Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jimmy, We Hardly Knew Ye

It's been three short years since FBI Special Agent In Charge James Bernazzani came to New Orleans. Transferred to our city just months before Hurricane Katrina, Bernazzani wasted no time in ferreting out the government weasels who have been nibbling away at our city's political infrastructure; two of the more notable clans being the Morials and the Jeffersons. But now those days are over.

Gambit, New Orleans' Weekly Newspaper, ran an item in their April 22nd Scuttlebutt section reporting that "heavy hitters (read: financial backers) with conservative leanings," (ie: Republicans,) had been pressing Bernazzani to run for mayor in 2010. Both WDSU TV 6 and WWL Channel 4 picked up the story and questioned Bernazzani, who never said that it was his intention to run. He told the reporters that it was a decision that, if made, would be made at least ten months from now.

For that simple statement though, James Bernazzani has been transferred back to Washington DC effective immediately. You see, there's a little set of Federal guidelines called the Hatch Act which prevents JB from entering any partisan election as a candidate. Go read it. It's short. I'll wait.

Pretty cut and dried, eh? The thing is, Bernazzani did not state an intent to run. The FBI, however, feels that his thinking about the job creates a conflict of interest in the public eye. I can't say I blame them. What happens if his investigations turn dirt up on his political foes? That would look pretty suspicious, wouldn't it? Keep in mind that the FBI holds JB in the highest regard. They're simply making a pre-emptive strike on what might have become a difficult situation. Still, I can't help thinking that JB's getting a raw deal.

Rawer still is the deal the City of New Orleans gets. We are losing one of the most honest public servants we have ever had. I mean, the guy was eroding corruption in our city like it was one of the Army Corps levees. He's not a moron, (and I know morons,) and I know for a fact that he's familiar with the Hatch Act. He spoke to legal counsel before appearing on TV in order to conform to the Hatch Act, so what's up with the reassignment?

Could it be that he was torpedoed? Was he getting close to someones dirty laundry? Did they ask a few cronies to get the ball rolling in the hope that JB would be summarily dismissed from his duties? Hmmmm. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Or is it possible that the Current Administration, already disillusioned because Katrina failed to wipe New Orleans off the map, started this whole thing in order to make life easier for the local Republicans? I mean, you can't steal cookies when there's a big, tough Italian-American pit-bull guarding the cookie jar, now can you?

Either way, what's done is done and there's no use crying over spilled agents. First Ape George Bush recently referred to New Orleans as a "City of hope," so we can hope JB's replacement is just as smart and tough. But there's a sliver of sunlight peeking out from behind this dark news cloud. JB has spent the last 25 years with the FBI and is just four years from retirement. He says he loves this city and cares what happens to it and to its residents.

And he hasn't decided whether to accept the transfer yet.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's Earth Day!

Come with me as I clear out the toxic debris of my life. I have some old car batteries and tires that I'm going to throw into Lake Ponchartrain early in the morning. After that I thought I'd treat myself to an hour or two of 4-wheeling through some protected woodlands. Might bag a few bald eagles if I see any.

After lunch, which I plan to only eat half of, then leave on the ground near the plastic bags I packed it in, I'm going to see how many 2-litre bottles it takes to jam up the water purification plant near my house. Then it's off to the recycling plant to pick up a load of aluminum cans to toss out during my City Park Earth Day Mardi Gras and 4x4-Making Donuts On The Golf Course Parade.

Dinner will find me eating whatever I can buy that comes in plastic packaging. A lot of it too. Maybe a case or two of those single serving size potato chips. I'm gonna throw those things off the top of One Shell Square in honor of the First Ape's visit to New Orleans, aka 'The City That George Forgot.'

Later tonight I'm going to turn on every light and appliance in the house, including the spare generators. This should give me enough light to see as I burn my next-door neighbor's trees down. They interfere with my diesel powered satellite dish. But don't worry... no fire hazard as I've had about twenty sprinklers on all day to saturate the ground. You know, for the Muddy Midnight Motocross Madness!

Whoops, gotta go... the chainsaw and lawnmower symphony I've got running out back needs some more gasoline! Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who Owns John Galt?

(Your © Is About To Expire. Forever.)

Have you heard of the Orphan Works Act? Not many people have, but after Easter break both the House and Senate will be looking at a fast track bill designed to strip the copyright from every work you've ever created. From murals to sculpture to songs to home videos and doodles on Post-It notes, anything you create is about to become fair game for intellectual property theft.

