chinese smugglers. “Until the mid-2000s, we called it the ‘Chinese smuggler haircut,” the source told the Korea Times.

For now, it seems women will still be able to choose one of the several state-approved styles. Though if Kim Jong Un is a Friends fan…

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The covenant between a reporter and an interviewee

Bitcoin traders Kolin Burges, right, of London and Aaron, an American who gave only his first name, hold protest signs in front of the office tower housing Mt. Gox in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Bitcoin traders Kolin Burges, right, of London and Aaron, an American who gave only his first name, hold protest signs in front of the office tower housing Mt. Gox in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

The Story

An article on the Wall Street Journal today on Bitcoins, Shutdown of Mt. Gox Rattles Bitcoin Market, jointly written by Robin Sidel, Michael Casey, and Eleanor Warnock, talked about the closure of Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange, and the lack of regulation of the virtual currency.

In a nutshell, it talked about Mt. Gox stopped all transactions on Tuesday, and that it has been experiencing technical difficulties for months, including a hacking attempt two weeks ago and an alleged loss of almost 750,000 Bitcoins, about 6% of the Bitcoins in existence and valued at $400 million. Overall, it cast a pretty grim outlook on the future of Bitcoins as a reliable trading currency due to its volatility and lack of regulation.

One of the subjects interviewed for this story was Erik Voorhees, a Panama City-based investor of Bitcoin startups, whose mention in the story was:

Erik Voorhees, another investor in bitcoin startups, said he has given up on a stash of more than 550 bitcoins that he has at Mt. Gox. At current prices, they are valued at about $300,000.

“That’s gone now,” said Mr. Voorhees, who is based in Panama City, Panama. “There’s no chance of getting that back now.”

No one knows how many investors face possible losses or how much money is at stake. Mt. Gox has been losing trading volume in recent months to rival exchanges. Efforts to reach Mt. Gox officials were unsuccessful.

Voorhees (whom the author misspelled as “Veerhoos” originally) felt that his quote was heavily misrepresented, and his interest in the matter completely warped. He posted an open letter to the reporter, Casey, on Reddit:

Hello Mr. Casey,

I read your WSJ article today. I feel deceived by you.

You requested to speak with me, so I took time out of my day to do so. We talked for 20 minutes, during which time I conveyed to you my sentiments about the Bitcoin ecosystem and the matter of MtGox’s collapse. My message was unambiguously a positive one. I didn’t focus whatsoever on the personal funds I lost at Gox. Indeed, the impetus for your call was my heartfelt post on Reddit.

Yet, you ignored everything I said. The only quote that you published from me in the Journal’s cover story was “”That’s gone now,” said Mr. Veerhoos, who is based in Panama City, Panama. “There’s no chance of getting that back now.””

Is that really the takeaway you had from our call and from my letter? Is that your idea of journalism? Did I come across with the sentiment of a despairing investor whose confidence has been rattled? It seems you were happy to completely ignore my sentiments, preferring instead to cherry pick the one fact that is least important, in order to paint a narrative that Bitcoin’s biggest problem is that it’s not “regulated.” I didn’t expect you to quote everything I said, but should you not have maintained at least a modicum of fidelity to my message?

I have dedicated my life to building and supporting the Bitcoin project. I don’t give a damn about the money I lost at Gox. That’s not important. What is important is that Bitcoin is resilient and enduring, and will continue to grow and change the world for the better. It is a story of human progress through technology. It is a story of the good seeping into the cracks of a corrupted financial system. It is a story of passionate people struggling against all odds to remedy the calamities brought down upon society from the most potently misguided people and institutions on Earth.

Next time you spend your efforts casting a pall over this cause, please don’t ask me to contribute mine.

-Erik Voorhees

PS – I will be posting this letter openly on Reddit. I will post your reply if you’d like. And if I do, I won’t cherry pick the most misleading points of it, and I will spell your name correctly.

