Photography Ethics, Richard Prince And NFTs, Whatever The Hell They Are

NFT big

Since late last month, April 25 in fact, I have been periodically researching the topic of NFTs or “nonfungible tokens“. The damn things were back in the news yesterday when a digital-only photograph of supermodel Emily Ratajkowski standing in front of a photograph of herself with a smaller, different photograph of herself in the corner sold at auction at Christie’s for $140,000 ($175,000 after fees). Here’s Yahoo!’s description:

It’s not that the photo can be seen only by the buyer or even that the buyer can physically mount it in a frame (though one supposes the buyer could project it on a wall or screen and put a frame around the projection); it’s that the equivalent of the certificate verifying the authenticity of the digital file of the main photo is unique. It’s really the certificate that cannot be replaced exactly by a copy….NFTs have recently enjoyed a heyday. Nonfungible.com, which tracks such sales, shows massive spikes through the first quarter of 2021 over the last quarter of 2020, with sales volume reportedly in the range of $2 billion already this year.

Right. I can read that over and over, and it still makes no sense. As far as I can tell, these are like digital tulip bulbs from the Dutch tulip craze crossed with cyber-currency, and people who have so much money they don’t know what to do with it are buying what amounts to metadata as investments. But I may be completely wrong. I eventually gave up on trying to understand NFTs when my sock drawer started looking taking to me.

There is are underlying ethics issues, however. Ratajkowski created her NFT in part to troll Richard Prince, a photographer who has exploited the blurry ethics and copyright laws involving photography to make a lot of money and to infuriate many people, especially celebrities like Ratajkowski. Prince is the master of the digital age of Appropriation Art. When Andy Warhol essentially copied the design of a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can and made millions from it, that was the beginning of the trail of metaphorical bread crumbs that led to Prince. Thousands of photographs are placed online every day and appear all over the web, to be copied and re-used in on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and many other cyber-spaces. It is often impossible to track down the original photograph or its source even if one wants to give it attribution or ask permission to use it from the creator—this is something I do know something about, as I deal with it every day. Taking an individual’s image, however, treating it as one’s own and selling it is widely regarded a breach of photography ethics, and arguably a breach of law. “Fine Art,” however, creates a large loophole, and in the loophole dwells the much despised Richard Prince.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/2020: “Macho Man” Rights, A Billionaire Jerk Contest, And More

Good morning!

Not thrilled to be up before Virginia’s sunrise, but looking forward to it…

1. It’s sad what happens to Ethics Alarms expatriates...One upon a time, uber-progressive blogger/cartoonist Barry Deutsch, aka Ampersand, was one of the most prolific, open-minded, articulate and reasonable commenters here. Then Barry banned himself because he didn’t like my pointing out that his blog is an echo chamber, after he censored my comment there noting that his SJW throng’s  position on the Trayvon Martin-Zimmerman affair was intellectually dishonest.  So Barry retreated to his self-made bubble. I check in on him now and then, and that admirable open-mindedness has disappeared in the marinade of relentlessly woke and intolerant fans.

Here’s how bad it is for Barry: this what he wrote on his “Alas! A Blog”recently: “Conservatives are against all immigrants (or at least all non-white immigrants), not just unauthorized immigrants.”

Tragic. Barry Deutsch now believes that anyone who disagrees with his far left world view is a racist. The Ampersand who followed Ethics Alarms would never think such a thing, much less publish it.

2. The trouble with billionaires. The class warfare being fomented by Bernie Sanders and others for a cynical and destructive power grab is an old formula that, when it works, always brings chaos in its wake. Throughout history, it has succeeded more often than basic economics and common sense would dictate in part because so many of the ultra-rich persist in being jerks. Does being a jerk make one more inclined to get rich, or does becoming extremely rich have a tendency to make one a toxic jerk?

That’s a question for the ages, but the behavior of people like billionaires Peter Nygard and Louis Bacon make things easier for class warfare demagogues like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, just as it did for Lenin and Robespierre before them. This story, about their absurd and costly feud, illustrates how extreme wealth can permit one’s ethics alarms, not to mention sense of proportion, go dead.

From the Times:

The Bahamian pleasure palace featured a faux Mayan temple, sculptures of smoke-breathing snakes and a disco with a stripper pole. The owner, Peter Nygard, a Canadian fashion executive, showed off his estate on TV shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and threw loud beachfront parties, reveling in the company of teenage girls and young women. Next door, Louis Bacon, an American hedge fund billionaire, presided over an airy retreat with a lawn for croquet. Mr. Bacon preferred hunting alone with a bow and arrow to attending wild parties, and if mentioned at all in the press, was typically described as buttoned-up.

