When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Unethical, As A School Board Ponders The Profits of Child Labor

child laborWe learn about how seriously our institutions take their ethics when money gets scarce. States suddenly decided that ol’ devil gambling wasn’t so bad after all, once they realized that lots and lots of poor, desperate people without a lot of mathematical skills would fork over billions they needed to buy food with or save to move out of the ghetto in the hope of becoming a tycoon. I’m sure as soon as states realize that their legislators don’t have the guts to make the wealthy and powerful pay for lousy schools, more and more of them will get into the drug dealing business, like Colorado, and let the lives, families and businesses destroyed by the inevitable results of legal pot and cocaine become collateral damage.

Somewhere in between those irresponsible and cynical policy decisions way come ideas like this one, from the Prince George’s County Board of Education (in Maryland.) There is a new proposed policy in the perpetually corrupt Washington D.C. neighbor to make all work products created by teachers or students the intellectual property of the County, not the individual who created it: Continue reading

Indians, Pirates, Greeks, Intellectual Property, and Political Correctness

The always understated Robert Newton as Long John Silver. You owe his estate a quarter every time you say “Arg!”

Here I am banging my forehead with the palm of my hand for not realizing that all of the rhetoric flying around about how horrible it is that people in the U.S. can get away with denigrating religions would spark yet another round of political correctness applied to team names and mascots. Perhaps this was inevitable when a vestige of an earlier controversy along these lines invaded the Elizabeth Warren-Sen. Scott Brown race: some of Brown’s staff were seen doing the old Atlanta Braves “tomahawk chop” to mock Professor Warren’s beneficial delusion that she is a bona fide Native American. The political correctness police were all over this one, though the logic, as in a lot of political correctness, was strained: doing a famous fake Indian gesture to mock a fake Indian political candidate is an insult to…real American Indians? Even after the real Cherokees have announced that Warren’s pretensions of affirmative-action worthy Native American status is offensive to them? I’m afraid  those who are empowered by being offended are just too creative for me—I don’t get it.

Nor do I get an earnest essay by  Paul Lukas on the ESPN website, titled “Time to Re-think Native American Imagery.” I am on record as believing that the assault on Native American symbols and imagery for school and team names is just more cynical power-mongering by convenient victims, with the exception of the Washington Redskins, the one team with an undeniably racist name that ought to offend everybody. Still, it is obvious that the political correctness thugs will keep chipping away, counting on their persistence and the eventual bureaucratic shrug (“Oh, what the hell—it’s only a name. Let’s just give them what they want!”) to give them a victory–whereupon they will find something else to be offended about.  Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Ice Child” and Staging Theft Ethics”

Arts blogger Jeremy Barker contributes a provocative counter-argument to my stance in the controversy over a D.C. based theater company that borrowed/adapted/stole an original production concept from a New York company without attribution or permission.  My position was (and is) that no rule, principle or law designed to discourage such conduct could avoid suffocating legitimate adaptations, mutations and new uses of  ideas devised by others, with devastating effects on creative expression. This is one of the great ethics controversies in the world of art, and I am glad to see it back in the ring.

Here is Jeremy’s Comment of the Day on my post, “The Ice Child” and Staging Theft Ethics.

“Jack–I just came across this piece and wanted to respond because I think, in quoting me, you ignore part of my argument, and I’m curious if you can clarify your perspective.

“Specifically, I feel like your caveated argument in favor of Factory 449 is based on the sense that it’s common practice to borrow such design or staging elements in text-based theater. I agree, it is. But if we were speaking of a specific author’s text, I think most commenters would have swung the other way. We tend to protect the playwright’s text in a different fashion than we do a design concept. A writer could be accused on plagiarism for either (a) imitating a distinctive plot, or (b) appropriating the same words. Yes, we can argue about what is an acceptable form of “referencing” (no one thinks Arthur Laurents wrote Romeo & Juliet, for instance) and what crosses the line. Often, this applies to how the text is used. But we understand and appreciate a playtext as a protected, distinctive thing.

“Indeed, I’d argue that this logic, which privileges the text, is the basis on which people in this thread are defending Factory 449′s appropriation. Since it wasn’t the same “play,” by which they mean “play text,” it’s not really the same thing, ergo, it’s not ripping someone off wholesale. Continue reading

“The Ice Child” and Staging Theft Ethics

Copy or inspiration?

Well-reviewed, received and attended, the Washington D.C. production of “The Ice Child,” an original horror play by members of the three-year-old ensemble Factory 449, has stirred controversy because of its staging and production design, which is not only strikingly similar to a New York production of another horror play, “Americana Kamikaze,” but the company candidly admits that its visual concept was inspired by the 2009 work. Factory 449 also maintains that the plays are different, and that their appropriation of the design elements of the Temporary Distortion production of “Americana Kamikaze” is within the realm of acceptable, and ethical, theater practice. In a statement responding to charges of theft of creative output, the company wrote: Continue reading

“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

The Evolving Ethics of Joke Theft

Kal Raustiala, a Professor at UCLA Law School and the UCLA International Institute, and Chris Sprigman, a Professor at the University of Virginia Law School, are counterfeiting and intellectual property experts who hang out at the Freakonomics blog, and their latest post discusses how the world of stand-up comedy deals with joke theft. Some of the commentary will remind you of the Monty Python sketch in which a professor dryly lectures (with demonstrations) on the art of slapstick, but their observation is important: professional comics have developed a series of standards, enforced informally by such methods as shunning, shaming, and confrontation (and the occasional punch in the face) to discourage theft of a form of intellectual property that cannot be efficiently protested by copyright or trademark law. Continue reading

Fashion Ethics: Stealing Is Good

Where is it ethical to be unethical?

In the Bizarro world of high fashion, apparently, where making knock-offs of famous name designer dresses is a huge industry, and the original designers get neither recognition not profit from the illicit use of their creations. The practice is obviously unfair and dishonest, but not so obviously, good for the health of the fashion industry, according to an article by law professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman on the Freakonimics website. They write: Continue reading