The Ethics

This invites the the question of the integrity of journalists — constrained by word space and the angle they have to push, how much liberty can journalists take with regards to the quotes they get from their interviewees? Any reasonable reading of the article will find not a shred of a positive light regarding Bitcoins, what with lines like:

But the unregulated currency isn’t backed by a central bank, raising alarms about which bodies can intervene when crises arise.

Or:

The Mt. Gox mess hasn’t changed the enthusiasm of Overstock.com, which began accepting bitcoin for payment in January.

It is clear that the authors were trying to push the angle of the unreliability of Bitcoins. However, interviewee Voorhees’ given interview was that of a positive one with regards to Bitcoin usage and its future, according to his post on Reddit. The reporter Casey then seems to have misrepresented Voorhees’ interest by cherry-picking quotes and placing them out of context.

From an ethical point of view, that seems dastardly. I understand that writers have to pick a strong, consistent angle to sell the story, and Casey picked the one about the unreliability of Bitcoins, and had to ensure that the theme is consistent throughout the article. But when the trust in journalists to protect the integrity of given interviews is lost by the interviewees, who will be left to give any more interviews in the future? While not on the same level as Judith Miller refusing to disclose her sources, there is an expectation from interviewees that the journalists whom they have agreed to grant an interview to will no misrepresent them. This is a covenant between the reporter and the interviewee that should never be broken.

One then would also have to wonder about the blame of the editor, who is responsible for making sure the story is as sell-able as possible. In this case, we have not heard back from Casey regarding the decision to cherry-pick Voorhees’ quotes, whether was it his editor that pushed for that decision or was it purely Casey’s. While it is the reporter’s job to do the legwork of collecting the facts and quotes, the editor, who puts things together and rearranges them, is as much a part of the journalistic process as is the journalist.

Interestingly, Chris Lamprecht, known as the first person in the world to be banned from the internet, commented on Voorhees’ predicament.

Erik,

A long time ago, in 1995, I was the first person banned from the Internet, and my case was in the news. An honest journalist once told me something very important that I never forgot. I was asking him if he could include certain things in his article. He said:

“Chris, you have to understand that journalists are not your PR agency. Journalists have their own agenda. They are going to write whatever story they want to, or whatever story their editor told them to write.”

Any honest journalist will tell you something similar. Unfortunately, not enough journalists care about writing an accurate story.

Thanks for being a good voice for Bitcoin.

Truer words never spoken, and an unfortunate but accurate description for what journalists were and still are today. Why do we tolerate such shoddy standards though? It is not as if journalism has to be that way.

The Answer?

Journalism has always been a reader-led effort — not only what the readers want to read, but how they want to read it, journalism has always answered and provided. If readers want salacious content, then salacious content becomes “journalism.” If readers want their content speedy, where the first medium to produce the article is the most efficient, then hasty journalism becomes journalism as well.

And then we proceed to complain about why journalism these days is so poor in content, and poorly fact-checked.

We have to realise that journalism is what we want to read, and until we decide that we want accurate, fair, and balanced journalism, we will always have shoddy, subpar works that obfuscates as much as it tries to tell a story.

So much bad reporting about the Obamacare-Little Sisters brouhaha

Little Sisters of the Poor. Courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Image credit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

One of the news stories that came out around the turn of 2013/14 was the story of a religious group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who aid the elderly. The story reported by many publications basically says this:

Obamacare is forcing a religious group of nuns to provide contraception to their employees! Shame on Obamacare!

Related arguments include: The Obama administration doesn’t think the Little Sisters are religious enough to qualify for church exemptions; the government shouldn’t force religious entities to do anything that goes against their moral beliefs.

Currently, the majority of news sites that tout this stance are mostly Op-Eds, as well as, of course, Fox News, and some others infamous for being less credible news sources, such as the NY Post.

However, given some of the facts of the case that were made available from the beginning of the case that really undermines the Little Sister’s standing, it’s unbelievable that writers are still deliberately ignoring those points and writing pieces with only side of the story — much bad journalism indeed. Well, I suppose sensationalising stories is nothing new, especially with some news sites whose purpose are not so much to enlighten but to build narratives.