The neighbors had little in common except for extreme wealth and a driveway. But when Mr. Nygard wasn’t allowed to rebuild after a fire, he blamed Mr. Bacon. Since then, the two have been embroiled in an epic battle, spending tens of millions of dollars and filing at least 25 lawsuits in five jurisdictions. Mr. Nygard, 78, has spread stories accusing Mr. Bacon of being an insider trader, murderer and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Bacon, 63, has accused Mr. Nygard of plotting to kill him.

Read the whole thing. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/14/2019: The “Yikes!” Edition.

Good morning!

1. Yikes. The New Republic is routinely irresponsible and disgusting these days, but may have set a new low—I can’t say for sure, because I only intermittently read the rag—with an ugly, homophobic rant by Dale Peck about Pete Buttigieg. So great was the outcry that the far left magazine pulled the piece, something it would not do and has not done when it has savaged a conservative or Republican, though not over sexual orientation, just horrible things like being male, white, or wanting to enforce laws. Here’s an excerpt from what remains on the web…Peck is himself gay, interestingly:

The only thing that distinguishes the mayor of South Bend from all those other well-educated reasonably intelligent white dudes who wanna be president is what he does with his dick (and possibly his ass, although I get a definite top-by-default vibe from him, which is to say that I bet he thinks about getting fucked but he’s too uptight to do it). So let’s dish the dish, homos….He’s been out for, what, all of four years, and if I understand the narrative, he married the first guy he dated. And we all know what happens when gay people don’t get a real adolescence because they spent theirs in the closet: they go through it after they come out. And because they’re adults with their own incomes and no parents to rein them in they do it on steroids (often literally)….the last thing I want in the White House is a gay man staring down 40 who suddenly realizes he didn’t get to have all the fun his straight peers did when they were teenagers.

I’m not saying I don’t want him to shave his chest or do Molly or try being the lucky Pierre (the timing’s trickier than it looks, but it can be fun when you work it out). These are rites of passage for a lot of gay men, and it fuels many aspects of gay culture. But like I said, I don’t want it in the White House.

I want a man whose mind is on his job, not what could have been–or what he thinks he can still get away with.

I know I keep asking this, but how could an editor not have ethics alarms ringing like a seven alarm fire when examining vile material like that?

2. Yikes! I didn’t see this coming...I posted what I thought was a nice, innocuous acknowledgement of the Boston Red Sox management doing something kind for the family of a forgotten walk-on during the team’s legendary 1967 pennant winning season who was inexplicably snubbed over the years. They gave the late Ken Poulsen’s son a 1967 World Series ring in an on-field ceremony before a game last week.

Then I received this in the comments:

I am Kendra Poulsen, Ken’s daughter and first born. I was not informed of this honor and presentation of the pennant ring they gave my brother yesterday. Obviously, I am devastated that me and my son were left out! And Ken had 2 grandsons. My child and my brother’s. The other children were step children from a recent marriage. It all makes me sick! The Sox should be ashamed of themselves. I could care less about the money.

I can’t quite make an ethics call because I can’t answer the threshold “What’s going on here?” query. So far, I’ve alerted a Boston Red Sox sportswriter friend, and that’s all. Was it the team’s obligation to track down the entire Poulsen family for its gesture of contrition? Did the son fail his duty to his sister? Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Beatles And Plagiarism”

Then there are Golden Rule considerations...

Then there are Golden Rule considerations…

There were many outstanding comments today, but I have a soft spot in my heart for any comment that completes a post that I decided to shorten by raising the issue I omitted for length. Thus johnburger2013 gets another Comment of the Day nod for his musings on the elusive lines between homage, inspirations, quotes and plagiarism in music.

The three examples discussed in my post are not close calls, I’d insist: my friend, actor/lawyer/ classic rock maven David Elias informs me that John Lennon actually confessed that he had plagiarized the Chuck Berry song, and his was the least egregious steal of the three. Other instances, however, are not so clear cut: If he hadn’t sung all of them, a case could be made that every Gary Puckett song was plagiarized from every other one. (The same, in fact, has been said of Chuck Berry.)

In researching the Beatles story, I found an entertaining site called Sounds Just Like which explores johnb’s “line.” Most are a stretch: No, I don’t think John Williams ripped off Darth Vader’s theme from Mary Poppins’ “A Spoonful of Sugar.” But I do know that Arthur Sullivan was imitating Mendelssohn big time in “Iolanthe,” and that recognizable musical quotes are important tools of the trade that should not be strangled by overzealous copyright prosecutions.