A new version of this bill is currently being hammered out and was originally designed by a cadre of eight law students under the direction of Peter Jaszi, a law professor at American University who believes that all art is communal. His view is one of communist idealism in the strictest Marxist sense.

Perhaps I like the dreamy quality of Photographer X's photos and I try to make mine look that way. Well, she was emulating Photographer Q, who emulated Photographer B who was trying to evoke the paintings of Artist F who in turn learned his technique from Artist O. Under this reasoning, even though I'm creating, I'm creating by benefit of others who have influenced me, so my creation is not mine, but theirs as well, and therefore belongs not just to me but to everyone. Post-war, post-modernist deconstructionism at its very worst.

This bill would force artists and authors to register any intellectual property with as-yet-non-existant private sector companies. When someone comes across one of your works and decides they'd like to use it for profit, they check with the registries and if they do not find your work listed, they will be free to use it as they see fit. The bill stipulates that the infringer must use search to find your registration, but does not state how hard the infringer must look.

Let's say 20 companies start up intellectual property registries. Each charges a fee to register your work. In essence, you have to register with and pay every single company in order to be protected. If not, and an infringer checks five companies that you haven't registered with, he is free to use your work. It doesn't matter that you registered with other companies, only that the infringer didn't find your work at the five or so he searched.

So let's say someone lifts you work and starts selling T-shirts of it. Eventually you find out and say, "Hey, whoah buddy, that's my work! Let's go to court." Under this bill, if you can prove the original work is yours, the infringer will owe you money in an amount that HE sets. If he says he pays fifty bucks for t-shirt designs, that's what the court will order him to pay you. Regardless that he's made $100,000 selling shirts with your work on them. Regardless that the work in question was a one of a kind artwork done for a private collector for which you were paid $10,000. If he pays fifty bucks for t-shirt designs, that's what he owes you. Unless you want to drag him to a higher court. How much money will you have to pay to protect work which was stolen from you?

This bill is being endorsed by some very heavy hitters. Search engines like Google are in favor of it to free up copyrights on books and art in order to deliver more free content to users. Conversely, it is being lobbied by stock agencies such as Getty Images and the Bill Gates owned Corbis Images. (Side note: Getty was recently sold for 2.8 million dollars. Did the artists whose work Getty sells receive any of that money? Why not? Without those images Getty is worthless. Yet Getty is fighting for the right to steal other artists images in order to boost profits.) In fact a former employee of the U.S. Copyright Office is now the head lobbyist for Getty and Corbis working to squeeze the most out of this bill for Bill Gates and Mark Getty. Buying up the Mom-N-Pop stock image services isn't enough for them anymore. They want it all, now, free.

Now if you think this is all contrary to the Bern Convention and the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, you're correct! One of the 'positives' that this bill supposedly addresses is those poor, poor schoolchildren you hear so much about in the news. You know, the ones that do a book report about Walt Disney and they put a picture of Mickey Mouse on the cover of the report and then Disney sues them for copyright infringement? Excuse me? Disney, however evil you may think they are, has never sued a child over a book report. The 1976 U.S. Copyright Act covers this quite well in the Fair Use section. So there's one argument shot right down the tubes.

As for international copyright law, it is against the Bern Convention for any country to impose registration of intellectual property. The U.S. is skirting this issue with the statement that they are not imposing registration, simply allowing others to freely use intellectual property that is not registered with one of those as-yet-non-existant registries. Can you say sophistry? Can you say bullshit?

One of the final bills lead authors, a former U.S. Copyright Office employee who now works for Microsoft, says that since artists never cared enough to create their own organization for the protection of intellectual property rights, it's about time someone did and that these private sector registries are just what's needed. Really? I was unaware that copyright protection and enforcement was the artists responsibility. Certainly, the artist should be on the lookout for violations, but I was under the impression that our work was safely protected and enforced by the U.S. Copyright Office!

Basically, the Orphan Works Act essentially takes the position that if you do not register your work, then you freely admit that it has no commercial value and should be public property. Brad Holland of the Illustrators Partnership states, (and correctly so, I believe,) that if someone wants to use your work, it indeed has inherent value, ipso facto.

Three years ago in closed session, the Illustrators Partnership was listing it's numerous objections to the bill and the head of the U.S. Copyright office simply replied, and I paraphrase here, "Oh, we think people will basically obey the laws." Is this a great country, or what? Where the hell is Ayn Rand when you need her?

Please visit The Illustrators Partnership and sign up for e-mail updates regarding this issue. It's not yet time to write your congressman or senator, but that time is coming soon. For more info, check out their resources page here.

You can hear Brads interview here.

To find your state and federal reps, go here.