However, some sites, such as the Huffington Post and the Denver Post, have also been guilty of reporting only one the side of the story where the Obama administration is being the overpowering encroacher. For them, it shouldn’t have been hard to do a quick search to find out what the facts are, should it?

I’ll summarise the facts and developments of the story:

  • On January 1st, 2014, a mandate from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare,” would require employers providing insurance to is employees to include contraception coverage, or face fines.
  • Religious organisations, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious-affiliated non-profit, not a religious organisation, so they are still required to provide contraception coverage.
  • However, a provision in the ACA states that religious-affiliated groups, such as the Little Sisters, can opt out by filling out a conscientious objection form.
  • The objection form will then pass the burden of providing contraception coverage onto a third-party insurer.
  • Little Sisters says that even signing the form goes against their religious beliefs, because it makes them complicit in providing of contraception.
  • However, their arguments have a flaw: their employees are using a “church plan” insurance, which pre-dates the ACA, and under the church plan, the Little Sisters doesn’t have to provide contraception coverage anyway.
  • Little Sisters appeals for an injunction of the ACA mandate on them, appeal was rejected. On December 31, one day before the ACA mandate takes effect, Justice Sotomayer grants a stay on the rejection of the appeal, until a decision is reached.
  • The U.S. government has asked the Supreme Courts not to extend the exemption

There is a law, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), that sets the standards for benefits provided to employees, should employers choose to provide them, and those under the church plan provision of ERISA don’t have to provide contraception coverage. Since it pre-dates the ACA, it limits the federal government’s authority over the health plan that the Little Sisters has, the Obama administration argues, and under ERISA the Feds couldn’t intervene or penalize it.

“There is no statutory authority to regulate the third-party administrator of a self-insured church plan and no legal compulsion for that administrator to provide contraceptive coverage where an eligible organization with a self-insured church plan invokes the accommodation, ” the government lawyers argued in an earlier Circuit Court brief.

So the Little Sisters is essentially just against the signing of the form, where if they do sign it, nothing changes from status quo — no contraception coverage will be provided, not even by third-party insurers. Yet if the Denver group doesn’t invoke that “accommodation” by self-certifying, it is still subject to hefty fines under the Affordable Care Act, at $6,700 a day, or $4.5 million a year, which comprises a third of their budget. Are they then petitioning against potential spiritual complicity, not even actual spiritual complicity, where signing the form equates to providing for the possibility of complicity, where if I sign, were I not under a church plan, I’d possibly have to provide contraception coverage, and that is against my moral beliefs? Can people actually petition against a counterfactual situation? The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which is also defending a similar case for Hobby Lobby, a private company that refused to provide contraception coverage because of their religious values, has taken up the Little Sisters’ case.

There is no deadline for court action, and Sotomayor can make the decision herself or refer it to the whole court, in which case all nine justices will decide.

Miyazaki: Not retiring from making retirement announcements any time soon

hayao-miyazaki

Good news for all Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli fans. Miyazaki is (once again) not retiring! The studio’s iconic film-maker’s apparent retirement was disputed when Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki talked about Miyazaki’s current project.

From the Guardian:

The news that the 72-year-old film-maker is continuing to draw was broken by Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki on the Japanese TV show Sekai-ichi Uketai Jugyō. “I think he will serialise a manga,” said Suzuki when asked how Miyazaki was enjoying his retirement. “From the beginning, he likes drawing about his favourite things. That’s his stress relief.” Suzuki then confirmed the project’s Warring States setting, but added: “He’ll get angry if I talk too much. Let’s stop talking about this.”

This marks the seventh time Miyazaki has announced his retirement, and came back each time:

  1. 1986: Castle in the sky
  2. 1992: Porco Rosso
  3. 1997 : Princess Mononoke
  4. 2001: Spirited Away
  5. 2004: How’s Moving Castle
  6. 2008: Ponyo
  7. 2013: The Wind Rises