Here is johnburger2013’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Beatles And Plagiarism: Continue reading

Now THIS Is Hypocrisy: Steven Soderbergh’s Copyright Exemption

Raiders_B and W

Few ethical concepts are as misidentified as hypocrisy, which is the opposite of integrity. The judge who secretly engages in crimes by night that he harshly sentences poor defendants for committing when he wears his black robe by day is a hypocrite; the parent who punishes his child for conduct she defiantly engaged in when she was the same age is not. The anti-hate speech zealot who uses what she would call hate speech in attacking others is a hypocrite; the closeted gay Baptist who opposes same-sex marriage is not. There is no danger of confusion where director Stephen Soderbergh’s copyright militancy is concerned, however. He’s a perfect hypocrite, one who distinguishes  right and wrong this way: if anyone other than  Soderbergh does it, it’s wrong.

Soderbergh is an outspoken copyright infringement hun who has testified  before Congress on behalf of the Director’s Guild of America, calling for tough legal penalties against online copyright infringers. He was also the lead plaintiff in the 2006 case of Soderbergh et al v. Clean Flicks of Colorado et al., seeking to shut down a company called Clean Flicks  that distributed versions of previously-released films edited by them to be more “family friendly.”

Soderbergh suit was successful, with the court ruling that the edited versions prepared by Clean Flicks violated his rights under sec 106(2) of the Copyright Act  by creating derivative versions of the films – defined as “works based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted”—and held that that Clean Flicks was responsible for “irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies.”

But what’s this? Now Soderbergh is posting his own specially-edited versions of the classics “Psycho,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” on his own website. Want to see how good Raiders looks as a black-and-white film for example? Soderbergh’s color-free edit will show you. And how is editing the color out of the Lucas-Spielberg film ethically and legally distinct from editing out the naughty words and images from Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape?”

I have no idea. Ask Soderbergh, whose answer, I suspect, will be “because I did it, not someone else.”

Hypocrisy.

______________________

Pointer: Volokh

Facebook Ethics: Making Your Facebook Friends As Ignorant As You Are

Foto-Facebook

All of a sudden, for some unknown reason (maybe THIS story!) there is an avalanche of Facebook users posting this language, or the equivalent:

Now that there has been a change in Facebook’s privacy policy, I am making the following change: I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law.  NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE. You MUST copy and Paste.

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PRIVACY NOTICE: Warning – any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you do NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information nor any of the content contained herein including, but not limited to my photos, and/or the comments made about my photos or any other “picture” art posted on my profile. You are hereby notified that you are strictly prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, disseminating, or taking any other action against me with regard to this profile and the contents herein. The foregoing prohibitions also apply to your employee, agent, student or any personnel under your direction or control.

The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law.

UCC 1-103 1-308 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

Impressive!

Scary!

Legal sounding!

But oh so wrong in every way. Continue reading

The Perplexing Law and Ethics of Copyright Violations On The Web

For once I’m not going to try to summarize a useful article, but will just suggest that you read it. From the future (the article is mysteriously dated May 1, 2012), journalist Eriq Gardner tells of his experience with Righthaven, the organization that was created explicitly to sue bloggers and others for copyright violations on the web. He tells of how he came to believe that the defenders of copyright law, not those who would destroy it, had fairness, logic and ethics on their side.

The article is well-timed, given my current travails with an unapologetic plagiarist, and my own position on copyright, which is consistent with the author’s. It also features a guest appearance by attorney Marc Randazza, the First Amendment specialist who came to my aid when  I was threatened with a lawsuit over an opinion someone didn’t like.

The article, titled The Righthaven Experiment: A Journalist Wonders If a Copyright Troll Was Right to Sue Him, is well worth your time.

“Glee” Ethics

Now that I know I’m not the only one to be a bit troubled by the gleefully unethical practices of the absurdly talented high school students in the performance choir chronicled in the Fox TV series “Glee,” I will conquer my fear of rampaging “Gleeks” and say so.

In addition to the annoyance of the teens being played by 30-year-olds, their absurdly accomplished performing skills, and most of all, the speed with which they arrange, choreograph and master complex musicals numbers that a no professional performing group could equal in less than a week of twelve-hour days, there is this: the students regularly violate the copyright laws by using music, lyrics and exact copies of video choreography in their numbers.

Yes, the producers of  “Glee” are really paying the artists involved; that’s not the point. The problem is that the show’s conceit contributes to an attitude among younger Americans (and a lot of old ones, like “The Ethicist,” Randy Cohen) that stealing intellectual property from artists is OK, everybody does it, and it is standard procedure. This encourages an unethical and illegal practice by glamorizing it, and also misinforms viewers who may not know that what the “Glee” kids do could involve big fines and serious legal problems in the real world. Continue reading